On the Record with Tenaya Darlington
‘Madame Fromage’ dishes on her new book, "Booze and Vinyl."
By Katie Smith ’15
"It's okay to dance!" calls Tenaya Darlington, M.F.A., associate professor of English, as she spins Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” at WHYY studios in Philadelphia. Vinyl lovers of all ages revel in cherished records and clink signature cocktails, curated by Darlington. She is there to promote Booze and Vinyl (Running Press, 2018), in which she pairs 140 drinks with 70 classic records. For “Purple Rain,” it’s an aviation cocktail — made of gin, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette and lemon juice.
The event kicked off the Philadelphia leg of Darlington’s 15-city book tour, where foodies gather to listen to records, sample a few drinks featured in Booze and Vinyl and snack on some of the author’s favorite cheeses. Partnering with Crosley Turntables, Darlington and her brother André, the book’s co-author, rolled their mobile cocktail party across the United States in Crosley’s giant cruiser, which she describes as “part record store, part listening lounge.”
“André and I grew up with a turntable in the center of the house,” says Darlington, director of SJU’s graduate writing studies program. “My parents often hosted listening parties for their friends in the late ’70s, and I have such good memories of those evenings. With the book, we hope to inspire people to listen to music together and enjoy some lo-fi entertainment.”
"I’ve always tried to
embody the spirit of
I love with good people."
Tenaya Darlington, M.F.A.
After conceiving the nuts and bolts of Booze and Vinyl — a masterlist of records and complementary drinks based on each band’s history and style — Darlington began another semester of her undergraduate Food Writing class in August 2016. On the first day, student Tor Lydon ’17 mentioned a fun listening party she attended the previous weekend.
“It was wild to hear that my students — several generations from my parents — had a taste for vinyl and analog entertaining,” she remembers.
At the heart of this project — and all of Darlington’s food writing, which primarily centers around cheese — is hospitality. Her first project, a blog called “Madame Fromage,” carries the tagline, “Cheese Courtesan,” someone who shares cheese.
“I’ve always tried to embody the spirit of sharing something I love with good people,” she says.
• • •
After relocating from Madison, Wisconsin, to join the University in 2005, a homesick Darlington found her way to the counter of DiBruno Bros. cheese shop in Philadelphia’s Italian Market, searching for a reminder of her midwestern roots. She asked the staff for Upland’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a famous Wisconsin cheese that “only real nerds would ask for by its full name,” she says.
“Who are you?” one of the cheesemongers asked Darlington. “If you like that cheese, stick around. I have some others to show you.”
That afternoon was the first time she found something familiar and recognizable in Philadelphia — and Darlington bit. With the goal of trying all 300 cheeses in the store, she visited weekly and, beginning in 2009, chronicled her tastings in her blog.
“I thought I’d maintain ‘Madame Fromage’ for about six months maximum,” she recalls. “It was just a convenient place to collect my notes.”
Darlington’s dairy diary quickly struck a chord with cheese lovers throughout the area — namely, the president of DiBruno Bros. She soon found herself regularly blogging on the shop’s website and holding food writing workshops for the staff. She also undertook the writing of two-sentence descriptions for over 300 items in stock, which appeared on the packaging, in cheese cases and on the web.
Her relationship with DiBruno Bros. soon manifested into a book, DiBruno Bros. House of Cheese (Running Press, 2013), where all of “Madame Fromage’s” hard work could come together in print.
• • •
Nearly 10 years later, Darlington has found a niche in the food writing world — in cheese and, now, in cocktails. She can boast four cookbooks under her belt, over 500 blog posts as Madame Fromage and more than 8,000 devoted Instagram fans who savor every delicious recommendation.
“For me, making connections and marketing are the same thing,” says Darlington. “I always want to connect with good, interesting people who represent integrity — and something delicious.”
"For me, making connections
and marketing are the same thing."
Tenaya Darlington, M.F.A.
Her unique position inside the world of food and social media connects Darlington with other writers, makers, restaurateurs and bloggers — connections and insights she can share with her students. Her influence is best felt in her Food Writing course, where students are challenged to change their diets, interview culinary professionals and write an entire piece about one ingredient.
“I feel so lucky that I had Tenaya as a professor,” says cookbook author Marisa McClellan ’06 (M.A.), who began her award-winning canning blog “Food in Jars” as a graduate writing assignment for Darlington. “Her friendly and open manner has helped cultivate a community of foodies that enriches everyone involved — but especially her students.”
The Booze and Vinyl tour exemplifies the connection that remains at the heart of her brand, however far reaching it has become. Each precisely planned event combines good food, treasured music and classic cocktails — whether it’s an aviation for The Purple One or a punk rock tea party for Blondie.
Smith is a communications specialist in the Office of Marketing and Communications at SJU.
London Calling (1979)
Side A Cocktail: Gin and Tonic
The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
Side A Cocktail: French 75
Pet Sounds (1966)
The Beach Boys
Side A Cocktail: Piña Colada
On The Road with SJU
Darlington took her cocktails to Boston in May to close out the University’s new SJULive series with an event entitled “Cocktails Go to the Movies.” A roadshow for faculty and alumni experts and industry leaders, SJULive brings the best of the University to alumni by visiting different cities for interactive events on topical issues. All events are streamed on Facebook Live, allowing alumni in any city to connect virtually.
This year’s series visited five cities and covered topics ranging from an insider’s look at March Madness to the healthcare crisis of undocumented citizens. Darlington and her brother, André, took participants through a short history of the role of cocktails in classic movies.
“Bringing the best of SJU to alumni across five cities this past year was exciting and valuable for attendees and participants,” says Thomas Monaghan, assistant vice president for alumni relations. “We were proud to share our faculty and alumni experts with attendees and the more than 8,000 people who tuned in via Facebook. The events were truly interactive learning experiences and the conversations are continuing.”
Learn more and get involved: sju.edu/alumni