Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cheese Shopping

One Saturday a month, the kind souls at Fromagination, a cut-to-order cheese shop in Madison, Wis., let me come in for a few hours and play cheesemonger. I get to interact with customers, talk about Wisconsin artisan cheeses, and even fumble my way around cutting and wrapping cheese. Great fun.

That being said, let me just say there's nothing like being on the opposite side of the cheese counter to make me realize in a very short time how incredibly annoying I must be as a customer.

Therefore, in an effort to be a better cheese shopper, might I suggest a few tips:

1. Actually read the signs in the cheese case. Most cut-to-order cheese shops spend a lot of time on their cheese signs, listing the type of milk, the cheesemaker's name, where it's made, and the style of cheese. While a good cheesemonger will always be happy to answer your questions, you can save yourself a lot of time by just reading what's on the card.

2. A cheese shop is not a buffet. If you're going to make a cheesemonger go through all the work of pulling, unwrapping and cutting a sample from a dozen different cheeses, please be courteous enough to buy at least one wedge of cheese. It's really disheartening to spend 45 minutes with one customer only to hear them say as they walk out the door with a full stomach, "Well, thanks for the samples. See you next time." Arghh.

3. Have a little patience. So you've decided to stop by your local cheese shop to purchase a dozen 1/4 pounds of different cheeses for all of your friends back home, and you need to catch a plane in 30 minutes. Umm, yeah. A cut-to-order cheese shop is probably not your best bet. It takes time to pull, cut, weigh, and individually wrap each cheese for a customer. So have a little patience. As a friend of mine says: "You can have two of these three: speed, service or price." Pick which two you want.

4. Just because you had this one cheese this one time in this one place doesn't mean I know which cheese you want. I'm always amazed at the people who try and describe a certain cheese they had while vacationing in the Alps or in the Caribbean, or on a cruise to the Mediterranean, but can't remember the style, what it looked like, or the name of the cheese. Sigh. Chances are unless the cheesemonger was on the trip with you, if you can't remember the name of the cheese, neither will the cheesemonger. Before you come in the shop, try and do a little research on what type or style the cheese was - chances are very good that the cheesemonger can recommend something similar that you'll like just as well.

5. This is not your boyfriend's fridge. Do not, I repeat, do not open the cheese cases and serve yourself in a cut-to-order shop. In front-display cases, cheeses are arranged in the most pleasing display possible, and are designed to be accessed from the back of the case. A cheesemonger doesn't want to pick up the eight wheels of cheese that just rolled on the floor because you decided to just help yourself by opening the front of the case. Just ask for help. That's what we're here for.

6. Refrigerate your cheese when you get home. It's absolutely amazing to me how many people ask if the cheese they just bought needs to be refrigerated. The answer is always YES. Cheese is a living thing. Don't let it grow an extra limb while sitting in the backseat of your car for three days. Put it in the fridge when you get home and it will last a whole lot longer. Remember that the cheese you see sitting out on the counter at a cheese shop is put back into a cooler every night.

So that's my short list of how to be a better cheese shopper. I'll be printing it out and taking with me the next time I'm buying cheese instead of selling it.