Table’s trinity: bread, wine and cheese
David Kaufman began taking his work home with him before he’d even created a business. Here’s how it worked: He’d find cheese, then he’d eat it. Inevitably he’d find more cheese, and the vicious cycle continues to this very day.
“I pride myself that I did not go to culinary school,” he said. “When you get into that environment, you’re subjected to the whims and knowledge of your teacher. I like to get out there and explore. So I started eating cheese on my own – a lot of it.”
The cheesemonger owns The Truffle in Denver with his wife, Kate. Now in their fourth year of business-hood, the Kaufmans prefer the pungent to the processed, specialty items to bulk quantities – high-end delectables to bargain prices. David is visiting the valley for Taste of Vail, and will be hosting a cheese seminar Friday at 9:30 a.m. at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort. He’ll not only help demystify different types of cheese and the regions they come from, but will pair them with some vinos, too.
“What I like to do for this kind of a tasting is discuss regional pairings when it’s possible, and when not, just get a good ratio of fats to acids,” he said.
He turns up his nose at any sort of rule of thumb that would inhibit personal experience.
“I don’t pair the way Wine Spectator does,” he said adamantly. “I don’t like any method anywhere that constricts people. Not only are there exceptions to every rule, there really is no rule.”
Which is all good and fine for someone who doesn’t have to think about how to spell such cheeses as Vacherin Mont D’or or Livarot, but what about folks who have no idea where to begin? Exotic cheese is not always the cheapest thing to begin experimenting with.
“Get yourself out of the grocery store and go to a cheesemonger,” said David. “Any cheese shop worth its whey, worth its curd, is going to cut their cheeses to order and try everything. So you can try everything. We have to stop going to Wal-Mart. If you want to know about cheese and debunk the business of cheese, go to a cheesemonger.
“Is it complicated? You bet. I get people who step in, take a whiff, and step right out.”
There’s no doubt The Truffle is a pungent smelling place. On top of the counter is a collection of cheese, ripe and mysterious looking. A cooler to the side holds another selection of cheese, and still more is being handled behind the counter. There’s no shortage of the stuff, which the Kaufmans buy from independent producers all over the world. Once a week they head down to the airport where some orders weigh in at a thousand pounds. The European cheese has to clear customs to be sold in the States.
In addition to cheese, The Truffle sells all manner of specialty items – chutneys, truffle-infused honeys, nut oils, herbs. If it’s hard to find, the Kaufmans probably stock it, albeit only one.
“We don’t have 5,000 cheap-ass olive oils,” he said, sounding disgruntled at the thought of it. “We don’t have 500 of everything. All of our products are based on independent people. There’s no cambazola here, no brick cheddar, no pasteurized brie.”
But what he does have, he’s happy to let people taste. Taking him at his word, I headed down to Denver for a whirlwind tasting in between his airport runs. In quick succession he provided a tasting of roughly six or seven cheeses, mostly Italian. After a couple of nibbles I cleared my palate with a dried strawberry and an almond cookie. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a moment in time.
“I studied political history in college,” said Kaufman. “How food and how cheese in particular links to Western civilization – we’ve been eating cheese as a people since 15,000 B.C. when we started to work our way through the mountains as herd people.”
Once you get in the cheese network, it’s easy to discover more and more of it. The Truffle’s cheese stock is roughly 45 percent French, a healthy dose of Italian, some Spanish and a smattering of domestic. Kaufman’s favorite cheese-making region is Northern Italy, the cheeses of which really pack a pungent punch.
“I believe in the trinity of the table: bread, cheese and wine,” he said. “Cheese is peasant food. We do this a lot in this country, we change peasant food into elitist stuff. This food should be accessible to everyone. Granted, we’re not talking about $5-a-pound cheese, so I understand that. But a good cheesemonger will help.”
So dive in and cut the cheese.
Taste of Vail
Friday, 9:30 a.m.
Included in Full Event Package, $35 for non-passholders