How a Cheddar Cheese Forced Devon & Blakely to Change Its Menu
When it comes to menu items, the name of the dish either screams for your attention or pushes your eyes down the menu. So when I saw a cheese listed in the title of a sandwich, such as Devon & Blakely's Avocado, English Cheddar Sandwich, I imagined hunks of flavorful cheese contrasting with the rich, creaminess of avocado slices. Unfortunately, when I tried it, the tasteless cheese doomed the entire sandwich's success.
The disappointment, while upsetting, got me thinking: What defines an English cheddar?
What exactly did Devon & Blakely pawn off as English cheddar in its sandwich?
And, wait a minute! Did Devon & Blakely change its menu as I researched this blog post? In light of Taylorgate, it's worth pointing out where a dining establishment's claims might exist in a gray area.
It took a few weeks last month to figure out the cheddar situation at Devon & Blakely. After walking a few blocks east from the chain's location at 15th and H streets NW, (and then seeking answers from the West Coast), I started to uncover the truth about English cheddars at Cowgirl Creamery.
Upon first sample, I knew what I tasted from Devon & Blakely's sandwich contrasted greatly from the artisanal cheeses found at Cowgirl Creamery. Its English cheddars oozed character: the Lincolnshire Poacher (technically an aged cow's milk cheese, but a cousin to cheddar), tasted nutty and pleasantly bitter while the Montgomery's Cheddar (traditional cloth-bound cheddar) announced a horseradish bite. One thing is clear, these cheeses have spunk.
But I still didn't know why the sandwich cheese tasted so different from Cowgirl Creamery's options. I called Sue Conley, the co-founder of Cowgirl Creamery, who works out of their warehouse in California.
Just like in America, "English cheese is made in industrial settings and made in artisanal styles. You probably got an industrial cheese aged in plastic," Conley explained after I complained about my flavorless cheese encounter.
Proper aging does not occur in plastic, of course. What makes a cheddar is the act of "cheddaring," Conley points out. "The curds knit together in the vat so it's like the texture of tofu. It's then cut into big slabs and then fit into big stacks. The stacking of the curds makes a cheddar."
Conley finishes her cheddaring lesson with the crucial next step: "The cheese is wrapped in a cheese cloth and then smeared with butter or lard in order for the cloth to stick to the cheese. It's aged 1 to 2 years in the traditional 50 pound wheel."
But this didn't explain what makes an English cheddar, as opposed to American. "The American palate is looking for that burning sharp flavor. There is just a desire for that bigger flavor. The English cheddar is more subtle with a depth of flavor. It doesn't hit over the head." But she quickly assured me that she's not making a judgment between the Patriots and the Redcoats.
Devon & Blakely, however, made a judgment call. After speaking with five different stores in Washington, D.C., and New York City, two employees, one assistant manager, one general manager and then the principal general manager, Sara Burke, it's official: Devon & Blakely does not use English cheddar in its "Avocado, English Cheddar Sandwich." Instead, the New York-based chain offers a sharp cheddar from Cabot, a Vermont Cheese company. Burke admitted: "We get fancy with our titles, but it's not meant to be disrespectful."
Apparently though, after repeated calls to Devon & Blakely, the sandwich shop realized that mislabeling their sandwich might be disrespectful to their customers.
The top picture explains their quick move to remedy the misrepresentation. You will notice a picture of the print menu (left) available in late December and the new website description (right) changed in the days since I spoke with D&B employees. I think they've realized cheese is a big deal, names are an even bigger deal and misleading the customer is completely inappropriate.
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