Cheese & Wine Pairing App

The Max McCalman Cheese & Wine Pairing App is about to hit the App Store.

It all began about twenty years ago, one block east of Lincoln Center, when a guest at Picholine Restaurant declined the suggestion of Port for his cheese selection and asked for a different wine-by-the-glass option instead. This began my quest for optimal pairings for all the fine cheeses I would encounter. I initially wrote out notes on each pairing: The Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon starts off on the right foot with the Spenwood, fruity vs. savory, then they go their separate ways, with no synergy in the “finish;” all that remains is a memory of the Cab while the cheese lingers sweetly to the end; the wine is flattened.

Even though extensive and informative, these notes were not user-friendly for quick reference. Those thoughts were recorded onto a Word document but were quickly replaced with quantifiable scores so that I could look up Cabernet Sauvignon, for example to find a complementing selection of cheeses, or in reverse, look up Spenwood and find a list of satisfactory wine partners. An early decision to be made was how to score those cheese and wine matches. I came up with a five-point spread, from +2 (a great match) to -2 (a disaster), with 0 being the neutral point (nothing lost, nothing gained). There was a temptation to rate a pairing a 0+ from time to time, but I soon left those middling scores for others to record and stuck to whole numbers.

The word document grew rapidly, from a few dozen scores to hundreds, then to thousands and was lined up by cheese name, from Aarauer Bierdeckel to Zamorano. Then a second document was created by wine varietal, from Albariño to Zinfandel. Some of the first notes were not detailed but later entries included more information: ABV, vintage, vineyard, as well as date the pairing was tasted, always followed by the score.

These scores became handy reference tools and they helped shape content of all my books, from The Cheese Plate through to my Swatchbook of Wine & Cheese Pairings. Occasionally I received requests for recommended beer, whiskey, martini, even sake pairings. Some of the “rules” of pairings began to crumble, starting with “What grows together goes together.” Other pairing principles held more promise: The “fruit” in a wine is balanced by the “savory” in a cheese, the “size” of a cheese should be balanced by “size” in the wine, etc.

At times I would record multiple pairings, tasting as many as seven different wines against nine different cheeses, for a total of sixty-three pairing entries. This is how the database grew exponentially explaining why I wished I had started it all off on Excel.

Converting all of this data into a viable app has been a months long project and it appears we can finally see the light at the end of the proverbial cheese tunnel now. The first version of the app will launch May 1st (subject to Apple’s approval) and will be supported by iPhone, with a nice chunk of the thousands of pairings included. The frequent updates will include new entries, interactive features for the subscribers, such as adding their own scores and comments, ‘favoriting’ cheeses, wines, and pairings, as well as a revolutionary in-app purchasing and fulfillment solution. Future extensions will feature beer pairings, then spirits, then ciders, etc.

Be on the lookout for this; it’s going to be fun. It all started with: I would rather have a different wine with my cheeses, not Port, sir.

Can’t wait for May!


The Arizona Cheese “Desert”

Cheese desert? More like a cheese oasis. The cheese scene here in Arizona is alive and well, and apparently it has been for many years. It is a little more hospitable for goats than cows but there are many ranches in this state with hundreds and thousands of cattle. The state would be suitable for sheep too; there are just not that many. This, however, might be due to the high copper content in the AZ terroir.

When I accepted an invitation to participate in the First Press fund raiser for the local public radio stations I wanted to reach out to some of the cheese community while here, beginning with my good friend Christine Hyatt, past president of the American Cheese Society, and well-connected to cheese peeps everywhere. She has been living in Phoenix for several years and has helped unite the cheese folks, drumming up a little excitement, stimulating the customer base, and helping raise standards among cheese makers and vendors.

Christine invited several members of the surrounding cheese community to her house on my first evening in town and I got to know them a little better. Christine pulled out all the stops! One of Phoenix’s few CCP’s, Adam Burstein, was there – his passion for cheese was immediately evident. Lara Mulchay is one of the pioneers of the Phoenix artisan cheese scene and she will be opening her latest cheese venture, Craft+Culture at the downtown Marriott. I know where I’ll be staying the next time I’m in town!

Wendell Crow, of Crow’s Dairy was at Christine’s too and he practically insisted we swing by his Nubian goat dairy west of town in Buckeye. So glad we did; the scenery was beautiful and the hospitality was amazing. It’s been kidding season in Buckeye so there were plenty of cute little doelings prancing around. They’ll be providing milk for Crow’s lovely cheeses in just a year!

We got to visit what is apparently Phoenix’s only independently owned cheese shop (hard to believe) the Wedge and Bottle. Owners Troy and Krista Daily have an operation that appears to be on a roll. Highly recommended; don’t take my word for it, just look at the reviews! I also dropped down to Tucson to do a little cheese talk at Tana Fryer’s Blu A Wine & Cheese Shop. My first visit to that lovely city and Tana and her team were super professionals.

The Arizona cheese appetite is growing; business is good, so no serious shortage of customers except perhaps in the hotter parts of summer. It seemed like the biggest challenge the producers face is limited fresh pasturage. No surprise there; after all, it is the desert. Same as in other arid regions around the globe, irrigation has turned broad swaths of the desert state into lush farmland. The water table is not far below the surface throughout most of the state, and there appears to be thick topsoil to nourish crops.

Arizona is one of the few states in the union that permits the sale of raw milk. Considering the independent mind-set defining Arizonans perhaps this may not be a surprise. Should anyone be thinking of moving their dairy operations to sunny Arizona the demand for unpasteurized milk exceeds supply. The availability of raw milk is all well and good, so long as every dairy is maintaining strict sanitary practices.

Whenever one of the infrequent problems occurs with dairy products it affects the entire industry, both raw and pasteurized products. Should problems occur in a raw milk it could have dramatic repercussions on access to raw milk cheeses as well – the ones aged sixty days or more. We hope that the booming Arizona dairy industry will take heed and ensure that all operators follow the highest standards. It would appear that the state’s industry is outpacing the resources of its inspectors. I hear that some raw milk producers are operating under the radar with caution thrown to the wind.

One little disappointment: the top line restaurant where I dined on my last night in Scottsdale had no cheese course. Nevertheless, the Arizona cheese industry is looking great already and it appears it is going to have a sunny future.

Final Weekend of EPCOT Food and Wine Festival

It has been a long time since I had the chance to write a post. However the final weekend of the 2014 EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival highlighted the power of food (especially cheese) and I want to share some thoughts with you. I presented a diversity of American, British, French and other European cheeses, beers and wines during this festival, all to further appreciate their many styles and traditions to the Disney World visitors. It has been a truly magical experience.


Having an all British week (also the earliest EPCOT weekend of all time!) somewhat foreshadowed my most recent endeavor, Cheese Journeys—you might already know about it if you subscribe to my newsletter. When I was speaking to these wine and cheese fans in late September, enjoying Montgomery’s Cheddar, I was hoping to find an opportunity to visit my distant cousin soon, Jamie Montgomery himself.

Well, be careful what you wish for! Shortly after that first EPCOT weekend, Anna Juhl reached out to me and invited me to be the guest educator for her UK and France Cheese Journeys. So, in April of 2015 Jamie and I will be having a little family reunion!

Having just worked with Spanish cheeses as a guest speaker at a StarChefs Manchego tasting, I thought we should add Spain as a destination. I met with my friends at the Spanish Trade Commission to discuss plans for a visit there soon. These tours take time to plan so the Spain trip may be set for 2016.

For 2015, a return to some of the most beautiful parts of France: Alsace, the Savoie and the Jura, will be amazing. From the Vosges mountains through the French Alps, then into the magnificent Jura, home to one of the world’s greatest cheeses, Comté. Also home to some of the greatest wines, such as Vin Jaune, made from the Savagnin grape.

All in all, this EPCOT season was the longest, most successful and, I dare say, the most exciting festival I have experienced during my extensive involvement with the Walt Disney Company, and every time I am reminded how great is the power cheese in the F&B world.


Queso Manchego

I had my strong espresso this morning, as well as pomegranate, cantaloupe, orange, almonds, walnuts, pecans and cashews. All I need now is my Manchego then I am set for hours. The American Cheese Society’s convention hotel in Sacramento featured Manchego every morning with its breakfast buffet, which helped sustain me for hours. This cheese has been one of my top cheese cravings for many years and I wanted to share some wisdom and history with you about a truly marvelous food of which I cannot seem to get enough.


If you ask a cheese lover what their favorite cheese is the name Manchego will come up more often than you might expect, given that there are hundreds of well-known cheese names in the world today. What makes Manchego a favorite is a combination of its many attributes beyond simple deliciousness. A big reason why it never fails taste-wise is that Manchego can tolerate poor handling and temperature abuse better than most others. This is partly because it is a cheese that comes from a region with harsh temperature extremes, so it has evolved to what it is today – a cheese of unparalleled keeping qualities. The long shelf life ensures that the cheese will retain its unique flavors and aromas, and will keep its delectable butter fats, and its sufficient moisture levels providing the pleasant mouthfeel, all held together in a complex protein structure. These qualities are unrivaled in Manchego’s many imitators and cognates. A cheese like today’s Manchego has been produced in the region for millennia but has only recently evolved to the world-class we know today.

The climatic conditions of La Mancha have always been challenging for an agrarian economy, as great as the soils may be. When irrigation was introduced nearly two centuries ago, the vast region became a prime location for agricultural exploits; it also became the “bread basket” of Spain. The one sheep breed that has always been able to thrive through the temperature extremes and arid conditions is the Manchega. The yield is low but the milk quality is high. It is a marvel to recognize how great a milk can be derived from such limited resources.

Now I ask you: What cheese are you craving?

Do you say Sì or No to Manchego?

Tanglewood Food & Wine Classic Recap

Dear Tanglewood Food & Wine Classic,
Thanks for the wonderful memories!

I had skirted around the Berkshires of western Massachusetts before, and I have probably flown over them a number of times, but this was my first real immersion into the area. It is easy to see why many people make the annual pilgrimage from many miles away. The region reminds me of the Ozarks: similar topography and roads, surprisingly similar vegetation and houses. The residents were welcoming, with many of them volunteering to make the Classic a success.


We arrived in Lenox a little too early for check-in so we spent most of the midday using the Cranwell Resort’s spa facilities; it was easy to see why our townhouse was not vacated early: one would want to prolong a stay as long as possible.
Continue reading Tanglewood Food & Wine Classic Recap

Cheeses of Massachusetts

Massachusetts has a long tradition of cheesemaking; nearly four hundred years of it, so they should have it down by now. The first Massachusetts cheese I recall tasting was Hubbardston Farm’s Classic Blue, an external blue mold goat cheese, invented by Lettie Kilmoyer. The next Massachusetts cheese I remember tasting was Great Hill Blue. That was about it, both of them excellent, but whatever else was being crafted there had to compete with another state to make its way into New York City. Cheese has been produced in Massachusetts for all this time but it is often overlooked because of what has been happening in Vermont.

My good friend and former colleague, Sarah Jennings, returned to Massachusetts after working with us in New York, and now she is on the advisory board of the Massachusetts Cheese Guild. When I was asked to present cheese at this weekend’s Tanglewood Wine & Food Classic I went to Sarah for some direction. Sure, I could find many other old and new favorites, from neighboring states or farther away, but I thought this would be a great opportunity to try some of the “local” cheeses, ones I may not have had before.

Continue reading Cheeses of Massachusetts

ACS Wrap Up

The 31st American Cheese Society conference has come to an end. If these annual meetings could last a few days longer it might be easier to take part in all the highlights–and spend more time with friends you only get to see once a year. But if the amount of work going in to executing the conference is taken into consideration, a shorter version might make more sense.

American Cheese Society Logo
American Cheese Society

Each year’s conference seems to get better than the last; this places pressure on future conference organizers. How they manage to cram all the various highlights into a tight 72-hour agenda must be the greatest challenge. Before the keynote address gets the ball rolling the organizing committee has to set aside a day to administer the Certified Cheese Professional exam. If it took place during the formal conference the candidates would miss important meetings, sessions and other opportunities. This adds a day to the agenda: the afternoon before the start of the conference for the exam itself, and preparing for it the full morning before: allowing time to set up the registration area, giving the proctors their assignments and instructions, and outfitting the exam room with electrical outlets, microphone and monitors, as well as loading the exam software into the rental laptops.
Continue reading ACS Wrap Up

Exam Day #cheesesociety14

Tuesday was a monumental day for cheese, the thousands of hours the candidates studied for the ACS CCP exam – the third exam – was tested that afternoon. The exam-takers came from various fields within the industry: cheese makers, retailers, educators and distributors. The exam was administered and proctored by the ACS Education and Outreach Manager, Jane Bauer, the CCP committee members, and several current CCPs.

Concentrated Test-Takers

The candidates did not appear to be particularly nervous going into the exam. Most of them seemed to be cool, calm and collected, fully prepared. This suggested that this group had been studying the many facets of cheese for many months; their eligibility to sit for the exam was thoroughly vetted.
Continue reading Exam Day #cheesesociety14

A CCP is not a Critical Control Point

The cheese world is buzzing; can you feel it?

If all the ACS CCP candidates can ace Tuesday’s exam it will make it a lot easier for the exam review committee. All perfect scores? It seems that everyone has been studying extra hard so maybe it could happen. There are around 230 scheduled to take the exam, about 50% more than last year! We are already looking at next year’s exam, thinking we may have to offer the exam twice to meet the forecasted demand.


Where the CCP project is headed is hard to say but we believe it has already contributed mightily to the cheese industry. The knowledge base has grown and cheese is being cared for better than ever. Quite simply, cheese is better understood and many cheese myths have been debunked. Producers may be more confident their cheeses are better represented and customers should feel more inclined to buy more cheese. The people behind the counters and cheese trolleys seem to know more than they use to; and there is a little more pride showing. The American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional program has taken the cheese wave and given it guidance and support, with positive ripple effects far beyond what is witnessed among the CCP’s themselves. Everybody’s doing it: getting to know cheeses.


Cheese Is Headed Your Way


There are no foods with a greater capacity to inspire passionate discourse, with a myriad of facets to consider: from animal welfare and sustainability, to nutrition and safety. This is part of the beauty of cheese study; it invites contemplation and it stimulates discussions around the globe and around the clock.

A former student emails me questions from her shop in Hong Kong; which triggers the memory of last summer’s young Provençale chèvres au lait cru – illegal for import here due to outdated and misinformed rationale; which reminds me of the upcoming FDA visit to the 31st American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento – a conference now being staged by the organization’s Denver-based administrators and a team of volunteer planning and judging committees’ members from around the country; while cheesemaker Mary Quicke readies for her full day traveling from Devon, England to be there too; while in the meantime: a cheese trolley is being set up for the evening service at a restaurant in Melbourne, who’s chef was inspired by a cheese talk given by Russell Smith – cheese expert of Down Under – also headed that way; as candidates for the Certified Cheese Professional exam are up all night cramming for the 29th of July; shepherds are releasing their flocks from their milking parlors in Portugal’s sunny Beira Baixa; while many millions of pounds of fermented milk cure on cool and damp wooden boards right here in the U.S. of A.; and young and old tummies alike are sated everywhere, including those of the crew of an international space station orbiting our planet.

It is good. Cheese is a food that is as greatly revered as it is reviled. Yet it is a food that has sustained our race for millennia and one that has been offered as a peace offering between warring parties.

Cheese is headed your way, starting now!


Maître Fromager