Erika Kubick gives voice to the American cheese revolution.
Let’s say it’s Sunday morning and you’re feeling starved – socially, spiritually and digestively. In the big digital town square, by which I unfortunately mean your Instagram or TikTok account, the church is open, a progressive place of worship that fuses humor and feminism with rennet and rind. “Welcome to the Cheese Church, where I preach about a cheese and tell you how to combine it. Today we worship the Queso fresco…”
This is the work of Cheese Sex Death, the omnichannel media presence of creator Erika Kubick. Kubick is a Chicago-based cheese educator and evangelist in the paraliteral sense—her work draws heavily on religious terminology and iconography, from the “Testament of the Cheesus” to the “Holy Sacraments of Coating,” both chapters in her 2021 Abrams book, subtitled “A Bible for Cheese Obsessives”. Kubick’s work represents the digitization of the writer in the 21st century Anne Saxelby (in blessed memory) called “the American artisanal cheese revolution,“A no-nonsense, flavor-driven reinvention of the cheese industry that will be familiar to anyone who has trodden the same but different paths in industries like wine, coffee and meat.
Cheese’s artisan history has its roots in the American gastronomic movement of the 1970s was led by cheesemakers like Laura ChenellMary Keene (cypress grove), Allison Hooper (Dairy Vermont), Laini Fondiller (Lazy Lady Farm), Judy Schad (Capriol goat cheese), and many others. These leaders fought to free cheese from increasing industrialization in the late 20th century; Here in the early 21st century, Kubick tells the story of this and other great cheesemakers to anyone who will listen, in the grand apostolic tradition, with platforms like TikTok and Instagram as a New Testament of sorts.
Sometimes the sound soft-focused and ethereal (like the Bible), as in profiling the prominent figures of Soyoung Scanlan Andante Dairy in Petaluma, California; sometimes the content is okay demonic (also like the Bible), as in the profiling of Red Rock, a cheese from Wisconsin’s Roelli Cheese Haus that blends cheddar and blue cheese styles referenced by Kubick Frankenstein.
To me, it often feels like today’s #food influencers emerge fully formed and the cameras boldly face their favorite topic (themselves); In contrast, Kubick’s path is more traditional, at least by modern standards. “I started blogging in college,” she says (you remember blogs, don’t you?), “and they were all terrible.” After graduating from school, she combined her interest in writing with working in restaurants, bars and at a cheese shop called Pastoral, an influential Chicago mini-chain that has been around ever since closed. In 2015, she launched Cheese Sex Death as good old fashioned site , balancing regular blogging with an appearance in what was then a relatively new social media industry. “I had no idea what I was doing when I got into it,” Kubick recalls, “but I was able to grow the blog alongside a social media career, which has been really helpful for me.” It’s like I’ve been paid to learn.”
This social media job, which saw her working for a Chicago-area restaurant group, brought Kubick into frequent exposure to the influencer world, an industry she now feels both a part of and completely separate from. (“I never felt like I fit in with that crowd.”) Early in the cheese-blogging days, she found a tone and style that balanced a sort of church gothic aesthetic with an overtly feminist interpretation of cheese. “I think it’s a very feminine product,” she says, laughing at cheese in its simplest form. “It kind of comes from a tit, you know? It comes from a giving birth and suckling animal. Historically, cheese making has been a woman’s job and I think that deserves credit.” On Kubick’s website and social media accounts, which collectively have hundreds of thousands of followers, cheese is always a “she,” as in “Roquefortthe queen of cheeses, the mother of all blues.”
This approach to cheese pronouns has not been without controversyespecially among those for whom rigid gender definitions are an abiding obsession. “Why do you dictate who can be a woman and why is that so important to you?” says Kubick. “I use the feminine pronouns because it’s fun – because I enjoy the language. But for me there is such a strong invisible connection between cheese and women and I want to acknowledge that.”
The marriage of cheese pedagogy, feminism, and mild blasphemy worked, and Kubick’s site has enjoyed progressive natural growth and traffic, coupled with a growing social media presence and in-person events. Today, Kubick’s TikTok accounts (260,000 followers) and Instagram accounts (137,000 followers) are the main drivers for Cheese Sex Death, with posts that take cues from popular culture — particularly television, which Kubick is obsessed with — to keep coming up with ideas to find for the combination of cheese, including current forums on the subject Zu RuPaul’s Drag Race and the successor final. This growing audience has in turn led to a diverse offering for the Cheese Sex Death brand, including in-person events and tastings hosted by Kubick and showcased with a wide range of collaborators, from independent booksellers to cheese shops, dairies and artisan cheeses Companies like Comté USA and Olympia Provisions.
There’s also merch (a “Hail Stilton” hat and so on), and Kubick has now been 18 months into a promotion cycle for her aforementioned cheese book, including dozens of live events across the country, from New York’s Bedford Cheese Shop to Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery in Illinois Upcoming Events in Denver, Seattle and Portland.
To me, this feels less like the work of an influencer — although Kubick accepts the term (somewhat reluctantly) — and more like the work of someone who took short content and blogging as an opportunity and used it to find a space of the food world who could use a shot in the arm. “As an influencer, if I can highlight great cheeses and their combinations, I’m grateful,” she says, “but my ultimate goal is to be an educator.” My goal isn’t to build a following. . . . My goal is to help people and the cheese industry.”
You won’t find plain Brie from the supermarket on Kubick’s grid. Instead, she focuses on persistently singing the praises of small artisan dairies, artisan cheesemakers and the occasional quality-minded cheese co-op alongside the traders, merchants, etc More online cheese educators who are really, really interested in this stuff. In this way, Kubick’s work functions as a layer of curation: she resolutely only cares about the good cause, and that’s all her report talks about, which is no easy task.
This is a key difference between Kubick’s work and, say, the billionth top-down cheeseboard tableau you saw in 2018, where the actual cheese was served, often only after the fact. By building her brand around a distinctive voice and highlighting interesting cheese stories, Kubick has arrived at the type of content that feels more like genuine advocacy — even worship.
I’m one of those devotees, visit the digital cheese church on Sundays and refer to their book for suggested combinations. On a Friday evening – Christmas Eve in my household – I felt like eating good cheese, as I often do. I was in the somewhat enviable position of owning a very good block of Gouda which, to be honest (please don’t report me), I had recently smuggled in my luggage home from one of those nice little weekend markets in Amsterdam. That wasn’t just aged Gouda, that was it old Gouda – five years bro – burnt orange with gnarled flavors of butterscotch and a salty, crystalline crunch (the good shit).
Kubick’s book has the most perfect, most unusual, and lightning fast combination for this cheese: dark chocolate chip cookies. “Crush chips off the gouda,” she writes, “and gently press into the center of the cookie.” I would never have thought of doing such a thing in a million years, but damn, wow…Now my clog is broken, As they say in Holland: the chocolate coats the Gouda like caramel, and these aged cheese crystals act as a kind of super salt for the biscuit surface. The end result is something rhapsodic, a note from the angels.
No sin could taint the soul of a mortal with such earthly tastes, for it is the true taste of heaven.
rabbit hole is a column that delves deep into the culinary issues, from the recipes and products that augment our domestic routines to the food cultureists and content creators that make us hungry and curious. Along the way, we’ll explore the ever-golden gastronomic moment of the 21st century: never boring, always hungry.