The December edition of Meet Your Monger spotlights Julia Birnbaum, who is undoubtedly one of the hardest working and most passionate folks in the cheese industry. After learning the ropes behind various cheese counters in NYC and Philadelphia, she decided to forge her own path and open Philly Cheese School, a woman- and LGBTQ+ - owned classroom space and haven for all of Philadelphia's cheese lovers. In the noble pursuit of demystifying artisan cheese and appealing to cheese enthusiasts at all levels, Julia offers a variety of public classes encompassing all aspects of cheese serving, pairing, and appreciation. Her classes aim to make artisan cheese more approachable to consumers, and to tell the stories of the people, animals, and places responsible for the cheeses we hold dear. And of course, Julia uses Formaticum products to keep her cheese fresh for her classes, as well as teaches her guests about proper cheese storage! Find out more about Julia and PCS by reading the interview below, and check out the schedule of upcoming classes and events at PCS!
What inspired you to become a cheesemonger and open your own business?
Cheese found me unexpectedly back in 2014 when I was living in Manhattan. Fresh out of college with a degree in writing and ambitions of becoming a pop culture/celebrity gossip/music journalist, I landed an internship at The Source, a hip hop magazine. Ends weren't really meeting, so I decided to pick up a second job and noticed a Murray's Cheese counter nearby. Somehow I landed a gig there as a cheesemonger, and quickly found myself head over heels for the Cheese Industry, and the rest is herstory!
After a couple years in the industry I began dreaming of having my own operation where I could carve out a name for myself in the industry, focus on the parts of Cheese that I love the most, and spend each day working towards my own goals instead of someone else's. Opening and running Philly Cheese School has been challenging in so many ways, but I am living my dream and feel so lucky to get to create meaningful experiences for people centered around my favorite food.
How do you use Formaticum products in your space/classes?
We use Formaticum papers and bags to keep our sliced firm cheeses fresh before we serve them for class. It's so helpful to be able to prep things a day or two in advance and trust that they will still be beautiful and tasty come class time. We also sell Reusable Storage Bags
in our classroom gift shop!
What is your favorite Formaticum product and why?
Right now I am really loving the Reusable Storage Sheets
. They keep my cheese so happy and the black color speaks to the goth/emo kid in me. Also, now that I don't work on a counter it's always fun to get a chance to practice my wrapping skills.
If you were a cheese, which one would you be and why?
I really identify with Julianna
from Capriole. She is short and squat but still demands lots of attention on a cheese board. She's tangy and sassy but super approachable, and her flowery coating matches my high femme presentation.
What is one thing you wish consumers knew about artisan cheese?
Much of my goal with opening Philly Cheese School was simply to teach people that there is no wrong way to enjoy cheese. In this field of specialty food, so much judgement and snobbery gets thrown around and it creates an environment where often people think they aren't fancy, rich or French enough to shop for artisan cheese. I want people to know that these products are here for them to engage with however is most enjoyable and fun for them. That might mean picking it up with your hands, putting it on a cookie, or eating it as Girl Dinner alongside leftover french fries and a Diet Coke - it's all good!
What is your favorite cheese storage fact?
Teaching folks about proper cheese storage is so important, but I also love it because we get to talk about one of my favorite things: MOLD. It's always a big moment to tell people that many molds are totally okay to see on your cheese. I like to think about all of the pieces of cheese I am saving by letting folks know that they don't have to toss it all at the first sight of mold.
To nominate your favorite cheesemonger or shop for an upcoming feature, email firstname.lastname@example.org.