Alexandru Pitigoi, founder of Mesange Fromagerie, has always liked cheese and begun to consume and discover different types in the past 10 years. Born and raised in Bucharest, he worked in the field of cars and motor sports, while he grew a business together with some foreign partners in Africa. Even if he has been away for some time, Romania has always been his home and he has never distanced himself from his country.
How did you first come into contact with cheese?
I have always liked cheese, but I have begun to consume and discover it more and more in the past 10 years. My interest and pleasure grown steadily over time. My attraction for cheese was facilitated by the fact that I do not eat meat, and, first of all, it was just about enjoying the taste of this extraordinary food.
How did you decide to put up a cheese shop?
Everything started from the passion I had for cheese and especially for good quality cheese, the kind of products that were difficult to find in Bucharest. I mean cheeses imported from abroad, not the Romanian ones which can be found everywhere in farmer’s markets and supermarkets.
Of course, the supermarkets have a rich cheese offer, but they are mostly industrial products. There is a significant difference between them and the authentic ones, the handcrafted products by traditional methods.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to cover this niche by only offering cheese made by artisan makers (coming from farms and maturing specialists), while being convinced that there were more people who want such cheeses.
Did you study about cheese tasting?
I did a number of training sessions in France, but besides these, I think it is essential to be self-taught and that is why I read a lot, I visited many producers, participated in fairs and other events. I have thus come to know world-renowned specialists, to discover extraordinary cheeses and some of them quite rare.
You opened Mesange Fromagerie, a cheese bar and bistro, one year ago. Where did this idea come from and what do you offer your clients?
I considered that a simple cheese shop only fulfils half of the mission that we were considering, which also involved educating consumers in the cheese area. As a result, we also decided to make a cheese bar area where customers can get acquainted with the products, taste them as such or in certain dishes.
How do you see Romanian market in this sector? Here, ripened cheeses are still considered specialties and they are not easy to find in supermarkets.
Traditionally, we eat cheese, especially fresh cheese, so Romanians are open to new types of cheese, but are not very familiar with specialties that are specific to other countries such as France, Italy, Switzerland, etc. We have many customers eager to try as many different cheeses and who appreciate the quality products. I am convinced that, over time, their appetite will grow steadily.
You also have a bistro in the same place where the cheese-shop is located. How does it work and what kind of dishes do you offer?
In addition to the varied selection of cheeses, we serve dishes containing different types of cheese. We offer sandwiches, croques, salads, soups, pasta and some desserts. The menu is quite varied and we always have a seasonal selection containing, for example, fondue and raclette (during the cold season). Our dishes are prepared with cheeses currently for sale.
Where do you get the cheeses? Give us some examples of cheeses appreciated by Romanians, which are in great demand.
We bring cheeses from France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Great Britain, the Netherlands and in the future we want to have some cheeses from other countries like Norway or even the USA. All types of cheese are appreciated, but the most sold are the hard and matured ones, for example Comte, Gruyere, Pecorino, Parmigiano Reggiano.
You also sell wines, and as cheese and wine make a good pair, give us some tips on cheese and wine pairing.
Indeed, cheese and wine are two products that go hand in hand, but as with human relations, their relation is also very complex and one has to take into accountmany aspects for pairing. There are no strict and universally valid rules, pairings are made taking into account the complete organoleptic profile, such as flavour, taste, acidity, complexity, texture, persistence.The result of the pairing must be a pleasant one in which the "partners" are mutually worthwhile and complementary.
Do you sell local cheese?
We do not sell Romanian cheese for the moment. We focus on the types of cheese one cannot find in Romania, on what we can offer new and different for those who want to enjoy products that are not generally to find else where.
Tell us three culinary pairings of Romanian wines with international cheeses that you like a lot.
We had the opportunity to organise several wine tastings and cheese pairings, and one of the most exciting challenges was to pair foreign cheese with Romanian wines. I will mention some pairings that I liked, but more important than that, were appreciated by most of those who had the opportunity to try them.
Semi-matured goat cheese, like Chabichou du Poitou, is very well accompanied by Cramposia selecționată (from Stirbey winery).
The soft, strong aroma of Livarot is very well associated with Gewurztraminer (from Villa Vinea winery, for example).
Switzerland's semi-hard Challerhocker cheese is a good partner for Feteasca Neagra.
Which Romanian cheese is your favourite?
Although I like all, if I were to choose one, it would be the sheep cheese.
What local grape wine do you like best? And international?
I have a special affinity with Negru de Drăgășani local grape variety, and from the international ones I find it hard to call one, but during this time I really like Valpolicella Ripasso.
Which wine area in Romania do you like the most? And worldwide?
I like many Romanian wines from all areas. Without being a specialist at all, I would say I do prefer the Dragasani area to others, maybe because I have had more contact with the wines coming from there. I could not name just one wine area in the world; I only say that I am more traditional and prefer European wines.