Penn Mac’s chief of cheese, Adam Erlichman.

    Penn Mac’s chief of cheese, Adam Erlichman.

    In the era of getting groceries by the grab-and-go method, the scene at the cheese counter of Pennsylvania Macaroni Company is worthy of note. People, sometimes five deep, wait their turn to  reach the counter. Buying cheese is not to be rushed.

    A person may want to taste a sample or two, search for a long-forgotten cheese, or find the perfect ingredient for a great macaroni and cheese. “Many times,” says Adam Erlichman, “people speak another language, and we get along with pointing and gestures. We decide how big a piece by where we put the knife. We don’t need words. It’s no problem.” Adam Ehrlichman is the cheese buyer and head of the team that staffs the counter at Penn Mac (2010-12 Penn Ave.).

    Our conversation took place on the upstairs level of Penn Mac, where cartons of flavorings and spices give off a pleasant blended scent. It’s a quiet spot, with shafts of sunlight coming through the skinny, tall windows. We found two chairs and sat among the shelves, and Adam explained how his work at Penn Mac came about: “I started in the deli department at Penn Mac in 2005, my second job out of high school. Before long, I told Dave Sunseri, one of  the owners, that I wanted to work in the cheese department, and soon I was working alongside Carol. I had a lot of time with her.” That would be Carol Pascuzzi, who was a big presence in the  cheese department, sincerely calling each of her customers by a name she eventually obtained for herself—Dearheart. Adam took over Carol’s job when she and her husband Nick, who worked alongside her, retired in 2015.

    You’ll find Adam working the cheese counter on Thursdays through Sundays. Other days, he’s checking inventory in the climate-controlled cheese section of the warehouse, placing orders for the specialty, artisan, and imported cheeses with vendors, and filling orders placed by restaurateurs and through the Internet. On those days, you’ll find Tom, Dan, and Nico at the counter, all three knowledgeable about cheese. “My righthand men,” Adam calls them.

    Adam reports that Pittsburghers like the hard-ripened and aged cow’s-milk cheeses, like cheddar and parmesan. “The aging allows the flavors to condense and become stronger,” he says. “They like Brie, too. We sell a ton of Brie.” People are willing, however, to try new cheeses from the 400 varieties carried by Penn Mac. The big board over the counter lists the cheese by origin, domestic or international, and the cheese itself will bear markings certifying the country of origin and standards of quality. The United States does not allow the import of young unpasteurized cheeses; in an effort to avoid food pathogens, the cheese must be pasteurized and over 60 days old.

    Adam likes to do cheese-tasting seminars and gatherings, where people learn about different aging techniques, different kinds of milk, and how to pair cheeses with wine. “I just did one with Joe and Ruth Barsotti and let me tell you, Ruth hit it right out of the ballpark with that one! What a good job she did pairing the wines and the cheeses,” relates Adam. The Barsottis have a wine-distribution company on Smallman Street in the Strip. If you’d like to arrange a gathering with your own group, Adam is open to doing more classes (contact David Sunseri, co-owner, at 412-227-1982).

    On the days he is not working, Adam is remodeling the home that belonged to his grandmother, and comments, “I bought the house from my uncles, after my grandmother passed, and I’m doing a total remake. The upstairs is all done. I took down old walls, put in hardwood floors, ran all new electric wiring, and repaired the ceilings. I’m getting married next year, and adopting my fiance’s three-year-old, and I want to provide them with a nice place to live.”

    When I spoke to David Sunseri, asking about Adam, his first  words tell us something about the values of both men. According to David, “Adam is the most compassionate person I ever met. Our cheese department is the best it’s been in all my years at Penn Mac. He’s open-minded, willing to take a chance, and has wrapped his arms around that department.”

    So it’s the best of both worlds for this young man—creating a good home and family life and having a day job where he is respected. Adam sums it up: “I love this kind of work. I belong here.” It would seem so.

    Bette McDevitt lives on the North Side and finds that her out-of-town visitors all want to go to the Strip—they have no place to match it in their home towns.