Cheesemonger at the Houston Dairymaids
Visit the quaint cheese shop that is the Houston Dairymaids and you’ll be greeted with a warm smile and expertise. Houston Dairymaids owner Lindsey Schechter does everything with great intention, and that includes picking her cheesemongers. Many of the Dairymaids have a background working in professional kitchens.
“When hiring, we look for people with a passion for food and a willingness to pay meticulous attention to detail,” she says. “Cheese is alive and constantly changing. A cheesemonger needs to observe these differences so she can communicate the nuances to her customer.”
In Schechter’s crew there is a variety of skill sets; including a SEO specialist, a photographer, a sous chef and even a U.S. Navy veteran. The common thread is that they all love cheese—bordering on obsession.
“You also have to really like the color orange to be a Dairymaid,” says Schechter, referring to the orange and brown that dominate the shop décor.
Shannon McCracken is the Navy vet in the bunch. Following her deployment, she graduated from culinary school and worked as a pastry chef in Houston for nearly half a decade. When McCracken interviewed for the cheesemonger position at Dairymaids, Schechter asked her if she was comfortable lifting heavy wheels of cheese. McCracken’s response was: “I used to lift bombs in the Navy.” Schechter says, “I knew Shannon wouldn’t be afraid of a little hard work; she was hired!”
McCracken didn’t realize her love for cheese until she worked with it hands on. “Humboldt Fog was the cheese that changed my life!” Mc-Cracken acts as a cheese curator and she found her beloved Humbolt Fog when building a cheese dessert course. “I get my hands in a little bit of everything. I love doing all the cheese trays, it’s my artistic outlet.” If creating a cheese platter is an art form, McCracken’s are masterpieces. The pride she takes in her work is evident.
Since joining the Dairymaids four years ago, McCracken has continued to evolve as a cheesemonger.
“By tasting and evaluating cheeses on a daily basis, she’s broadened her cheese vocabulary,” says Schechter. The Dairymaids’ purveying process is unique because they take time to see where their products come from. “Visiting the farms definitely increased my knowledge of cheese and the whole process. I love the personal relationships the Dairymaids have with cheesemakers!”
SHANNON’S FAVORITE CHEESE:
Vermont Creamery Cremont—“I love blended-milk cheeses. They are more dynamic! It’s goaty and kind of funky, yet mild and buttery.”
SHANNON’S PERFECT CHEESE PLATE:
It’s best to design a cheese plate in odds, three or five cheeses that build in intensity. Begin with a fresh cheese, like Pure Luck Farms Chèvre; then an earthy, firm cheese, like Redneck Cheddar from Dublin, TX; and a blue to finish, such as Deep Ellum Blue from Dallas. For a well-rounded plate, you want a variety of milks, textures and colors. When it comes to pairings, think opposites. A homerun local pairing is Baby Caprino (Blanco, TX) with Houston's own Garden Dreams Mayhaw Jelly and McPherson Albariño from Lubbock.
Kerrisa Treanor is a photographer, writer and designer with a BFA from University of Houston. You can find her handywork at The Houston Dairymaids and Whole Foods Market.