Max McCalman traces the beginnings of his one-of-a-kind cheese career to one of his earliest childhood memories. As a two-year old he reached out for a piece of cheese while sitting on his mother's kitchen counter. He had a cold that day so she was afraid he might "infect" the cheese. She warned him not to touch it. The forbidden fruit.
Ages six to twelve were spent growing up in Brazil. His parents were told to avoid dairy products while living there, and to parboil any milk before drinking. This meant an excruciating six years with no cheese! Upon returning to the U.S., Max proceeded to eat as much cheese as he possibly could. These were the early beginnings of a lifelong cheese education.
Despite his removal from cheese in Brazil, Max was still able to enjoy dining at fine restaurants: for the theatre as much as for the food. He was impressed with the professionalism and pride he witnessed. Max recalled this when he took a summer job in a restaurant during college; it was not fine dining but there was plenty of theatre. Those experiences helped prepare him for his future career in cheese, including many of his college courses: Organic Chemistry, Symbiosis, Physics, Psychopharmacology, Statistics, English History, the French Revolution, Western Religious Traditions, Spanish, French, German, and others. Cheese became a focal point for Max's diverse academic interests.
After college, Max worked for a European owned and operated Little Rock restaurant, Restaurant Jacques et Suzanne. Surrounded by a French-speaking staff, kitchen and floor, Max honed his French as well as his professional skills working as Chef de Rang under the tutelage of Maître d'Hotel, Louis Petit. Max also began to learn more about fine wines during his time at Jacques et Suzanne. Being a young American slowed down what otherwise could have been a rapid advancement at the grande dame European establishment. His desire to learn and master was all but quelled.
Max believed he could learn much more while at that restaurant but he decided to take his talents and newly acquired skills to a new Trusthouse Forte Hotel opening in Little Rock, the Excelsior. There he advanced rapidly in the hotel's fine dining restaurant to the position of Maître d'Hotel – while still in his twenties! This was his first experience in the hotel corporate world, followed by stints at Sheraton in Texas and New Jersey, then to New York City's largest hotel, the New York Hilton in 1988.
Max became General Manager of Manhattan's The Water Club in 1990, where he remained until the birth of his daughter in 1992. He was a full-time dad for her first two years. He joined Picholine Restaurant as Maître d'Hotel where he launched its cheese service in 1995. Max was able to juggle the job of Maître d'Hotel, Fromager and second Sommelier for only a short while before the cheese program required his undivided attention. He spearheaded the installment of the first temperature and humidity controlled cheese cave in a North American restaurant in Picholine in late 1995. Max's new 'office' became the talk of the town.
Picholine was the cheese destination in New York for several years giving its Chef/Owner the idea to open a second restaurant with a greater focus on cheese. During this exciting period Max managed to find enough extra time to author his first book on cheese - 'The Cheese Plate' - and published it in 2002. While managing his Picholine responsibilities alongside the authoring of The Cheese Plate, Max became an instrumental part in the planning and designing of the second restaurant, the Artisanal Bistro, which featured a retail counter for selling cheese and five separate cheese caves – each of them intended for curing different families of cheeses. Almost immediately after Artisanal Bistro opened, Max started work on his second book, 'Cheese: A Connoisseur's Guide to the World's Best'. This book went on to win a James Beard Award – the only cheese book to ever receive such an exclusive honor. It became apparent that the demand for high-quality cheeses, both from individuals and from wholesale customers, was exceeding the capacity of the cheese caves at the Artisanal Bistro, so the idea of a larger facility focused exclusively on cheese was conceived. The space for the new Artisanal Cheese Center was acquired in 2002 and in less than a year it opened with larger state-of-the-art cheese caves, a production area, a classroom, and sales offices. Max was involved in all areas of planning and operating the Artisanal Center as its Maître Fromager and Dean of Curriculum, while still serving as Maître Fromager for Picholine and Artisanal restaurants.
Max has been awarded the title of Maître Fromager as designated by France's Guilde Internationale des Fromagers Comfrérie de Saint-Uguzon, and in January 2011 was given an award from Les Trophées de l'Espirit Alimentaire (French Food Spirit Awards) for Entrepreneurship for 2010.
A highlight of the Artisanal curriculum was the Master Series for professionals. The series covered multiple facets of the cheese world including: milk components, dairy species and breeds, cheese making, affinage, display, cutting techniques, regulations, and accompaniments and wine pairings. The success of the Master Series prompted Max's publisher to suggest a third book, 'Mastering Cheese: Lessons For Connoisseurship from a Maître Fromager'. That book went on to win Best Cheese Book in the World, at the Gourmand Cookbook Awards in Paris – this time even the French could not deny a young American's expertise and experience.
As Max's work load at the Artisanal center and elsewhere increased, he separated from the restaurants to focus his attention solely on the cheese operations. Max had become an esteemed cheese judge and critic by this time: judging at a number of cheese competitions around the U.S. and Europe, as well as being featured as a guest lecturer in various venues including luxury cruise ships.
Max's most recent publication is Max McCalman's Swatchbook of Wine and Cheese Pairings, which is drawn from his many years recording successful marriages between cheeses and beverages – wines especially. This will soon be featured as his first mobile phone application.
Max was one of the founders of the American Cheese Society's (ACS) Certified Cheese Professional program launched in 2004, further helping to revolutionize cheese education in the United States. He became Chairman of its committee in 2012.
Max left the Artisanal company in May of 2014 to focus on the creative endeavors within the cheese industry: educating and training corporate and private clients, writing articles, blogs, and a new book; hosting events; consulting for restaurants, retailers, and cheesemakers; and developing a new cheese app, as well as an educational web-based program.
As stated in the first post of his new blog – Max will ensure that cheese is headed your way!
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