Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Shoppin' For Cheese

Today I was in Manhattan eating about a thousand dumplings with my friend. After we parted, I went to a cheese shop where I used to work to pick up a few things for my Cheese Plate Prototypes.

See, creating a menu for me can't be a theoretical thing. I have to make one each of every type of cheese plate, with the accompaniments, and once I'm happy with the size of the portions then I weigh or measure everything and do the math and come up with my cost, then the price.

Tomorrow I'm meeting with the cafe owners to go over my cheese plates I'm making for them, and the rental of their shop every Monday. I'm bringing my prototypes so they can see them and we can eat them and they can give me their feedback.

I need to start the menu on the small side. Once it becomes popular I can add more varieties, but for now there will be two different plates. Each will have one kind of cheese, some Wasa Crispbread-type crackers, a pickled something or other, dried fruit, and honey-glazed pecans.

The cheeses I got were: two-year Boerenkaas, which is the farmstead version of Gouda (from Holland, of course), and Westfield Farm (Massachusetts) Capri, a very fresh goat cheese. I might not stick with Capri, it depends on a few factors. I do know I will have a very fresh goat cheese, though. Just not sure from which farm.

I also bought two jars of Rick's Picks pickled things. I paid retail - ugh, I know - because I need to taste-test them with the cheeses before ordering a case. Rick's is nice and will let me order mixed cases, but I have to decide on my flavors, first. Today I bought a jar of Phat Beets to go with the goat cheese and Slices of Life to go with the Boerenkaas.

I'm thinking of pairing dried Turkish apricots (ya know, the squishy ones) with the Boerenkaas and dried plums (a new dried fruit to me!) with the Capri. I have to try the plums with the goat tomorrow to make sure the flavors don't clash.

I am almost positive the honey-glazed roasted pecans will pair nicely with both cheeses, but tomorrow will be the acid test.

I'm also talking with the cafe owners about renting their shop on Mondays - when they are closed - to process my mail orders, AND open my cheese shop in their space. I will take over their pastry case and stock my cheeses in it, and people can come to try and buy the cheese! It will give me an opportunity to develop my customer base without taking the big risk of opening my own independent storefront.

I'm into collectives and cooperatives, so this kind of veers into that territory: sharing space! It's a good financial idea, too, both for me and for the cafe. I'll still sell their coffee, tea, espresso and pastries, but that's just because some people will come in, not knowing that today it's not the cafe, but Curds & Whey, and I don't have the heart to deny them their coffee and such.

Plus, it's bad customer service in general, and specifically bad customer service for the cafe. It could really piss off their regulars, and they wouldn't care that it's me denying them and not the cafe owners - the effect will be the same. It'll give people another reason to come into the store, too, and any time - but especially recession time - business owners have to give people lots of good reasons to come in the door. And come back and tell all their friends, too!

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I was complaining to my Mom the other day about how LONG this whole "opening a business" business is taking. But, as she reminded me, every day I'm making a little bit of progress, even if it's just a little bit.

Plus, there's so damn much to learn about this that it's probably good it's taking so long. I need time to find - and absorb - all this information. No, my friends, it's not just about putting some tea on a shelf and some cheese in a case and bringing a cigar box for cash and a key to unlock the door.

If only.

Ohhhh, if only.

But as anyone who knows me, knows, and as my Mom keeps reminding me (in addition to the above reminder): if it's not a challenge, I get bored. And when I get bored I abandon a project.

So yeah.

But the challenges here are pretty gigantic and require a certain amount of creativity, as in "just make it up as you go along" and "don't just think outside the box, forget about the damn box entirely."

Part of the challenge is money. But even if I had all the money necessary to open this business, I couldn't just unlock the door. Because the other challenge is navigating Jersey City's byzantine municipal codes and regulations and what-not.

Although I guess if I had a pile of money I could just pay a bunch of people off to let me do whatever the hell I want. After all, this is Hudson County.

Kidding! I'm kidding! I will not be entering into any bribery or other illegal acts, other than the ones I won't write about here.

One major speed bump has been regarding certifying my home kitchen for mail-order-sales use. Turns out I can't. Jersey City doesn't like people using the same kitchen to cook their own food for home use as they do to prepare foods for sale. I guess I see their reasoning, but I'm not about to install an additional kitchen in my apartment. Duh.

So I'm currently in negotiation with a cafe close to my house to use their food prep space to process my mail order tea and cheese orders. We're working out the rent and such for the amount of hours and storage space I'll need.

As soon as I get the rental figures from them, I can finalize my Cheese & Tea Subscription Programs. This is a good thing. I can start selling some cheese and tea and making some money!

I'm also working out a program with them to develop a menu of cheese plates they will sell at their cafe. I'll be like a vendor, supplying them with all the (edible) components of the cheese plates. I will do some marketing, as will they, but they will be responsible for plating and selling them.

I can't get started with any of this, though, without raising about $2,000 in addition to what I've already raised. I need to get my inventory and some food prep and shipping supplies.

If you're thinking of buying any Store Bonds, now would be a good time to do it. Just think, it'll bring you *this* much closer to getting some great cheese and tea from me.

Again, for every $9 you invest now, you get $10 in merchandise from my mail order shop and from my storefront.

Stay tuned for more news, as things seem to be rolling along.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Tonight's Cheese Curriculum

Attendees of tonight's Cheese Educational Seminar ate the following cheeses (in order of service):

1. Petit Billy
2. Brillat-Savarin
3. Il Pastore Sini
4. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar (affinage by Jasper Hill Farm)
5. Försterkäse

Every cheese was considered someone's favorite of the selection, except for Försterkäse. I'm not surprised, as it's a challenging cheese.

Oh wait! Försterkäse is my favorite, and I'm a someone! And I don't just mean it's my favorite from tonight's selection - Försterkäse is one of my favorite cheeses ever!

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Store Bonds" Prototype Revealed!

Hello everyone. I spent the last few hours designing the actual PAPER MONEY you'll get when you buy my Curds & Whey Store Bonds.

I got as far as the front of the bill. The attached picture is what the front will look like unless I decide to change it which I probably won't.

Go here to get some Store Bonds now!

For the uninitiated, Store Bonds are one of the ways I am encouraging folks to invest in my soon-to-be Cheese & Tea Shop and Cafe; and they will also be one of the forms of payment I'll accept in my store, and that includes my online store AND my brick-and-mortar storefront.

Store Bonds are a good deal. For every $9 you send me, you get $10-worth of Store Bonds. Try finding an interest rate like that at the bank!

The Bonds mature once I have something to sell and am in a position to sell it. It's that simple.

If you'd like to learn just how far your money will go, please go here. That link will take you to my store's official Blog, where you can also buy some Store Bonds, and you can learn more about them, such as...

Yes! They are transferable! Give them as gifts or use them as currency amongst your friends.

For those who live far away and plan to use them via mailorder, it won't be necessary to mail the Bonds in to redeem them; you just have to give me the serial numbers of the Bonds you plan to use. But you won't be able to use that Bond again, so buy a little frame for it and hang it on your wall!

Nearby friends can redeem them via the Bonds' serial numbers, too, and frame them for posterity.

Either way...

Get your Store Bonds today!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Shipping Experiment

Last week I completed the first round of my cheese shipping experiment.

The results were just about what I expected, and this is a good thing.

I needed to do some shipping experiments to gauge what shipping cheese would entail, and this encompassed which shipping service I would use, what kind of materials I need, and how much I should expect for shipping charges.

My goal is to get the cheese to anyone in the lower 48 (i.e. the entire United States minus Alaska and Hawaii - sorry folks who live there!) as quickly and as cheaply as possible while still maintaining high quality control standards.

See, this past Christmas my Mom and I had a nice package of cheese sent to our relatives in Florida, and we spent FIFTY DOLLARS on postage. We spent slightly less on the actual cheese. I think this is wrong and I want to make sure my customers aren't going to spend FIFTY DOLLARS on postage, especially in the middle of the winter. I know it went to Florida from NYC (that's where the cheese seller was located), but it didn't need to go overnight and it didn't need to cost so damn much.

So I sent a test package of cheese to five far-flung friends/family. I bought the most perishable cheese I could ever imagine sending, and I wrapped each person's piece in the double-layer cheese paper I plan to use in my shop. (Most mailorder cheese places wrap their cheese in plastic. I think that's awful.)

I placed the cheese in an insulated inner envelope specially designed to keep things cool, then I put the envelope in a priority mail box from the USPS. I wanted to see if I could get away with NOT overnighting the cheese. Of course, this was last week when it was cold, so things may be different in a few months. I may also choose not to ship cheese anywhere during the hottest months, and only overnight it during hot-but-not-hottest months. That will take more experimentation.

It seems like most other cheese mailorder places use UPS, and they charge A LOT of money for shipping. I find I can use the US Postal Service for a fraction of what UPS is charging, and I can use the priority mail flat rate, which for most boxes of cheese will cost $10.35 in postage. I might charge a few dollars more for handling fees (materials, labor), but it won't be any fifty bucks.

Are the other mailorder businesses using UPS for some reason I have yet to discover?
Until I do, I'm sticking with priority mail flat rate from the USPS.

So completing the first round of this experiment brings me closer to being able to:
1) Continue developing my Cheese Subscription Program
2) Sell cheese mailorder.

My work this week involves somehow finding out Jersey City's Municipal Health Code for food-related establishments. You'd think this would be somewhat easy information to find, but lemme tell you, it's NOT. I'm starting to get pretty frustrated with the whole "dealing with the city" thing. People who already own their own businesses usually give a little chuckle at this point and say, "Welcome to the Club, my friend."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cheese Class - Oh Yeah!

CHEESE! Eat It. Learn It. Love It!

After such a dreadfully dreary winter, isn’t it time we had some fun… some CHEESE-filled fun!?

Come partake in the first in a series of fun, food-filled evenings in Downtown Jersey City, with a Cheese Class and Tasting as the Main Event. The premiere event will take place on Monday, March 16th from 7-10pm at The Stockinette Café at 581 Jersey Ave.

The festivities begin at 7pm with Tea and a Light Dinner, featuring a delicious homemade Personal-Size Pot Pie and a big mug of your choice of freshly-made Harney & Sons Teas.
Tea is a natural astringent that cleanses the palate for CHEESE, of course!

Then, Cheese Class is in session! Sample FIVE different artisan-made cheeses, while Cheese Snob Wendy teaches you more about cheese than any human being should know.

After the class, Cheese Snob Wendy will entertain your questions while The Stockinette’s Cash Tea & Pastry Bar serves up homemade goodies until 10pm, at which time they bolt the doors and kick us all out.


Admission is $50 per person, and that includes dinner and the cheese class & tasting.

Space is very limited and there will be no tickets available at the door; reservations are required! Go here

to reserve your seat now. Don’t miss out!

Please specify your Pot Pie choice: Beef Stew Pot Pie or Vegetarian Black Bean Pot Pie, when you register.

Bring your appetite and your curiosity. Cheese Snob Wendy will satisfy both!


Your host, Cheese Snob Wendy (aka Wendy M. Levy), has been working with cheese since September 1995.

For over 13 years, she’s been a cheesemonger at some of New York City and Vermont’s finest cheese establishments, as well as being an advisor-to-the-trade for cheese shops up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Wendy has taught Cheese Classes at Zabar’s (NYC), Marlboro College (VT) and The Main Street Museum (VT). Now she’s aiming to single-handedly turn Downtown Jersey City into Downtown Cheese Town. For more information, please visit www.cheesesnob.com


The Fine Print:

• This event is designed as a complete evening; we’re sorry, but it is not possible to offer any part of it á la carte.

• You don’t need to bring any additional cash with you to the event unless you want to have an additional cup of tea or a pastry. Your first cup of tea, your dinner and the class and cheese tasting are all included in the price of admission!

• There will be no alcohol served, and all attendees must be age 18 or older. Please leave the kiddies home.

• There will be no refunds. If a registrant is unable to attend, a credit will be given for a future Cheese Class Event.

If you have any questions, please direct them to cheesesnobwendy@yahoo.com