By day, Tenaya Darlington is a writing professor at St. Joseph’s University. By night, she is better known as “Madame Fromage,” a cheese courtesan.
“I like having this double life,” Darlington said. “I’m a professor by day, but I come back to Fishtown and I have a whole different life that’s separate from campus.”
Madame Fromage is Darlington’s alter ego, which she uses for her blog, started in 2009, that focuses on everything cheese-related. Whether it’s about local cheese-tasting events or tips on how to talk to a “cheesemonger,” which she calls the people working behind the counter, the blog covers it.
Darlington grew up in Wisconsin and moved to Philadelphia in 2005.
The first year Darlington moved to Philadelphia, a neighbor introduced her to Di Bruno Brothers, a local gourmet food shop specializing in Italian products, where she would later go to sample its variety of cheeses.
“I would go there when I felt homesick to buy Wisconsin cheeses,” Darlington said. “They had such an incredible selection from all over the world that I decided I was going to try to eat my way through the entire store.”
Despite cheese being one of Wisconsin’s largest exports, it wasn’t until Darlington’s move that she developed a fascination for the product, she said.
“It never occurred to me that I would move to Philly from Wisconsin [and] get really interested in cheese here,” Darlington said.
Eventually, Darlington became so interested in cheese that she started to write for Philly publications like Grid magazine, writing columns about the cheese of the month. Now, she writes a seasonal cheese column for the Inquirer.
Last May, Darlington collaborated with Di Bruno Brothers in writing a book called, “House of Cheese: A Guide to Wedges, Recipes and Pairings,” where she went from “customer to collaborator,” she said.
“I feel like they represent the kind of food business that really creates community,” Darlington said. “They educate their community about what they love and they build passion around [its] products.”
Now, Darlington has dedicated her blog, “Madame Fromage,” to educating others on the intricacies of cheese. And though she had an initial admiration for the food, she said she had to take time to learn the technicalities, which she described as “poetic.”
“One of the things that got me excited about cheese is the interesting vocabulary around cheese,” Darlington said. “It’s kind of like wine or beer, there’s a whole lexicon around this product.”
Since creating the blog, Darlington has gotten in touch with cheese-makers from around the world, which has connected her with numerous cheese-makers and fellow bloggers in the city.
Darlington said she intends on bringing people together to spread the word about the food that can come out of collaborations between local cheese-makers and chefs.
On March 4, Darlington and Chef Eli Kulp worked together at High Street on Market Restaurant for their second cheese dinner, featuring Meadowset Farm & Apiary’s raw sheep’s milk cheese. Darlington brings local cheese-makers, and Kulp cooks food using the cheese for a three-course dinner for $25.
Taking place every first Tuesday of each month, the next High Street cheese dinner will be on April 1, featuring Cherry Grove Farm and its selection of cheeses.
“It’s the service I can provide in this life,” Darlington said. “I feel like it serves a community that needs each other.”
Albert Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.