October 22, 2012 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation With Barrie Lynn
Why do photographers always tell people to say “cheese” in front of the camera? Is it because it’s impossible to do this without both corners of your mouth lifting? Or is it just because cheese is a fun food that conjures tasty memories? Whatever the reason, Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario – has plenty to be smiling about.
Q: What were you doing before you decided that cheese was going to be your new and exciting calling?
A: I worked my way up from the bottom in New York to become an advertising executive in New York and Los Angeles. I was fortunate to eventually have an expense account where I could enjoy great food, wine and cheese with my clients.
Q: What aspects of that prior life as an advertising executive enabled you to so successfully reinvent yourself as an expert on everything cheese?
A: My mother didn’t cook. Out of necessity, I learned to cook at an early age. We grew up in a relatively rural area in New Jersey and we’d go to the farms and I’d pick out the fresh vegetables and fruit. I became interested in farmers and used to watch the TV show, Modern Farmer. This is where my passion probably began.
I learned so much about launching and growing brands from my years in advertising. This knowledge and enjoying fine food and wines with my clients was a big help. I had confidence in my abilities and confidence in my intuition. Successful advertising is also part science and part creative intuition!
Q: What were some of the “out of the box” concepts you utilized to be successful in your launch of this new career?
A: I wanted to help the family cheesemakers. I then lived in Hollywood and I realized that no one in the artisanal cheese world was addressing popular culture and celebrity. I thought I’d start at the top and present my idea to the Oscars to be included in their famous Goodie Bag. I presented a gift certificate for Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario’s Artisanal Cheese & Wine Pairing Adventure for the star and five of their friends as my gift.
When I received the telephone call where The Academy said they chose my gift certificate, I was thrilled! This was (“was” as this was the last year) the Official Oscars Goodie Bag; a jury of 20 entertainment executives chose what would go to the stars. All of a sudden, the media started calling and emailing me, “The Cheesiest Gift in Hollywood History.” Wow! I became a launch specialist in advertising and I knew this is what every brand would love when launching. So, I decided to follow my passion and see what I could do and I stopped working in advertising.
I really didn’t have a formal strategic plan, but I did have a solid background in making brands happen so I just went for it. My dad was almost crying. My mom was worried. My friends thought I had lost my marbles. But I knew I wanted to see how my skills would support my passion for cheeses, the cheesemakers and all that rides down The Cheese Highway with them.
I knew which celebrities received my Oscars gift certificate. I decided now that I wasn’t working in advertising any longer, I had to move The Cheese Impresario ahead. I didn’t want to wait to get a call from a movie star. I took notes as I watched the Oscars. My friends and family threw me a party and everyone was having fun and I was in front of the TV with a notebook. They couldn’t believe it! I studied the stars who I knew received my Artisanal Cheese & Wine Pairing Adventure gift certificate. First I thought Steve Martin would be a blast to do a cheese and wine party for. He and I could even dance – he’s such a talented person. But this seemed too expected.
So, I decided to see if the Oscar-winning rap group, Three 6 Mafia would want a cheese and wine party as my first Oscars event. I liked the idea of a blending of cultures and cheese is to me the universal food that brings people together in happiness. Three 6 Mafia was the first hip hop group to ever perform live at the Oscars. And, everyone loved them because they were so authentically happy. They were fun and happy on many of the talk shows as well.
I called Sony, their record company. They said this idea appealed to them. The VP there and I are now friends. I called Variety Magazine and they said they’d cover it. Zoe Alexander was the journalist from Variety and we’ve become great friends, too. I then called Chef Norman Van Aken who had a beautiful restaurant, Norman’s, that I frequented. He said I could have the whole restaurant for free if we were out of there by 4:30 p.m. I asked a couple of my friends to be Cheesettes, my cousin said he’d shoot stills and my pal said he’d shoot video. No one charged me, they did enjoy beautiful cheese and wine and we all had a total blast.
I was kind of scared as I’d never met a rapper, never heard a rap song except for in the movie Hustle & Flow where Three 6 Mafia’s Academy Award winning song “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” was really one of the characters in the film. I was so nervous, I brought my second mom, Adrienne Hall, who founded the first advertising agency run by women, Hall & Levine Advertising. What a great surprise it was when they arrived (with an entourage and VP’s from Sony New York) and they were happy and loving. We hugged and sat down for a feast of American Artisanal Cheeses made by family cheesemakers and small family wines. Three 6 Mafia and I are now fast friends and love talking about food…especially cheese. I even encouraged DJ Paul to follow one of his passions and develop a Bar BQ food business. He now has a line of Bar BQ rubs and sauces. Rad!
Q: What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
A: That I had skills I never dreamed I had. That you can make a living following your passion if you are willing to work long and hard to be sustainable. You need to have skills that can translate to you following your passion like I did with advertising and marketing.
Q: Was there a particular cheese that ignited your passion and caused you to take an interest in why cheesemakers embrace such pride in their work?
A. This is easy: Pleasant Ridge Reserve by Wisconsin cheesemaker, Mike Gingrich. Pleasant Ridge Reserve was the cheese where when I tasted it and heard Mike’s story of passion, Cupid’s Arrow hit me and I fell in love with the whole thing. I fell in love with the cheeses and the flavors, the cheesemakers, their knowledge and passion. Upland’s Cheese is the family creamery that makes Pleasant Ridge Reserve. It is an alpine style artisanal cheese made from the non-pasteurized milk from a single herd of Wisconsin cows fed and managed using natural, “old world” practices. Uplands Cheese Company’s cows graze lush pastures of Dodgeville, Wisconsin. The depth of flavors is stunning to taste. A complexity emerges when you taste this cheese…complexity layer after layer, rich nuttiness, sweetness from the fresh grasses, herbs and flowers the cows eat. You can almost taste the rich earth where the cows graze. This cheese has gone on to win the major awards in cheese. For instance, it won Best of Show over 1,400 of the nation’s finest cheeses at The American Cheese Society in 2010. Not only that, it won this same award in 2001 and 2005. Once I tasted this cheese and thought about the cheesemaker, I decided I wanted to learn all I could about artisan family cheesemakers and their cheeses.
Q: Okay, tell us something about the world of cheese that most people don’t know.
A: Ingredients are everything. Quality cow’s milk in a Gouda will give the talented cheesemaker a head start. Many of the family cheesemakers have had generations of relationships with the family dairy farms who provide the best of the best. The cheese maker’s creativity and knowledge is key. It’s an art as well as a science. I can taste a 10-year old Cheddar from one cheesemaker and taste another from another…there is a difference. Both are amazing but the cheesemaker puts their own personal touch into the cheese. Cheese rocks when paired with spirits…single malt Scotch whiskies, dark sipping rum and even sake.
Q: I’m assuming you have a favorite cheese?
A: This is the true answer because I’m a curious character: The one I haven’t tried yet!
Q: What were the strategies you determined would be most effective in your reinvention?
A: I joined The American Cheese Society and went to their ACS Annual Conference & Competition. It was amazing to taste the plethora of fine cheeses and to meet some of the cheesemakers I’d admired for years. The cheesemakers work so hard to bring us such delicious and nutritious cheeses to our tables. As a marketer, I look for something that needs to be done that has not been done before. I discovered this strategic marketing concept for artisanal cheese.
Q: What commercial programs did you develop as well as your Artisanal Cheese Tasting and Pairing events?
A: I was invited to be a partner with Wine Spectator in a page titled Entertaining with Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario. I purchased the page from Wine Spectator and then re-marketed small spaces on the page to family winemakers, cheesemakers and condiment makers. It was a win/win for all involved.
Q: What was your largest event?
A: The largest group I did was for ASAE’s (The Center for Association Leadership) National Convention. There were 1,400 people for my Artisanal Cheese, Spirit & Cocktail Adventure Event. I paired cheeses with spirits served neat and then a cocktail with the spirit. I also worked with a chef to create cooked dishes with each of the cheeses for the pairings. This was a huge challenge and a great success. In contrast, the smallest cheese event I conducted was for an intimate group of entertainment executives. I paired artisanal cheeses with rare port.
Q: You have a clever tagline that “cheese is the new black.” What does this mean?
A: Black in fashion is considered by some to be the hip look. I wanted to recognize the hip coolness of these handmade cheeses made by family cheesmakers. I also wanted something memorable that would put a smile on people’s faces while elevating the cheeses and the cheesemakers. Thus…Cheese is the new black.
Q: You write a monthly column for the Beverly Hills Times called Cheese Matters. How did this marketing opportunity come about?
A: I also am the “Cheese + Drink” columnist for Mutineer Magazine, a nationally distributed fine beverage consumer magazine. For this column, I pair artisanal cheeses with all kinds of libations. The Beverly Hills Times column came about because I knew the owner from working on the Univision account in advertising. She loved the idea of a cheese column for her magazine and the rest is history.
Q: You also host a fun show called Cheese Rules. Tell us about it.
A: Cheese Rules with host Barrie Lynn – The Cheese Impresario was a way I could expand my cheese education to more people so they’d have more pleasure when enjoying cheese and libations with friends and family. I have 23 shows up on YouTube. Everything from How To Throw a Cheese Party, to Pairing Cheese with Wine with NFL Star Shaun Phillips to Pairing Cheese and Rum with Ed Hamilton from The Ministry of Rum. This series was a blast to do and I’ve received many thank-you’s from people who recreated my shows at home for their friends and family.
Q: Let’s say that a novice is hosting a wine and cheese party for the first time and comes to you for advice. What would you say about how to make this a delightfully memorable event?
A: I’d ask what they like. Do they lean towards red wine, white wine? Do they enjoy mild flavored cheeses or robust flavored cheeses? Once we determine what they like, then I’d suggest beginning with the most mild of the cheeses probably paired with the most mild of the wines and work up to the big flavored cheeses paired with the bigger wines. I’d suggest not more than five different cheeses and one ounce per cheese per person. I enjoy La Brea Bakery’s French Baguette with these cheese and wine pairings; it does not get in the way of the flavors. I’d suggest putting some dried California figs on the plate and some unsalted nuts. This will make a beautiful and delicious evening.
I’d also teach them a pairing methodology I invented called The Cheese Highway. Eighty percent of taste is smell. So first, admire your cheese with your eyes. Then take a nice sniff of the cheese with your nose. The Snozz is an important tool! Do the same with your wine. Now take a bite of your cheese and chew it up. It will naturally form The Cheese Highway on your tongue. Now, take a sip of your wine down The Cheese Highway and the flavors of the cheese and the wine will come together. It’s like a great relationship, “One plus One should equal more than Two.” I say “There’s an element of the joy of discovery when people learn about the diversity of artisanal cheeses and how to entertain with them. Cheese appreciation is much like music appreciation – once you learn to listen…so much more opens up.”
Q: You’ve had no shortage of flirtations with fame and Hollywood glitz. What, to date, has been your most memorable moment? (and why)
A: The Three 6 Mafia event. I also did create an Artisanal Cheese & Wine Pairing Adventure for Oscar winner Mira Sorvino’s baby shower. She called me and I love her work so this was also a thrill for me. The event turned out to be a blast and she and her friends were really into the cheeses. I was treated really well; she and her friends are lovely people. Mira, of course, did not imbibe the wines. Her new film Union Square was just released.
Q: A hypothetical scenario. You’re to be stranded on a deserted island for three weeks and can only take one cheese, one wine, and one CD of favorite music, what would your choices be?
A: A 10-Year Wisconsin Cheddar, Judd’s Hill Cabernet Sauvignon and the Otis Redding Box CD set.
Q: What’s next on your plate (so to speak)?
A: My goal is to increase the number of people I can educate about cheese and beverages so they can have more pleasure in their lives.
Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know about you?
A: I encourage your readers to listen to their intuition and follow their passion. That’s what I did. I knew I had skills that could translate to many different businesses. My intuition has guided me to become The Cheese Impresario. I’ve never worked harder or longer. Or, ever been happier!
To learn more, readers are invited to visit http://www.thecheeseimpresario.com.