Towards the end of the fall 2016 semester, the official idea for my senior project was born; a cheese and art show. With the help of Emily Cournan, we came up with the concept for the show and what it would be about; together we figured out the semantics and how we would pull this show all together. Once we returned from the winter break, we put the show into motion. Our idea was that the show would consist of many different artists- who have nothing to do with cheese, and we would curate not only the artwork but also a pairing duo to accompany each piece. Each cheese was selected for the artist, not the work itself, and each cheese would be paired with something, like a homemade mustard or store bought jam. I wanted most of the cheese condiments to be homemade, to give it a more authentic cheese tasting vibe. We named the show Pairings because each artist was paired with a cheese and each cheese was paired with, well, a pairing.
The first thing we had to do was to reach out to our fellow students and see how many artists we could get. We utilized our campus Open Forum page and hooked several peers and through word of mouth we got a few more. We ended up with a total of twelve artists, each a different medium and background and a wide range of majors. To collect all the data from the artists, we used Google Forms; we created one that asked for their name, preferred pronouns, contact email, year, major, title of their work, a description of the work, a description of themselves, at least two types of favorite cheese, and if they had an allergy or not. We collected each piece of artwork the week before the show's set-up. Before collecting the artwork, the only things we knew about each piece was the title. With a few exceptions of friends being in the show, we didn't see any of the pieces until they were collected. The show ran from Sunday March 26th through Tuesday March 28th, 2017.
Once we finally had all the forms filled out, it was time to curate the cheese and pairings. I used a book called "Composing the Cheese Plate" by Brian Keyser and Leigh Friend. This book contains recipes and pairing guides for many different artisan cheeses. I used this as my sort of Bible while I picked out which cheese I would do for each artist. Using their answers from the google form I selected all twelve cheeses, making sure to add variety so I didn't end up with, say, twelve types of cheddars. Then I carefully looked through the book and picked out different things I thought sounded interesting and delicious as well as using the authors' suggestions. Some of the pairings I researched otherwise like the Parmigiano Reggiano and dark chocolate pairing. I found an article that suggested this to be the most perfect pairing. This article linked back to a site where a collective of people create unique and satisfactory pairings based on science. Some of the other cheese pairings were things I knew to be classic like the double creme brie and the fig spread, or just interesting pairings based on the artist, like sottocenere and the raspberry jam. The artist who had this pairing really loved that cheese, and is a fanatic of raspberry flavors, so pairing these up was a risk that output a tasty combination.
My cheese - selecting process was based on my three+ years of being SUNY Purchase's Cheese Club President. Throughout these years I was able to discover flavor combinations that I feel work well together and was able to utilize this knowledge on combining certain cheeses. For example, with Maya Lee's Smoke, I used a smoked gouda and rosemary pinenuts. These flavors worked well because the roasted, toasty flavor of the pinenuts brought out the smoky flavor in the gouda and they worked in tandem for an explosion of flavor. Although my original intent was to pair the cheese with the artist, instead of the art, several pairings worked out so that the cheese and art fit together, including this piece. This one was obvious, with Smoke as the title and the gouda and pinenuts exuding a smoked flavor.
Another example is Katherine Steen's Mosaic Woman and the cheese pairing, sottocenere and raspberry jam. From the image of her work you can see that there a colorful side and a grey scale side. These worked with the cheese because sottocenere is an ash rind cheese that is very light in color, and a very grey cheese, along with flecks of black that come from the truffles inside the cheese paste. The raspberry jam acts as a reference to the color in the painting, with its bright coloration. It adds color and dimension to the cheese, as the color in the painting accentuates the grey tones.
A third example is using Avraham Moskowitz's Steve Briescemi and the double creme brie. This is the 1st example of an artist specifically requesting a cheese to go with their work. Since he named the cheese in the title, it was only natural that we chose this cheese for this artist. Additionally it is also his favorite cheese, which worked out even better. We went with the pairing of fig spread because that is one of the most classic cheese pairings out there. Many places use this combination in their food, groceries sell these items next to each other and recipes are endless when it comes to using this pairing together. I loved the idea of using this iconic pairing, because it serves as a standard to break from. The fact that this was the most normalized and one of the few store bought items, it allowed me to get extra creative with the rest of the pairings.
My final example is the intentional use of a gas station cheese & beef combo to go alongside Anthony Guagliardo's Good Luck 08 piece. It was his idea that instead of a fancy artisan cheese that we opt for something that would work well with his piece. Originally we thought of cheese wiz and crackers, but on our way to get the rest of the ingredients, we stopped by a gas station. When I searched inside, I immediately went over to the jerky and links section, and when I found the Jack Link's All American Beef and Cheese combo, I was sold. This was the perfect fit for the found lottery ticket artwork, and I'm glad I didn't stick to my "all artisan cheese" idea.
To make this show a true success we needed to ensure we had the proper space. We applied to the Forum Art Space, an on campus student resource that is run by two of our peers located in the Stood. To use this space we had to fill out an application and hope for the best. Fortunately I knew who ran the space, and when I asked about the application, they said they were super excited to see our show and that we were most definitely getting a spot on their exhibition rotation. This was one of the easier parts of this project, but before we knew we got it, the stress of not knowing if we had the space had a huge impact on me.
To make the show extra special we needed supplies. These extra bits came in handy, and make the show go above and beyond the anticipated. I bought several small wooden cheese boards for each artists' table and a ton of memo-pads, table cloths, pens, and even a plastic marquee sign to say "Welcome to Pairings Art Show" (See header image). However, these extra bits cost money, as well as the cheese and in order to get that money, I set up a Go Fund Me account. I raised $350 and I only asked for $300. I sent the link out to my family members and a few cheese friends I've made, as well as posted it to facebook. My partner in this project, Emily, also shared it to hers, which helped us to achieve the goal even faster. So fast in fact, that we raised the money in less than 12 hours. In the first 30 minutes of it being live, we raised over 50% of the funds. This helped to ease the financial burden this project would've taken on me otherwise, and I'm glad I was brave enough to ask for money. I cannot be more grateful to all those who donated, because these funds really made this project special.
Once we secured the funding, it was on to the fun part, buying the cheese and cooking the necessary pairings. In total I made 9 different pairings. A few artists dropped out, and one pairings didn't work out, so I ended up using 8 of the pairings made. When two of my artists dropped out, I had already made their pairings and chosen/purchased their cheese and I figured I would just keep them for myself. However, when one of my pairings didn't work out, I switched to one of the pairings already made, tested it with the cheese, and discovered it to be a really tasty combination. I added it to the show for the second and third day of the show and it was well-received. This was for the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar and the orange confit. The original pairings for this cheese was a spiced apple cider reduction, that didn't turn out quite like I expected. It was too hard to use and wouldn't have tasted as good as the orange confit did. The second situation was when I ran out of the tomato confit paired with the fresh mozzarella. I didn't make nearly as much as I should've, and since I had previously made a bacon jam for the other artist, it worked out perfectly. The bacon jam was better received than the tomato and the smoky flavor of the bacon truly complimented the mozzarella. There was enough of the jam made for both days, and everything went smoothly.
One of my favorite pairings was the blood orange fennel chip and the manchego. I couldn't get enough of this one and I felt like I was constantly snacking on this. The chips were the hardest yet most fun to make, as their delicateness made it a challenging cooking experiment. I had to buy a mandolin to make them, as a knife wouldn't have sliced them thin enough- believe me, I tried. The chip was seasoned with whole fennel seeds and this flavor was like a bittersweet anise combination. It was strange yet addictive. I really enjoyed matching and cooking the pairings, and I was able to document a lot of the process on the instagram we set up for the show. The only part that wasn't exciting was cutting all of the cheese into cubes and sticking them with their pairing. Since I didn't want to let the pairing get soggy, or the cheese get ugly from soaking up the color of the pairings, I had to do most of this mere hours before each show. It took several hours to complete these before each opening, and I ended up having way too much cheese anyway. This part of the project was the most labor intensive, more so than even setting up the Forum Art Space, once we were allowed in.
The night before the opening, we were given the go-ahead to set up the show. We went as early as possible to set up, as neither of us had really been in the space before. I'd seen it maybe once or twice beforehand, but we weren't sure of how we wanted to set up the work. I let my partner take lead on this portion of the show, as she had more experience and a keen eye when it comes to installing artwork. After several hours of putting the room together, using tables borrowed from family and friends, thumbtacks and nails provided by the Forum Art Space, and loaded up on caffeine from Starbucks, we finally finished set up. All we had left for the opening was to bring the bubbly (sparkling cider, as alcohol is not allowed in the Stood) and set up the cheese. It was fun setting the show up and seeing it all come together.
The opening night was a huge success, and our most populated evening for the whole show. Family and friends came out to support us and everyone enjoyed the cheese and pairings. One of the more lucrative ideas we had for this show was the inclusion of an interactive critique. We gave each patron a memo pad and a pen, and set a box for collection at each station. The patrons were encouraged to write as little or as much as they would like, and stick it in the bin next to the piece they were writing about. Initially we were worried that no one would want to write much, but we were taken aback when we saw how much people were into the idea. Some people were writing paragraphs about each piece, connecting the dots between the cheese and the art, and including what they thought all together. Over the 1st two days we collected around 30 pieces of writing for each artist, so many that we couldn't fit them all into the space. We took these responses and strung them up on twine and clipped them to clothespins all around the artwork for the finale. The result was a beautiful and thought-provoking combination of art, cheese, and viewer critique. We had several attendees come back to see the responses strung up, which is what we hoped for. The final night also had a Kara DiResta's monologue from the play she wrote, Pregnant. We set her up in her own room, and anyone who came by had the monologue performed to them, as the snippet she used was only a few minutes long.
We were given the suggestion to create an Instagram for documentation purposes by my senior project sponsor. I took to the idea right away, as I thought it would be a fun way to let the show speak. It gives a behind the scenes look, an insight into my artists, as well as shots of the show going on. When some of the artists came to see their work in the show, they allowed to snap a picture of them standing next to it, adding a sense of "these are real students with their hard work." I also got excellent photos and videos of cooking the pairings as well. All the recipes used are on there as well.
The show turned out to be a huge success, and everyone who came seemed to enjoy the interesting idea of eating cheese while taking in art. I had fun coming up with cheese combos, and getting artists, and working with my partner, Emily. She was a vital piece of this puzzle and I wouldn't have been able to do this at all without her help. We even had one of the artists ask us to help her set something like this up in the future for just her work. I'd love to see more galleries and exhibitions do this, or at least something like it, and see how it's approached from a more nationalized or global scale. I would 100% do this type of project again, as long as I had a team to help me. I think the addition of edibles in a show really creates a bond between yourself and the art, as you have to stop and interact with the piece.
Listed below are each artist, a photo of their work, major, year, cheese and pairing.