Serious Cheese: Goat Cheese as a Marker of Gentrification

Serious Cheese

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There was an article in last weekend's New York Times that I found utterly fascinating. In a memoir-style piece, author Jennifer Mascia described the epiphany she experienced when realizing that goat cheese had made it to her East Harlem supermarket. To her, this signaled that gentrification was truly taking hold.

When I read the story, I wondered why goat cheese—a very basic, rustic food—has become so symbolic of "gourmet" food in America, specifically the gastronomic revolution that has taken place in the last 30 years. One could even argue that goat cheese is more indicative of gentrification than even the supremely-yuppified arugula.

Seven years ago, I lived in the paradigmatic neighborhood for gentrification—Park Slope, Brooklyn. Granted, gentrification there began in the 1970s and 1980s with the exodus of Upper West Siders priced out of what was once one of the cheaper parts of Manhattan, but there was another wave that happened in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

This wave produced restaurants like Dizzy's, an upscale diner. It's the kind of place where you can order "two poached eggs served over cubed focaccia and drizzled with olive oil, Parmesan, and fresh basil." It was there where I once overheard a kid at the next table over—he was maybe four years old—order a cheese omelet. The server asked him what kind of cheese he wanted, and he said, "I want goat cheese."

The epicenter of goat cheese is in France's Loire Valley, where most of the producers are small-scale and nonindustrial. These hardworking farmers, whose calloused hands gently ladle sheets of stark-white curd into molds of various shapes and sizes, are as far from the term "gentry" as you could imagine.

The history of goat cheese in America begins in the late 1970s, with pioneering cheesemakers like Laura ChenelAlice Waters discovered her cheese, then proceeded to help build a national culinary revolution. In the three decades since then, and especially in the last 15 years or so, goat cheese has made it to the mainstream.

And so with regard to this weekend's Times article, I find myself wondering whether goat cheese appearing in a largely Latino neighborhood is a marker of gentrification, or a marker of the mainstreaming of goat cheese in America? I don't know the answer to that (if you do, please chime in), but I do know that regardless of the ideological implications, I'm still going to eat my goat cheese—and enjoy it.