Dr. Emiliano Tatar is one medical doctor who does not mind being called cheesy.
Dr. Emiliano Tatar, a full-time general pediatrician who until recently had a practice in Roxborough (he also worked in Mt. Airy and for Einstein Health), is one medical doctor who does not mind being called cheesy. In fact, he is a man who takes the “gouda” with the bad, and if he ever decides to run for president, he will most likely adopt the campaign slogan, “Make America Grate Again.”
That's because when Dr. Tatar, 47, is not caring for patients, he is making delicious cheese in a licensed facility in the area and selling it commercially to restaurants and specialty food markets, although the pandemic has, of course, taken a toll on both his cheese business and his medical practice.
Dr. Tatar, whose business is called Merion Park Cheese, has been able to sell his cheese to DiBruno Brothers, Narberth Cheese Shop, the Swarthmore Food Co-op, Riverwards Produce in Fishtown and Cornerstone in Wayne, among others, as well as upscale restaurants such as Bibou BYOB, Hungry Pigeon and High Street on Market.
“Before Covid hit,” he said last week, “things were going well. Our cheeses made their way to several new locations, and we were developing new cheeses, but Covid has cut sales by at least 50 percent. Our main customers are restaurants that serve our cheeses on cheese plates. The restaurant world has done an amazing job of pivoting to take-out dining models, but those menus aren’t amenable to cheese plates.”
And regarding Dr. Tatar's medical practice, “The pandemic has completely changed how we practice. We too have pivoted many times over the pandemic in order to be able to care for patients in a safe manner. This included the adoption of telemedicine and stringent protocols to keep our patients and staff safe.”
On the other hand, there has been one positive aspect of the past year for his cheese business since it has provided lots of time for experimenting. “I’ve been slowly tweaking the recipe of Mercer Road, which is the cheese we started with. Every time a change is made in the recipe, I’ve assigned it a version number. So I had Mercer Road V2, V3, etc. V5 has been especially delicious, and I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on it. It’s now a completely different recipe.”
The obvious question that has been asked of Dr. Tatar more times than he can count is: Why on earth would a medical doctor go into the business of making cheese? The answer is that the pediatrician has always been very “fondue” cheese and would try many different varieties from the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop and other specialty stores.
He was such a cheese nut (so to speak) that he began to read everything he could find on the subject from books and websites, eventually experimenting with cheesemaking in his own home in 2013. The finished product garnered compliments from friends and family, so he turned it into a part-time business. His first customers were Pierre and Charlotte Calmels, owners of the center city French restaurants Bibou and Le Chéri. “They tasted some cheeses and told me that if I could make it according to regulations, they would buy some,” he said.
Thus encouraged, Dr. Tatar contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. As a result, one of their inspectors visited the doctor’s house and gave him advice on how to build a creamery in the house that would meet federal and state rules and safety regulations. Tatar proceeded to set up an operation in a room with sanitary surfaces, sinks and a stainless steel table.
“Once I made my first few cheeses,” he said, “especially ones that are aged, I fell in love with the process. ‘Affinage,’ the French word for aging and finishing, takes weeks to months. It’s very enjoyable to see something you’ve made with your hands slowly evolve into something ethereal.”
Born in Argentina, Dr. Tatar and his family moved to Israel when he was 3 and then to the U.S. when he was 8. “We mostly left Argentina because of political instability and the military coup in 1976. At age 14, I moved back to Israel for high school, then IDF (Israeli Defense Force) and then to Philly, where I’ve been for the past 28 years … The hardest thing I have ever done was my military service.”
Dr. Tatar went to Temple University for his undergraduate years and then Drexel School of Medicine, graduating in 2004. He served both his internship and residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in North Philly.
Dr. Tatar lives with his wife, Lori, and their children, Mia and Seth, who fortunately “love cheese and cheese humor.”
For more information, visit merionparkcheese.com. Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com