He Who Smelt It Dealt It: Introducing Wingtip Cheesemonger Matt Gill

Every Thursday for the past year, Matt Gill has been rolling a cart around the club, full of specially selected cheeses. Some selections are tied to a specific theme, like goat’s milk or all blue cheeses or even Halloween pairings (e.g. brie and cotton candy). July was spent lasering in on all-American cheese. Other weeks, Gill just picks what he likes, what he wants to share with club members. On those days, just listen and hold on. On those days, just listen and hold on. Gill will enchant you with his ripened testimony until everything goes quiet and you sail away on the seas of cheese. His passion for cheese and its related specialty foods knows no bounds. Except camel. He’s not totally sold on artisanal camel meat–yet.

You’ll see Gill in the hallways of Wingtip, always toting some new find–raw almonds still in shells or sage-pollen honeycomb, or a leg of Iberico jamon, or some probiotic drink. Ask him what he’s carrying. We did. And here’s what happened:

Wingtip: What’s on the cart tonight? [6/xx/15]

Matt Gill: Aged cheese from around the world [like] Ossau-Iraty, a sheep’s milk cheese. [It’s] found in most cheese shops, but ours is from one of the highest farms in the Pyrenees. [A] helicopter has to go up to retrieve it.

WT: What’s your favorite cheese?

MG: Which is your favorite hand? Your favorite foot? Your favorite child? You may have one but you’ll never tell. 

WT: Did you have one particular life-changing cheese?

MG: Delice de Pommard, the red mustard version. It isn’t generally considered good by most cheesemongers, but I still love it. I was working at this cafe down in Laguna Beach and they had this tiny cheese counter. They have this little ball of fresh cheese, they roll it through crushed red mustard. And I just remember about once a week, getting one of the breads that Hugo the baker would make, and then a ball of this Delice de Pommard and just going to the beach and swimming and just chowing down. That would be my meal about once a week. No accoutrements, no fruit, no nothing. Just me that bread and that cheese.

WT: How should you store cheese?

MG: For the longest time I refused to refrigerate my cheese, but I was going through a lot. Now I refrigerate my cheese with the full realization that your refrigerator has been sold to you incorrectly. If you think about the way you should be storing food, it doesn’t make sense, because in cold climates, humidity falls, so if you put all your vegetables at the bottom, these fibrous things that absorb moisture, it’s not a crisper drawer, it’s actually a drawer in which you put something to add moisture. That’s where you store your cheese and charcuterie. You never use plastic wrap, you do wax paper. Good cheese continually sweats butter fat. And fat is flavor. Anything that fat comes into contact with, it will adopt that flavor, so if you wrap it with plastic, your cheese is going to taste like plastic. And you may not notice it, but I will.

WT: Tell us about the display you did for this year’s Ian Fleming “From Russia With Love” party.

MG: This was a fun one for me, as nobody else had really done a display like this before. Deborah Keane of the California Caviar Co. was able to have her fisherman bring in two 3-footlong sturgeon and then we stuffed them with 1.5 kilos of caviar from the same species of fish. The display was impressive, not only from a novel visual standpoint, but also in terms of having access to those kinds of fresh ingredients at Wingtip. The fish had been dead no longer than three days before the party which made the raw meat incredibly fresh and delicious for sashimi. The beads themselves were not from those particular fish but from the same farm.

WT: So what do you have planned for this December’s Frank Sinatra party?

MG: For Frank’s 100th birthday I’m trying to pull out all the stops. By no means is anything finalized yet, but I will hopefully bring on some truffle displays, foie gras sponsorships, and a few other treats I have been keeping under my jauntily tipped hat.

WT: Who wins in a fight between Stilton and Maytag blue cheeses?

MG: This could get pretty philosophical. In terms of these two cheeses, Stilton wins every time. In terms of European vs American cheeses? I will have an answer for that in five years. Ask again.

WT: What is your favorite cheese, food, and wine pairing?

MG: Cheese and food with wine? I prefer beer with cheese, and will probably take a decently cooked steak with Fourme d’Ambert blue cheese and a nice cold ale. Or Berlinnerweisse if it’s hot.

WT: What else do you do at Wingtip?

MG: Currently I am also acting as an upscale/bespoke grocer. My main work goal is to eventually cut out the middleman for farm-to-table food at Wingtip. I help Chef [Matt Paine] and the members find rare and unique food, I consult on menus, and I try to teach people how to find the best possible foodstuffs for their pantry. In the future I will head the garde manger [cold food prep] kitchen and hopefully stock it with people who are smarter than I am and can really focus on their passion for fermentation, cured goods, and cold kitchen prep.

WT: Do you have time for anything else?

MG: It all currently revolves around food. I visit farms and I try to do some charity when I can. Last year [I focused on] water, this year was kids, thinking next year will be homelessness. I also do a lot of random stuff to try to broaden my interests (swim challenges, glass blowing classes) but nothing besides food-related things really sticks.  

WT: So, what’s on the cart tonight? [7/xx/15]

MG: I’m not usually a huge fan of cheese with stuff in it, but I got introduced to this one out of Cooperstown. It’s a raw cow’s milk cheese studded with red green and back peppercorn and they’re putting some sort of proprietary cocoa rub on the outside for the rind. [Then there’s] Eventon Premium Reserve out of Jacobs and Brichford, Indiana, an 18-month raw cow’s milk cheese. It’s their take on an Alpine gruyere, but it’s sweeter, it’s funkier. Everybody has a different allergic reaction to it which is kind of fun. When it hits your tongue you’re either gonna taste spicy or you’re gonna feel something tingly or your gonna feel an itch. It’s because you’re having a mild allergic reaction to it. The blue cheese tonight is Bailey Hazen, also out of Vermont. The way I explain it is, imagine 20,000 square feet dug into a hill surrounded by a birch forest…



David is Wingtip's storyteller. In addition to editing the Modern Gentleman's Blog, he has written for Wax Poetics, The Source, SF Weekly, and the East Bay Express, and others. His inspirations include Rumble Fish, Paul's Boutique, and Balzac. He studied English at the City University of New York at Hunter College and journalism at the University of Southern California. He lives in Berzerkeley with his wife and daughter.

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