Caputo’s Market has a cult following of cheese enthusiasts. If you visit Caputo’s Market in downtown Salt Lake City, you notice two things: an impressive counter display of cheese and the two Cheese Caves, temperature and humidity controlled rooms with racks full of beautiful wheels of cheese. The Cheese Caves are the difference between keeping cheese, selling it and improving it. Integral to the process is Antonia Horne, Caputo’s affineur.
If you are lucky, you’ve caught a glimpse of “Cheese Performance Art” by Horne in the windows, carefully washing, brushing and turning each wheel of cheese. When the cheese arrives, it’s jet lagged. Spending time in shipping containers and sitting on pallets in warehouses makes cheese cranky. Each type of cheese has specific needs of temperature, humidity and special treatment which they receive in the Cheese Cave.
“Cheese is alive. In our cave we look at each wheel like a living breathing organism. Each cheese has a birth that is the cheese making process. But birth is just the beginning,” says Matt Caputo, President of Tony Caputo’s Market & Deli. “Cheese aging, or the art of affinage, is the child rearing of the cheese world. An affineur’s loving care guides the flora of cultures in the paste and on the surface to develop flavors with greater depth, complexity and vibrancy.” says Caputo.
The word “affineur” is used to describe the person who takes care of the cheese in the Cheese Cave. Aging cheese isn’t a precise science – it’s more of an art. Much like art, there are no short cuts. It takes patience and skill to take cheese to the next level. “As with children, success with cheeses involves nature and nurture. With solid genetics (cheese making) and good parenting, schooling and life experiences (affinage/aging), you can have an adult cheese that is unique, healthy and an expression of nature, art and culture. With bad or negligent cheese aging, even the best cheeses can wind up in prison,” says Caputo. “Antonia is a wonderful parent to her little baby cheeses and shepherds them into adulthood with all the TLC of the best artisans in the world.”
At Caputo’s, Horne works as a cheesemonger as needed, helping customers. She also keeps inventory of the cheese, but her real job is to organize and run the cheese caves. “No two days are the same” she says. “The creativity fluctuates,” she explains. The majority of her time is spent meeting the needs of existing customers, but she’ll find herself in solid creative periods, creating new flavors in test batches. Horne is passionate about her job. “We get to play. We can try anything we want. It’s really freeing to not have conventions.” she says.
An example is a collaboration with Copper Onion to create the cheese Copper Caputo. It is a testament of the unusual and delicious things that can be done in the Cheese Cave. Taking a young asiago, enrobed in a dreamy combination of sour cherries and brandy cooked up by Copper Onion, the cheese develops a very sweet, nutty flavor. Copper Caputo is ideal for a dessert cheese. Next time you are there ask for a sample.
Horne has been working on the Greektown Blue Cheese, using goat cheese from Mesa Farm, a tiny, sustainable farm with 34 goats in Torrey, Utah. The farmer works closely with Caputo’s to develop their ideal cheese. Upon arrival, it’s rubbed down with goat butter and salt. “The Greektown Blue Cheese is a unique mixture of different molds to make a specific flavor” says Horne. Another fun collaboration using the Mesa Farm goat cheese involves Avenues Proper’s popular beer, Gose the Gozerian. The tangy and fruity beer transforms the cheese, creating floral notes. It’s not available for retail, so the next time you find yourself at Avenues Proper, be sure to ask about the unusual cheese.
The Downtown Farmers’ Market at Pioneer Park is where Horne finds seasonal inspiration. Ripe peaches and fresh figs made their way into the Cheese Cave last year, and she’s excited to do further experimentation.
The Downtown Caputo’s Market is located at 314 W. 300 S. in Salt Lake City. They are open from Monday-Saturday: 9am-7pm and Sunday: 10am-5pm.