How a Techno Party Planner Found His Calling in Cheese
Two hearts beat in the breast of Clemens Castan: one for techno, one for cheese. After spending years organizing dance parties and slinging drinks, he realized that his other true passion lies with stinky, savory dairy.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in March 2015.
Forget any ideas you might have about cheesemongers. When you meet Clemens Castan, you'll not only learn how the Swiss raw milk cheeses he sells came by their bizarre names, but also where the next wild techno party is going down. And he even has tips as to which cheese best cures your hangover the next day.
Jürg Wyss and Mike Glauser, founders of the offbeat cheese chain Jumi, made a name for themselves in their homeland of Switzerland long ago. For their newest location in Vienna, they recently teamed up with Castan—who, unlike Glauser, isn't from a cheese-making family. Instead, Castan spent his youth mixing drinks at Vienna's most famous techno bar and organizing some of the largest outdoor techno parties in the city, in collaboration with the collective Tanz Durch Den Tag ("Dance Through the Day").
When Castan began interning for Wyss and Glauser, he sold cheese to Britain's food elite at the Jumi store in London by day. By night, he danced at secret warehouse parties until his feet bled. It soon became clear that his heart didn't just beat for techno, but also for some pretty dope raw milk cheese products.
In Jumi's new rustic shop in Vienna's eighth district, you'll find far more than just the popular Swiss sorts of cheese. The products here mainly come from the three cheesemaking operations in the Glauser family, and have funny names like Hanfmutschli, Blaue Hirni, or La Bouse, which means "cow pie" in French.
I had a chance to meet Castan just before the new store opened, and asked him to take me on his crazy journey from dance floor to cheese cave.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Clemens. So, was becoming a cheesemonger ever your plan? Clemens Castan: No, that was never my plan. Being half French, I came to cheese quite early. When I visited family in France, we always had cheese after the meal. I grew up with it, but it was never a job option for me. When I came to Vienna eight years ago, I had acquaintances who are cheese producers in the Vorarlberg, and we talked about maybe opening a cheese stand, but nothing ever came of it.
Your heart's always been in techno, right? Exactly, I've been listening to techno since I was 12. I was always going to techno parties and Goa parties in the Black Forest. Later, I got a job at the best-known techno bar in Vienna—the Danube—and that's how I slipped into the Vienna scene. I got into Tanz Durch Den Tag through a bartender colleague. At that time we were still quite small, so at parties I would just help out as a bartender or security. Both the collective and these awesome people were ultimately the reason why I stayed in Vienna. Otherwise I might have remained in Hamburg, where I was doing my civil service, or moved to Berlin, which is, of course, the capital of techno.
Then you began an internship with Jumi in Switzerland. So how did you end up in London? At the beginning of the internship, I thought I would be more on the cheese-making side of things. But because of my big mouth, I ended up in sales pretty quickly. The new London Jumi shop needed help, so they sent me straight to England—which was super fucking cool! After market days on Saturday, we'd hop on the red buses and crash, and then wake up and keep partying on into Sunday. Some of the guys from parties then started visiting us at the market.
How did you get from being a cheese intern to owning your own cheese shop? After I came back to Vienna, I noticed that I really missed standing in a marketplace. So I sat down with Mike and Jürg, the two founders of Jumi, and talked about whether it would be possible to have a cheese stand at a Viennese open market. So I ended up at the Yppenmarkt, and started selling cheese on an unfinished platform with a refrigerated display case. Because so many other Jumi interns live here, so we thought, Hey, let's open a shop. Bern, London, and Vienna—those are three pretty awesome cities.
And now you're living the dream of selling hemp cheese to raw milk freaks. I didn't inhale—I only ate Jumi hemp cheese! Many see hemp only as a drug, but at the same time it's a crop that's been used forever in many other ways and is very healthy—whether in the form of hemp seed or hemp oil. Both are in our Hanfmutschli. [A hard cheese with toasted hemp seeds.] A lot of people will stop at our stand just because of the hemp leaf logo, and other will buy it without even trying it. Funnily enough, those are often grandmothers buying it for their grandchildren.
You like to get a little wacky when you party. Can one infuse that kind of personality into such a down-to-earth product like cheese? With the crazy cheeses that Jumi makes, absolutely. Their whole ethos has always been to distance themselves from the conventional and the traditional. The craziest group of people come together at Jumi—farmers , students, cheesemongers, chefs, butchers. It's a really colorful bunch who create something real together. I'd hate a normal 40 hour work week. What I'm doing makes me happy, so I don't think about the fact that I'm working.
What's been your strangest experience as newly minted cheesemonger? My first assignment for Jumi in London was calling Buckingham Palace to try and sell the Queen some Belper Knolle. So I'm on the phone with the executive chef, and he's like, "Do you even know where you're calling?" and I'm like, "Yeah, Buckingham Palace." And he's like, "Yeah, you can't just call here. You have to be a certified company, and proving that takes a long time." In the end, however, he was interested.
Who are your favorite techno DJs, and what cheese would you pair with their music? That Frenchman Laurent Garnier—I've always loved him, he's pretty fucking cool. I would pair something harder with his music, like an 18-month-old Emmentaler, for example. Something much spicier than the young, rubbery stuff from the supermarket. For some of the old stuff from Johannes Heil, I'd pair something like Abe Red, a beautiful, red, stinky, soft, spreadable cheese. For something like Der Dritte Raum, that music tends to really gallop along. Maybe a nice blue cheese, like the Blauer Schnee, would be nice with that.
And after an epic night of dancing, what kind of cheese do you recommend for a hangover? Hanfmutschli is a nice choice. Aarewasser or Appen Berger, too. When I have a hangover, I like a semi-hard, creamier cheese.
Will there be music and cheese parties in the new store? I said to my two co-workers, Natalie and Veit, "There is one laptop, and I will make the playlist." And it will clearly be techno. At least when I'm working, there will always be electronic music running in the background. To me cheese and techno fit perfectly together.
Thanks for speaking with me, Clemens.
- Clemens Castan