Max McCalman, Maitre Fromager, Affineur, Cheese Guy, Author, Artisanal Cheese, Mastering Cheese, The Cheese Plate


Max McCalman’s recommendations on where to buy cheese and eat around the world.

You’re out to “spread the curd” - what do you want people to know about cheese?

I want people to know that cheese is good for you. I am on a mission to rescue cheese from the bad rap from which it has suffered for far too long. Of course there are some cheeses that are not nearly as good for you as others. Yet even the least of them are better for you than most other foods.

I want people to know that cheese is a near-complete, "near-perfect" food that enjoys a great track record for food safety. I also want people to know that the real excitement in the cheese world today is occurring right here in the U.S.


People are often intimidated by cheese, what are some good basic ABC’s for guidance?

Because there are so many cheese types available that can offer so many different flavors, aromas, and textures; I recommend that people try a variety of types. The more the merrier. And when you are choosing cheeses for a party that if you have that variety of types, you have a better chance of satisfying all your guests.


You write about how to taste and describe cheese, can you give our readers some quick, easy pointers? 

Try to keep an open mind when assessing a cheese. If a cheese looks like it may be a bit "off" or if it smells funny, the cheese may actually be an outstanding cheese that is at its peak. I borrow the lexicon for describing wine (that being my background, previous to my career in cheese) to describe cheeses, but only partly. For example: a cheese may have a relatively salty component, whereas that would not be appropriate for most any wine whatsoever; and a wine may have an astringency that should not be present in a cheese.

Color is one thing that is fairly easy to describe. Texture is almost as easy. Aroma? Many of us may not be able to describe the wide diversity of aromas that cheeses possess, though it can be fun to compare impressions in a group setting. And the flavor? Besides the basic 4 flavors: salt, sweet, sour and bitter, the umami component is often found in cheeses - that meaty, warm, savory, smack-dab delicious component.

By comparing one cheese to another (one cheese is saltier than another) this is where describing a cheese begins to unfold. And there is also the "finish" of a cheese that lingers long on the palate, or be relatively short, but is very much what the signature of a cheese leaves behind once it is out of the mouth.

In formal cheese judgings, there are a number of descriptors that are employed to describe cheese. But for everyday purposes, I think that it’s best to keep it simple. It is also far easier to describe a couple of cheeses than to describe dozens in one setting. After awhile palate fatigue can set in.


You’ve said that you feel that cheese is often misrepresented- in what way?

Cheese is often misrepresented as a food that is not very good for you - that it can clog the arteries, cause you to gain weight, give you bad breath, make you have bad dreams; the list is long, but mostly misguided. Some cheeses may be described as "farmhouse" when they are instead quite industrial. Or what does "natural" really mean. It is important for people that are selling or presenting cheese to be educated - one reason that the American Cheese Society is endorsing a Fromager Certification effort. The certified Fromager will be able to deliver and describe a cheese accurately to the end consumer.


What are your thoughts on cheese pairings (fruits, jams, etc)? 

Because cheese is a near-complete food (after all it is made from our first food for the first several weeks or months of our lives - milk) then it must be close to everything that we need, nutritionally speaking. Yet cheese does not give you fiber or vitamin C. Pretty much everything else is there, except perhaps enough calories (because one will reach satiety long before they get enough calories) and it may fall short on water (the next thing we take in).

So I recommend pairings in fruits and vegetables, nuts and grains, that provide the fiber and the vitamin C, those type foods first. Fortunately those foods generally work pretty well as cheese partners.

Because cheese does have a little salt in it, some more than others, one of the better balancing points with another food or beverage pairing will be one that balances out the salt. The saltier the cheese, the sweeter or fruitier the other should be.


Are there pairings that can compromise the taste of cheese?

Cheese rules. Rarely does the other overwhelm a cheese, unless it is some sort of insipid cheese that is lacking in character altogether. There certainly are some other strong flavors and aromas that can go to battle with cheese.

Successful pairing is largely subjective. We all have our preferences for cheese types, other foods and beverages certainly, and what may work well for one person may not work nearly so well if at all for another.


Can you recommend some pairings that enhance the experience? Any unexpected beverage/cheese pairings?

The kind of pairings where the cheese or the other partner, or both, are elevated by pairing them together is one of the greater thrills to be had.

Some of the best pairings that I have found (and most people who are sharing them appreciate as well) are those that come from opposite sides of the planet, or at least each product is not produced anywhere near the other. Honey (from virtually anywhere) makes a great partner for many cheeses. Some of the Iberian thistle-renneted cheeses (such as Evora, Serpa, Serra, all from Portugal; or Serena from Spain) can marry beautifully with a Shiraz from Australia. So much for terroir! There is so much that goes into cheese-making, and so much that goes into the attributes of wine organoleptic profile, that to lean upon terroir as the default natural indicator of a successful pairing is too easy, simplistic, and lacking in open-mindedness.

There certainly is something to be said for pairing cheeses and wines (or other foods and beverages) that are produced close by. They should work, yet there can be many lovely matches that don't come from the same soil, water, climate, topography, etc. that pair admirably.


Artisanal cheeses can often be pricey, any suggestions for people minding their budgets?

Buy less, but buy often. Sticking with the firmer cheeses helps to assure that you aren't paying for the water that most of the softer cheeses contain. Also, should you not finish your softer cheese in one sitting, then it is easier to store a left-over harder cheese. There will be less waste.

Surprisingly, some of the cheeses that are produced "locally" (any locavores hearing this?) may cost much more than an equivalent cheese produced thousands of miles away. A number of factors come into play here. If it is a carbon footprint that you're concerned about, the more local cheese may in fact leave a bigger one than the one that comes from farther away.

Cow cheeses generally cost less than goat, and goat cheeses generally cost less than the sheep cheeses, though I recommend having a variety.

One of the beautiful aspects of cheese is that a little goes a long way.

Is there a cheese that you secretly love that would make other cheesemongers laugh? i.e. your dirty little cheese secret?

I doubt that there is a secret about my love for cheese. I'll even eat a processed cheese, a more industrial cheese, if that is what is available. There are far worse things that one can choose to eat. I don't think of myself as a cheese snob.

What are your go-to cheeses for an interesting cheese plate?

A range is advised. At least one goat, preferably raw (all of them), at least one sheep, perhaps a mixed milk cheese or two, and it's nice to include a good blue. I like to include one of those above-mentioned thistle-renneted sheep milk cheeses.


What purveyors inspire your creativity?


Anne Saxelby's (New York, NY)

Artisanal (New York, NY)

Cowgirl Creamery (CA, DC)

Di Palo's (New York, NY)

55 Degrees (Fort Myers, FL)

Formaggio Kitchen (Cambridge, MA)

The Pasta Shop (Oakland, CA)

Tutusaus (Barcelona, Spain)


Beeler's Selection

Cato Corner

Consider Bardwell

Formatge del Montsec

Pat Morford

Pholia Farm

Rogue River Creamery

Cookbooks with great cheese recipes?

Laura Werlin's Cheese Essentials.

Paula Lambert's Cheese, Glorious Cheese & The Cheese Lover's Cookbook & Guide.

These two authors are in tune with the cheese world, especially with what is going on in the U.S., and they are also familiar with some of the best chefs in the country.

Are there food markets around the world that you love? 

Peck's in Milan, lovely selection of foods and cheeses.

The farmers' markets in NYC, which is where I do most of my food shopping.

Essex Market, a bit of old-world market shopping on the Lower East side of Manhattan.

The old market in Barcelona, for the fish, produce, cheese, and meats.

Restaurants (anywhere in the world, fancy or casual) that have great/interesting cheese programs and what you like there?

The Inn at Little Washington for the care and diversity.

Artisanal Brasserie & Fromagerie, because I helped create the cheese program and I it has Chantal in charge whom I hired.

Picholine, because I created the program there, still has a pretty good program.

Recent cheese favorites


Jersey Blue (cow, England)


Abbaye de Tamie (cow, France)

Carles Roquefort (sheep, France)

Le Moulis (cow, France)


Parmigiano-Reggiano, Hombre (cow, Italy)

Pecorino delle Balze Volterrane (goat, Italy)


Amarelo da Beira Baixa (raw sheep & goat, Portugal)

Evora (sheep, Portugal)

Serpa (sheep, Portugal)

Serra (sheep, Portugal)


Majorero Pimenton (goat,Spain)

Queso Aracena (goat, Spain)

Pena Blanca (sheep, Spain)

Roncal (sheep, Spain)

Suau de Clua (goat, Spain)


Bergfichte, a.k.a. Krummenswiler Forsterkase (not the faux Forsterkase that I've seen around) (cow, Switzerland)

Blaui Geiss (goat, Switzerland)

Flada (cow, Switzerland)

Flixer (sheep, Switzerland)

Gruyere, Beeler's (cow, Switzerland)

Prattigauer (cow, Switzerland)

Stanser Rotelli (cow, Switzerland)

Tomme Vaudoise (cow, Switzerland)

US - California

Fiscalini clothbound wrapped Cheddar (cow, CA)

San Andreas (sheep, CA)

US - Connecticut

Bloomsday (cow, CT)

Bridgid's Abbey (cow, CT)

Hooligan (cow, CT)

US - Indiana

Julianna (goat, IN)

US - Oregon

Classico (goat, OR)

Covered Bridge (goat, OR)

Elk Mountain Tomme (goat, OR)

Rogue River Blue (cow, OR)

Scio Heritage (cow, OR)

US - Vermont

Grayson (cow, VA)

Dorset (cow, VT)

These are a few of my favorite things!

Max McCalman’s recommendations on where to buy cheese and eat around the world.


Maître Fromager / Author / Cheese Guy



Mastering Cheese: Lessons for Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager

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The Cheese Plate

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Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best

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Cheese Deck: A Connoisseur's Guide to 50 of the World's Best

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