For a bit of the history of Bastille Day Cheese Day, read Russ’ blog post from last year.
My Uncle Bernard and Aunt Nadine lived in a suburb of Paris within spitting distance of the Château de Versaille. Staying with them was always a treat. Whenever I visited, I always made it home in time for dinner to enjoy their company and a home-cooked meal. After dinner, Bernard would open the tupperware container that held a variety of cheeses, waft the scent into his face and declare, “Ahhhhh, comme les pieds des anges” which translates to “Ahhhhh, like the feet of angels.” If you were a guest at Think Brownstone this past Thursday, you know what Bernard was talking about. It was the third annual Bastille Day Cheese Day and the Think Space smelled like a locker room in heaven.
There are many signs that we threw a successful event: 1) the party lasted longer than we expected 2) many guests reached out afterwards to tell us not only that they had a good time, but that they learned something 3) while Brownstoners were cleaning up, everyone started to throw out new ideas for Bastille Day Cheese Day 2012.
So I spent some time this weekend reflecting on what made our quirky little event so successful. Here are a few of my thoughts on how we approached the event – not surprisingly, they are very similar to what we do every day at Think Brownstone:
Have a Goal
We never wanted Bastille Day Cheese Day to just be a party; it’s an experience like anything else we do. In this case, we apply our design process to something different from our normal routine, but the first step is always the same: clearly articulate what you want to accomplish. My personal goals for this event have always been to educate friends of Think Brownstone about artisan cheese and make sure that everyone has a great time doing it. Our old venue was getting in the way of some of that. So, this year we moved the event to the Think Space, bought some wine, and invited a guest speaker.
Bring in the Experts
I’m no stranger to cheese. I learned the difference between my bries and my blues by following my father into small cheese shops throughout my childhood, but I’m no expert. So, after two years of being the host of BDCD, I knew we needed to bring in the big guns. That’s why we reached out to the super-talented cheese blogger Tenaya Darlington, a.k.a Madame Fromage. Madame Fromage designed a four-course tasting menu focused on four styles of cheese. Each course paired a classic French with an American counterpart made in the same style. Tenaya worked with the cheesemongers at DiBruno Brothers to ensure we had the best selections at their peak of ripeness.
Tenaya also provided us with the types of wine to pair with each course. Although a few of us at Think Brownstone have been known to enjoy a bottle of wine now and then, we wanted to do this right. So we reached out to a friend to help select the right pairings for each course. The only contribution I made to the selections was the addition of the Belgian ale Duvel, so our beer drinking friends had a good alternative to the bubbly that went with the first course.
When we first started planning this, I asked Carl, “What’s our budget?” His answer was at first frustrating, but I totally got it. He said, “Let’s do this right.” Every time I was about to commit to spend some money, I went back to him and said, “I want to do this, it’s going to cost this much.” Carl’s response was always something like, “That sounds right. Go for it.”
Carl knew that when Tenaya suggested sparkling wine with the first course, we weren’t going to buy a case of Dom Perignon at $150 per bottle, but we also weren’t going to buy a Andre Brut at $4.50. His direction was clear, “Do it right.” He didn’t want to constrain us and he knew that I was going to check back every once in a while to make sure we weren’t completely off base. Our biggest splurge was that case of Duvel (I was thrilled to see a few bottles left in the fridge for our post-yoga cocktail hour).
Working with this level of trust is liberating and something I often see clients craving from their leadership. Nobody wants to break the bank, and there are checks and balances in every organization to make sure that doesn’t happen. While being trusted is liberating, it also instills a sense of responsibility.
Have Fun Expanding Your Horizons
We talk about the value of fun all the time. BDCD is a great example of what we’re talking about. We get to show off our skills in designing experiences beyond the typical projects we do every day and we all get to have a great time doing it.
One of my favorite moments of the evening happened with the blue cheese course. Blue cheeses get a bad rap sometimes. When Tenaya noticed a group of people struggling with the Roquefort, she grabbed a bottle of Sauternes and walked them through the blues very carefully. They became fans. When it comes to designing a great cheese experience, Madame Fromage gets it.
We often hear from our friends and clients that Think Brownstone must be a great place to work. Not to toot our own horn too much, but they’re right. We love what we do, we love who we work with and I love the fact that it gives us the opportunity to apply our skills to something quirky, fun and delicious like BDCD.
Russ described the evening best in an email to the company on Friday morning: “BDCD is an awesome tradition… what started as another gentle ribbing of Phil’s Fabulous Frenchness has really become a celebration of craftsmanship, attention to detail, and genuine interest in different cultures and backgrounds…” The success of the evening was due largely to the contribution of Madame Fromage. If you like cheese, want to learn more about cheese or just like good food writing, read her blog (beginners start here) and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
If you want to recreate your own Bastille Day Cheese Day, download Tenaya’s tasting notes, take it to your local cheese shop and talk to the cheese mongers. They may not have everything in the list, but they will be able to suggest alternatives. For tips on how to lay out a beautiful cheese board, check out our BDCD flickr set. Oh, and if you couldn’t make it this year, hit us up around May 2012 when we start planning it again.