Tenaya Darlington, MFA’97, has a not-so-secret identity: Madame Fromage, cheese blogger extraordinaire with a sense of humor sharper than any cheddar.
“I’ve always thought that cheese was theatrical,” she says of her decision to adopt the nom de guerre. “I’d bring cheese boards to parties, and I’d come in and have this great big reveal. And all the guests are like, ‘Ooh, what’s that?’ I thought the reveal needed a theatrical persona to really get people excited about the cheese. Somehow, I came across the name Madame Fromage to suggest there’s drama and personality, and you’re going to see cheese presented in a way you never would have expected, a bit like a magic show.”
Darlington, an associate professor of English at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia by day, originally aspired to be a fiction writer.
“I wrote one novel, and then cheese found me,” she says with a laugh. Looking back, though, it’s not such a shocking turn of events. “My mother is from Switzerland, so when I was growing up we were always looking for rare and offbeat cheeses. I was primed to like cheese from an early age.”
Moreover, she spent her formative years in Iowa and—wait for it—Wisconsin. After getting her master’s degree from IU, she found herself back in Wisconsin, as the features editor for an alt-weekly newspaper, and routinely visited farmers’ markets as part of her beat. As she ventured further into the world of artisan cheese, she began to record her tasting notes and, in 2009, launched the Madame Fromage blog.
Darlington is also the author of several books about food and drink, including House of Cheese and TCM Movie Night Menus (co-authored by her brother, Andre Darlington). She’s traveled the world to sample different varieties of cheeses, even leading group tours. She ate her way around Sicily in 2016, and in 2015, she went on what she called a “cheddar odyssey” in England.
Although Darlington didn’t exactly plan for a career in cheese, she gives credit to IU for helping pave the way for her success.
“Going to Indiana and studying in the MFA program gave me a terrific skill set. They also knew how to throw great parties with fantastic cheese boards after poetry readings,” she says, again chuckling.
More seriously, “What I learned at IU allowed me to elevate my passion and give voice to people and what they are creating. The people I write about are not often represented in the media. They are so busy raising their cows they don’t need a writer hovering around.”
Madame Fromage’s Cheese Tips
From game day to a backyard party, Tenaya Darlington, aka Madame Fromage, recommends some Indiana artisan cheeses for IU alumni and fans. Try pairing the cheeses with some tasty nibbles and spirited drinks.
A velvety goat cheese with a touch of sweet paprika, Piper’s Pyramid is a much-loved (and revered) gem of the American cheese scene. Longtime artisan cheese maker Judy Schad of Capriole Farm in Greenville, Ind., is famous for her beautifully balanced goat cheeses that riff on French styles. Piper’s Pyramid is a clever take-off on Loire Valley Valencay, a pyramid-shaped cheese that is dusted with ash. Schad uses paprika instead, to add flavor but also to pay tribute to her first grandchild, Piper, a redhead.
Pairings: Almonds, baguette rounds, and strips of fresh or roasted red bell pepper all make lovely accompaniments to this subtle cheese. It’s so perfect on its own, Piper’s Pyramid doesn’t need much fanfare—though a drizzle of light-colored honey can be wonderful. Pair it with a wheat beer or any beverage with citrus notes, such as a light white or rosé wine, or a vodka soda garnished with an orange wheel.
This is a wonderfully funky cheese with a reddish rind from Jacobs & Brichford Farm, a small grass-based dairy in Southeast Indiana run by husband and wife team, Leslie Jacobs and Matthew Brichford. Made in the style of Italian Taleggio, Ameribella’s texture is dense and fudge-y with a wonderful aroma of warm bread dough. The rind, which is edible, is “washed” to add moisture and to encourage a burnt orange color to form on the surface. When you taste Ameribella, look for flavors of braised beef tips and melted onions. This is a gorgeous Indiana beefcake that all Hoosiers should highlight on their game day cheese boards.
Pairings: Try serving Ameribella with a Belgian-style beer, summer sausage, pickles, dark bread, and caramelized onions or savory jam. For a backyard party, it’s also great with rosemary crackers, plump green olives, and a round of gin and tonics.
This article appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of the Indiana University Alumni Magazine, a magazine for members of the IU Alumni Association. To view the current and past issues of the IUAM, visit MyIU.org.