An Interview with Jason Sobocinski

Jason Sobocinski has cheese on the brain. Perhaps it’s due to growing up vegetarian, when he ate a lot of cheese as his source of protein. Or maybe it’s because he really got into cheese while catering at Chestnut Fine Foods in New Haven, CT. Regardless, Jason’s cheese-related projects keep growing and growing, making this chef and cheese expert a force to be reckoned with.

Jason is known as the owner and founder of Caseus Fromagerie Bistro in New Haven, CT, an award-winning restaurant/cheese shop now in its fifth year. He also hosts The Big Cheese on The Cooking Channel, a series devoted to all things cheese.

Jason also owns The Cheese Truck (in its third year), a food truck specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches; he recently opened Ordinary, a bar that serves cheese and charcuterie, with his brother, a manager from Caseus, and another restaurateur in the area; and he has partnered on Mystic Cheese Co., a venture with cheesemaker Brian Civitello. In addition, Jason has paired up with local pizza and beer bar BAR to bring specialty cheeses to great pizza. He says, “It’s been a blast putting Rogue Smokey Blue on a Buffalo Chicken pizza or Bucheron with local heirloom tomatoes on a pie. People have been really digging it, too.” And if that’s not enough, Jason and his wife have a 2 month old and a 2 year old, both sons.

In between his myriad projects, Jason answered some of our questions on American cheese, cooking with cheese, and where the industry is headed.

  1. What is it that you love most about American cheeses? “The potential. The growth. The pioneering spirit. It’s been really great watching over the past couple years as the American market has improved and grown and become more accessible. But what I really love the most is that I can connect with the people who make the cheese. I don’t have the time or funds to travel to Europe! That connection is what really helps with understanding the cheeses’ stories and being able to serve it, cook it, melt it, eat it, and sell it to our customers.”
  2. Any new American cheese finds that you’d like to share? “Melville by the Mystic Cheese Co. is my current favorite. It’s also my new venture with cheesemaker and good friend Brian Civitello. He came up with this amazing soft-ripened half pound square of buttery, melty, deliciousness. We’re making it up in Lebanon, CT as fast as we can and looking to start producing more soon. It’s been a hit everywhere we’ve taken it and it cooks and melts beautifully.”
  3.  What’s your favorite grilled cheese? “Our Classic grilled cheese: Cabot Extra-Sharp Cheddar, Springbrook Farms’ Reading, Gruyere, Comté, Juraflore, Emmentaller, Provolone, Beemster Vlaskass Gouda, on Pain au Levain toasted with butter. Add a slice of apple pie and our house-cured guanciale. It’s transcendent.”
  4.  Do you have any recommendations/tricks for cooking with cheese? “Yes! Do it. I feel like so many great cheeses get purchased and 80% is eaten. Then they sit lonely in the fridge getting old and tired and forgotten. Just cook them! I love to mix different cheeses based on their textures and flavors. Sure, I love the sweet sharpness of Plymouth Hunter, but melted alone it can tend to break. So I shred it up and mix in some Springbrook Farms’ Reading (a Raclette style) that melts into velvet. The “melter” helps out with texture, and I still get the flavor I’m looking for. Melt it on what? EVERYTHING. Lately at Caseus, we’ve been really into grain salads. Millets, cracked wheat berries, faro with fresh veggies, and whatever inspires us from our ‘butts, ends, and nubs’ box of cheeses we need to move. It’s a great way to eat “healthy” while still getting in your curd quota.”
  5.  Where do you see the American cheese industry heading in the next 5 years? “UP, UP, UP. I think that in the next couple years, the focus of the American cheese industry, especially the small production, farmstead operations, will be to upgrade their systems, creating more of an infrastructure to product consistent products within a standard that will rival the rest of the world. Working with Brian at the Mystic Cheese Co., I’ve seen what really well-designed cheese facilities can produce and it excites me! My hope is that more and more dairies will see the benefits of cheesemaking, and the technology to help them do this will be more affordable, easier to obtain and run, and more unique American cheeses will continue to hit our markets.”

Published October 21, 2013