The first rule of Cheese Club is... be a big fan of cheese! Time Out meets renowned expert Patricia Michelson, the founder of La Fromagerie, to discuss a new event at Jones the Grocer aimed squarely at Dubai’s dairy diehards.
Jones the Grocer has introduced an exciting new club for cheese lovers in the city. For anyone who takes their culinary experiences seriously, this newly formed group is a great outlet to sample new products and experiment with different flavours. Members pay an annual fee of Dhs200 and in return they receive monthly hampers, discounts on cheese products and accompaniments, plus invitations to special events and activities. Kicking off this new club is cheese expert Patricia Michelson, who runs La Fromagerie in the UK.
How did you become a professional cheese expert?
It was all by accident. I fell in love with cheese after a particularly gruelling day on the ski slopes of Méribel in the Trois Vallees, France. I popped into the local cheese shop and bought a small piece of Beaufort, which is the local cheese. It was so delicious I wondered how is it that cheese can make me feel so much better after an awful day. I found the cheesemaker at the local market in Moutiers and arranged for him to bring some cheese to my chalet before I left to go home. He came with a whole wheel weighing 35kg. I wedged it into the back of my car and took it home and stored it in my garden shed. After giving friends and family slices I then went to a few of my favourite restaurants and asked if they would like to try a proper artisan-made Alpine cheese and they all loved it and asked if I could get more cheeses, so my little business was born. I had a market stall for a while and then opened my first shop in 1992 and my second 10 years later. I now have a dedicated warehouse with specially designed cheese-maturing rooms.
How can a novice who loves cheese become a connoisseur?
Cheese has a high acidity and is a natural palate cleanser because it wakes up the taste buds. Therefore learn how to enjoy a combination of styles and flavours in a way that is a progression of taste. Once you have mastered the lighter more fresh tastes and moved forward to the crumblier styles with a good lactic tang, then the deeper, richer harder cheeses followed by the more pungent washed styles before ending with blue metallic flavours. It is mastering flavours, textures and styles. This is an enjoyable journey for anyone wanting to find out more about cheese.
What is your favourite cheese?
It will always be the Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage because it was the first cheese to give me such a joyful tasting experience. The Chalet d’Alpage cheeses are from the high mountain summer pastures where the cattle graze from June to the end of August. They stay high up the mountain and the shepherds/cheesemakers stay there too to make the cheese. In the autumn the cheeses are put in stone caves in the valleys to ripen for at least a year. The floral flavours and milk nutty taste are irresistible.
Do you encounter challenges being a woman in a male- dominated industry?
Women play an important role in cheese making. I have always found cheesemakers whether male or female have shown me absolute respect.
What is the weirdest advice any client has asked you?
Someone once asked me if I could get a cheese made with ants milk. They said that insects were now being reared for gourmet dishes, so would there be cheese. I said that it would possibly take millions of ants to make a small cheese.
Can you share a favourite recipe using cheese?
Take two slices of sourdough bread. Place one half with slivers of Comte (be generous) and a thin coating of grain mustard on top. On the other slice cover with slices of goats cheese like Ste Maure or Chabichou. Place under the grill and allow the cheese to melt – when it is bubbling and toasting nicely remove from the grill it is the best toastie ever.
Tell us about the Cheese Club at Jones the Grocer
This is a great way for people to enjoy different cheeses at tutored tastings and also learn about how to keep the cheeses at home, how to mix and match them and also condiments and drinks to serve alongside. It also gives ideas on seasonality although I know it is always hot in Dubai and Abu Dhabi but you still want to enjoy Easter and Christmas and you can learn about great cheeses for these occasions. There are many varied and interesting products to try at the shop and to be able to taste them alongside cheese plates will show you how versatile and food-friendly cheese can be.
Jones the Grocer, Al Manara (04 346 6886).
Cheese nights in Dubai
Bistro Madeleine: This week only, in honour of France’s national day, Bastille day on Sunday July 14, Bistro Madeleine hosts a cheese and grape-tasting event, with a cheese buffet and French drinks.
Dhs150. 7pm-10pm. InterContinental Dubai Festival City (04 701 1127).
CaféM: The weekly cheese and grape event offers a selection of cheesy treats to try, such as cheese fondue, hot fried cheese and individual creamy cheese soufflés.
Dhs164 per person. Thu 8pm to 11pm. Media One Hotel, Dubai Media City, Dubai (04 427 1000).
Lafayette Gourmet: The gourmet eatery/supermarket has an impressive selection in its cheese room. Here, every Wednesday, you can join a cheese masterclass and learn about the selection on offer.
Free to attend. Wed 8.30pm – 9.30pm. Gallerie Layfayette, The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai (04 339 9933).