Earlier this week I was lucky enough to sit down for a chat with Andrew Torrens, the head cheesemonger at Beecher’s New York outpost in Flatiron. Andrew knows everything about cheese production and more. He comes at cheese from a unique scientific background, having received a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. Read on to find out what cheeses go into Beecher’s world famous mac & cheese, the most exciting step of cheese production and what Andrew’s favorite cheese is.
How did you first get into cheese?
I was living in the city after school working at a Ninja-themed restaurant, and I looked in the mirror and was like, “What am I doing? I have a college degree and I’m working at a Ninja-themed restaurant!?” So, I google-searched “food microbiology internships,” since that’s what I had a degree in, and found an internship at Murray’s cheese down in The Village and after that, I fell in love with cheese. I did a three-month long internship in their cheese cave and I learned so much – I was sold.
What’s your favorite Beecher’s cheese?
I’d have to say it’s the Flagship Reserve, the standard Flagship cheese but we age it for 12-14 months using the technique for aging cheddar: open air, cloth bound and rubbed down the butter, as the cheese ages it concentrates the flavor. Beecher’s has a small aging facility in the cellar so we produce about 60 wheels of this cheese per year, very small batches, super high quality.
Do you work hand and hand with the chef the develop recipes that will best highlight your cheeses?
Honestly, I leave a lot to the chefs, since they know how to work with the cheese that we produce here. But I would like to start working on some new cheese, I also help out with all our wine dinner because I have a decent amount of wine knowledge and am studying for my Sommelier certification.
What types of cheese go into your world famous mac and cheese?
So it’s our Flagship, which is a standard cheddar that uses gruyere and alpine style cultures to lend it some sweetness and nuttiness and we blend that with our Just Jack which is our jack style cheese. So you have more complex flavors in the Flagship and the Just Jack beefs up the creaminess.
What’s your favorite cheese in the world (besides Beecher’s cheeses, of course)?
I always say that my favorite cheese is a Seeep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees Mountains in France called Ossau-Iraty. It gets it fatty richness from the sheep’s milk, plus extra richness and lift of flavor, gaminess and sweet nuttiness you get from Alpine style cheeses. It’s a really, really great cheese.
What is your favorite part of the cheesemaking process?
The cheddaring process is very unique process only used when making cheddar cheese. The cutting of the loaves which we do here, where we let all the curds, all the solid particles of the cheese knit together and then we strategically cut that into what look like large bread loaves and those are stacked and flipped on top of eachother. This gives cheddar it’s unique texture and the specific moisture content. I’d say it’s my favorite step since it’s unique.
What should a novice cheese buyer look for when selecting a cheese?
If they are going to a good shop, they should try cheeses and not feel intimidated. I haven’t worked behind a cheese counter a ton but the little I have, I’d say that most of the time if you’re showing your passionate and interested in learning, the cheesemonger is going to immediately pick up on that and have a fun time with you. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. And give very specific information about what you need the cheese for.