Cheese, according to Erika Kubick, is the “sexiest, holiest food in the world” — one we should “pleasure ourselves with” daily. The Chicago cheesemonger-turned-“preacher” has a strong following of devotees through her blog Cheese Sex Death — a mecca of cheesy resources, tips, and merch that has subsequently spawned a book, mouthwatering Instagram account, classes, and events.
While Kubick’s cheese plates, pairings, and recipes will wow charcuterie addicts, it was the simplest cheese combination — Velveeta Shells & Cheese — that first gripped her taste buds. “A big part of my childhood was eating warm shells coated with hot cheese sauce, then diving into the pool at my nana’s,” Kubick says.
At 14, Kubick’s mother bought a two-pound chunk of Sartori’s SarVecchio. “It was the first time I’d had a fancy cheese, and it had incredibly distinct flavors of pineapple, cottage cheese, parmesan, and nuts,” she recalls. “I didn’t know cheese could taste like that!”
Cheese promptly became a diet staple, but with dreams of becoming the next Tina Fey, plus an interest in writing horror flicks, Kubick studied English literature and film production while also attending classes at The Second City comedy club. Showbiz aspirations were put on hold after she landed an internship at Plate magazine and was assigned a story on Spanish cheeses.
“I stumbled upon this online database of Spanish cheeses and felt so overwhelmed but entranced,” she says. “It felt like the sky opened and this light shone down like, ‘This is what you’re going to devote your life to.’”
After Googling “How do I devote my life to cheese?” Kubick read books by Max McCalman and David Gibbons and began working as a cheesemonger at Pastoral. It was an eye-opening, educative experience, but struggling to make ends meet — and having meanwhile launched restaurant and film blogs — she quit her day job and started Cheese Sex Death with the aim of educating cheese lovers on “everything from how to make a seductive platter to hot tips for orgasmic pairings.”
Launched amid the 2015 blogging boom, the site has since been bolstered by her Instagram account, 2021 book “Cheese Sex Death: A Bible for the Cheese Obsessed,” and events. The explosion of charcuterie boards and the heavy presence of cheese in the beverage industry has also brought more eyes to Kubick’s work.
VinePair spoke to Kubick about making a career out of cheese, how it has impacted her spiritual journey, and creating the perfect platter.
1. When did you start experimenting with cheese recipes?
Pretty soon into launching the blog. I struggled for the first year to find my aesthetic, so I leaned into the Gothic, darker side of cheese but also the sexy, sensual side. I just kept experimenting. I remember a friend suggesting eating one gooey cheese with fries, and there were so many ways to riff off of that — like, “How many ways can you enjoy potato and cheese?” I’ve always loved cooking and creating different flavor experiences, and cheese made that easy.
2. How realistic did it seem to earn a living from your passion for cheese?
I felt like I had no choice but to make a career out of it. There isn’t a ton of cheese education that’s digestible but entertaining. Someone needed to preach the curd word, and I felt that calling!
Two years after starting the blog, I started doing events, which helped. A friend asked me to run a cheese class for her birthday and by then, I was posting sexy cheese pics with fun captions every Sunday and calling it “Cheese Church.” So, I based the event on a church service, where the 12 disciples prayed to cheese. They loved it, which showed me this branded experience, while silly, can be fun and interactive.
3. Was your Gothic influence there from a young age, or did it develop alongside the blog?
Definitely from a young age. My dad loves horror movies, and we’ve always been a Halloween family. I had a fascination with the dark side and was emo in high school. I’m attracted to the Gothic aesthetic and fascinated by Gothic architecture and the old churches.
4. The religious element has set you apart in the industry. How did that evolve?
I read “Cooked” by Michael Pollan and in there, Mother Noella — a nun and cheese maker in Connecticut — talks about how cheese is reminiscent of death because it often has a rotting smell and ages in caves. That passage changed my life and defined my brand because there’s that dark, Gothic side of cheese, and the fact a nun can relate to it and feel it brings her closer to her God is amazing.
I started playing with Christian aesthetics and applying that to cheese, and it made me evolve my own spirituality because I’ve been a practicing pagan for seven years now. I’m very much a baby witch.
5. What prompted your spiritual journey?
I was raised Lutheran and would pray to God, then I fell away from the church. I didn’t vibe with it anymore but had a spiritual pull and wanted that connection again, so I eventually focused in on nature. I love rituals, intention setting, and all the little things about Neo-Paganism. There are no hard rules, so it’s open, easy, and freeing.
6. How does this factor into Cheese Sex Death?
I’m working on my next book, which is like a cheese spell book because when you’re eating something that’s really expensive and takes so much work to create, it deserves to have a ritual while you’re enjoying it. It’ll be recipes and cheese plates through this filtered lens, but nothing too intense — not real love spells. But hey, a cheese plate does have potential to spark something!
7. How much truth or misconception do you feel there is behind the idea of charcuterie or fancy cheeses being for wealthy people?
It isn’t something everyone can afford, which is unfortunate because historically, cheese and cured meats were peasant food. People didn’t have refrigerators and couldn’t have fresh milk going to waste, so they had to turn it into cheese. It sucks it’s now in that class, but there’s a lot of ways you can enjoy cheeses that aren’t expensive. I’m big on getting pairings at Trader Joe’s because it’s affordable and they have good cheese.
8. Do you make your own cheese and have you considered launching your own label?
Never because my goal is to support the cheesemakers I love. I wouldn’t want to enter that market because it’s not what I’m good at. I’m good at making silly cheese reels with someone else’s product!
Making cheese is so difficult, but I do my own ricotta because it’s easy — I warm up milk, add cream, lemon juice, or vinegar, then separate the curd from the whey.
9. What are your three favorite cheeses right now?
Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont is like a delightful, tiny jacuzzi of cheese. It’s Brie-style with a soft, white, bloomy rind and when you take off the top, the cheese stretches and you can dip fries or pretzels inside — like a fondue you don’t have to keep hot. It’s to die for!
One of my favorite cheeses of all time is Roquefort. I love the little granules and pockets of blue. It’s so herbaceous and delicious and reminds me of taking a shot of a beautiful gin.
And I’m continuously amazed by Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can chip some off, pour olive oil or balsamic next to it, and have an incredible, gourmet appetizer. You can have it with pasta or on roasted vegetables. It’s phenomenal. But it has to be real Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy. If you go to a cheese shop when they’re opening the wheel, that first sliver will make you fall to your knees!
10. How much does alcohol play into your cheese endeavors?
It’s a fun thing to add because you’re already playing with different flavor pairings on a cheese board, then adding a beverage can take it to the next level. It’s also difficult because it’s hard to find a one-size-fits-all beverage that can complement everything, unless you’re relying on sparkling wine or another light-bodied, bubbly drink like beer or cider.
Pairing cheese with food is easier than pairing wine with food because wine’s so complex and you have to work with tannins, whereas cheese is just fat and protein. I’m excited to see more low-alcohol beverage options because I love flavored seltzer pairings.
11. What’s your top tip for creating the perfect platter?
Bring everything to room temperature because refrigeration dulls flavor and texture. You can cut the cheese when it’s still cold if you want to keep it clean, but then let it come to room temperature.
12. How much cheese do you eat?
I try to have a quarter-pound limit per day. People joke there’s no such thing as too much cheese, but there is. Having said that, a lot of people think it makes you gain weight, but there’s studies showing cheese can lead to weight loss. It’s the perfect food with all the nutrients you need to live, except for vitamin C and fiber, but you can get that from any fruit — which makes a great pairing!