Hi from Jonathan Richardson, Columbia Cheese National Sales Manager!
So, a new month is upon us. I thought it would be good to update you all on our comings and goings, new items, logistical changes and what-not.
Do we still call them websites? Either way, our new one is makertomonger.com. Also, whenever something in this thing has one of those blue text underline things, it links to info on the cheese and dairy. Eventually all of these will live on the blog part of the site, in case you have thoughts of revisiting.
New items/ Programs we are trying out
As you might know, we have dipped a little toe in France. In many ways, this has resulted in our goals of creating a year round program focused on Traditional Summer Production Cheeses- Alpage/ Alpeggio/ Etc.
Estive Brebis/ Estive Brebis-Vache
Currently, that selection is Estive Brebis. It was produced at a single chalet in the Pyrenees in Summer of ’15 and sent to us from the co-operative Basco-Bernais.
By file 10 (ETA End of March) this selection will merge into an Estive Vache Brebis (Mix). From what we gather, it is the cows milk that makes this cheese ripen a little slower, making it a better fit for March/April/May. It is made at Col d’Aubisque and will be cycling as June cheese will arrive on Files 10 & 12, July cheese on Files 14 & 16, August cheese on File 17 & 18.
I was asked at a class last year at the Fairfield Cheese Company about variations in Alpage Gruyere as the pastures change throughout the Summer. Great question! Maybe this Estive set for Files 10-18 will help some of you answer that question- same cheese- same farm- same summer- different micro-season. Teaching moment for us and the custies.
The other current Alpage/Chalet selection (we need a name for this program- I was thinking AlpA- ?) is Spicherhalde. We have just 3 or 4 left for the season.
This is summer production- summer milk, etc, but not Alpage. Why? Well, honestly we did lots of tasting last September and couldn’t find a consistent profile for the chalet production left in the aging rooms. The Summer production, from Co-operative Beaufortain, was quite good, meaty, full but not messy- and consistent, so we’re starting there. I would expect Chalet/Alpage/Beaufort to make an appearance soon. Especially if my brain turns more French and can allow for wide differences from wheel to wheel on the same day of production (hehe)..
Again, we have 4-5 left for the season, so give it a shot!
File What- File who?
A bad habit of cheese importers- we talk in Files, not dates or weeks. In a simple way, the files correspond to outbound dates for the transport programs we use to ship cheese to the US- usually in big refrigerated containers on ocean-bound freighters.
This week, for instance, I am soliciting for orders relating to File 12. I am also placing my own orders with my suppliers for File 11. File 10 is being collected from dairies throughout Switzerland, Italy, Austria, etc. File 9 is shipping from a French port, File 8 is on the Atlantic Ocean and we are receiving file 7 at Larkin in Long Island City, New York.
Most of you already knew all this, but it is new to some.
I have attached a simple sheet to this email that shows the order deadlines and arrival ETAs for our files this year. This should/might help simplify this stuff, especially if your distributor or buyer talks in files.
ETAs- File Delays Explained (sort of) and Remedies offered.
File delay season is starting to close and we do expect most files to begin arriving closer to their scheduled ETAs. Most delays are due to one of a few factors- delays a foreign ports loading vessels, vessels delayed due to weather on the Atlantic, or delays at the incoming port in NJ. One thing to remember is that the boats travel in cycles, meaning that it can take quite a while for a ship delayed to regain those missed days- i.e. a delayed ship remains delayed until it can make up the time.
We know the file delays can be maddening. Keep in mind, some items are affected more than others- particularly items in short supply (Chiriboga*1/Challerhocker*2) and cheeses with shorter lives (Gorgs/Taleggio).
“Special order-only” items are affected, of course, but the reservations placed roll over to the next week as an entire plan for that File when it arrives.
Inventory items shorted as a result of the delays have to be re-ordered by the customer or distributor, exacerbating an already frustrating situation.
Two things can help this time of year- keeping an extra case or five on hand OR re-ordering promptly when you are out of stocked on a key inventory item.
Luckily, the weather is breaking and the ships should begin to gain ground on their cyclical delays. We really appreciate your patience.
Tete de Moine and Vacherin Fribourgeois a l’Ancienne
Two great tastes- one great logistical knot!
In Switzerland, and now here in the U.S., we find that certain cheeses peak during the holiday season. Even the production schedules in Switzerland reflect these ebbs and flows, with cheeses ripening at different rates- we see production of Gruyere peak in May and June (for December delivery- the Swiss still tend to like their Gruyere younger*2), Raclette in July for December, etc etc.
One cheese that stands out in this regard is Tete de Moine, the vast majority of Tete is consumed at home from Oct-Jan. It is really a great table cheese for parties, on the Girolle. As a result, we stocked our delicious extra aged Tete de Moine from Sept to Dec, in pretty good volume and did well. However, the dairy is somewhat isolated from the rest of our gang.
The same is true for our Vacherin Fribourgeois a l’Ancienne. Marc-Henri’s cheese does very well Oct-Jan, but then we see an inevitable slowing.
In both cases, the sheer distance between our waypoint and these dairies makes it logistically impossible to order 1 or 2 or 3 cases on a given file without the prices reflecting a 90% empty truck tooling around Switzerland- and let’s face it the carbon fingerprint would be un-DiCaprio. So, what we are doing with our man at Mundig, Konrad Heusser, is to give you a heads up on when he is picking up at these two dairies.
If you want to know when we are picking up Tete and Vacherin, shoot me an email and I will add to to this very simple list. Some folks have even said, “Hey Johnny- whenever Konrad is going, pick up 4 or 5 for me and send them when they get here.” Otherwise, expect there to be limited quantities available from time to time until we are back to full swing in Sept.
That is all for now- thanks for reading,
*1- Chriboga- so Arturo likes to take vacations when he would potentially be making cheese for December Holidays. Good for him, but it has left us with a big month of holes in the past. This year, he upped production considerably going into the vacation [which meant some pretty tricky milk supply juggling and clearing out some additional space in his already overburdened aging rooms]. Alas, we were only out 1 week or so in December. The re-up, however, shipped during the file delays well into January. Am I glad we had cheese for all of the Holidays – more or less- sure! But we will be working on a better re-up plan for this year.
*2- As for Challerhocker, we also had a similar issue as Chiriboga, with supply somewhat steady through December but then the re-up delayed. News from Switzerland is that Walter is seeking to up capacity this year- not by a huge amount, but that once we get into Holidays 2017, we should be on point. Until then, keep those extra 5 cases on hand for Santy Claus.
*3- Also, we (us and you) tend to favor 12-14 month Gruyeres, with sales also peaking in Oct-Dec. This means that the top dairies in Switzerland, like our 1655 at Fromagerie le Cret have a built-in home market for young cheese made Jan-June, and a great foreign market (us) for cheese made June-Dec. Good on them.