The Melinda Mae, a Robiola-style cheese from Brian Civitello of the Mystic Cheese Co., owes its name to a Shel Silverstein poem about a little girl who eats a whale:

Have you heard of tiny Melinda Mae, 
Who ate a monstrous whale? 
She thought she could, 
She said she would, 
So she started in right at the tail. 

As Brian told me, “Melinda Mae is a Shel Silverstein poem about finishing what you start. This is my first aged cheese from my own company and it took me 15 years of professional development and entrepreneurship to get here. I’m very proud of it and finishing the task at hand.” Whales also play an important part in the Mystic Cheese identity; the name comes from Mystic, CT, historic seaport and former whaling town; the names of the individual cheeses are whale-inspired as well, from the Melinda Mae to the Melville, their first cheese (you can see my review here). Mystic is co-owned by Jason Sobocinski, better known as the owner of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro in New Haven, CT.

Mystic is a new operation, but Brian has an impressive curriculum vitae when it comes to cheesemaking. Inspired by his Italian grandfather’s tales of growing up in Benevento and making simple cheeses with the family’s goat’s milk, Brian traveled to Italy, heading up into the Piedmontese alps and learning cheesemaking the old-fashioned way, herding the animals up and down the mountains with the seasons in the transhumance manner, making the cheeses in copper vats over woodfires and learning the traditional Italian cheese methods and lore firsthand.

Brian’s learning experiences continued in Italy, including stints at parmaggiano and blue cheese factories. After returning to the U.S., he became a consultant, traveling around the country working with cheesemakers to improve their product development, factory designs, safety and sanitation procedures and more, for a variety of clients including some well-known names like Rogue Creamery and The Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co. When he began discussing the idea of starting a cheesemaking company of his own, Sobocinski, a friend and fellow Nutmegger, jumped at the chance to be involved on the making side — having mastered the retail and restaurant side of the business — and the Mystic Cheese Co. was born. 

Mystic has also undertaken a business venture to create “Cheese Pods”, which will transform old shipping containers into portable make rooms. There would actually be multiple “pods”, with different configurations possible; a main pod, 40 feet in length, and 20 footer with utilities on top of it, plus the possibility of a third pod for an office, tasting room, or other non-fabrication space. These containers could then be shipped and dropped wherever they were needed, and offer a unique way to rapidly erect an on-demand cheese plant anywhere it’s needed on short notice and with lower startup costs (they have the added benefit of being an eco-friendlier solution, reusing old shipping containers rather than building a facility from scratch). 

The Melinda Mae is a soft-ripened 5.5oz square of cheese, based on Robiola styles that Brian worked with during his time in Italy. Made with pasteurized milk that is never cooled — it goes straight from the cows to the pasteurizers without spending time in refrigeration — Mystic works carefully to preserve the delicate characteristics of the milk so that they carry over into the cheese. Made with thermophilic cultures and a blend of micrococci, yeasts rind cultures, the management of moisture in the paste is essential as it goes into the forms and acidifies on the draining tables. “My intention for creating this style of cheese was to highlight the freshness of my milk and produce something that’s often an underrepresented and misunderstood cheese style here in the US” Brian says, “the Cheese is meant to be delicate with just enough depth to be widely accessible to a large range of consumers.”

In this they’ve definitely succeeded: The rind on the Melinda is delicate and pillowy, a gauze of white mold over pale gold, lightly rippled. The paste is ivory-colored, silky and soft, oozing as the cheese warms. Flavors are mild, but with a subtle complexity; sweet, buttery and lactic, like the flavor of fresh, warm milk made solid, with delicate earthy and grassy notes. This is a dangerously easy cheese to eat: I found I’d absentmindedly plowed through 3/4 of the square on my own without noticing. 

Purchased at Saxelby Cheesemongers

You can also check out Brian and Jason on Cutting The Curd Episode 139

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