Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Becoming a Cheesemonger
That's because, in an attempt to gain the 2,000 hours of paid work experience I need to qualify for and then take the ACS Certified Cheese Professional Exam (the only exam of its kind offering professionals in the cheese industry the opportunity to earn the distinguished title of ACS Certified Cheese Professional), I've started working three days a week behind the cheese counter at Metcalfe's Market, a family-owned group of specialty grocery stores in southern Wisconsin.
The upside: I get to open, cut, wrap and talk about 500 different cheeses with hundreds of customers a day, giving me WAY more respect for every cheesemonger whose job I thought I knew. My co-workers think I've lost my mind when the overhead announcement stating a pallet of cheese has arrived results in me jumping up and down like a kid on Christmas morning with a pile of presents under the tree.
The downside: I may be reaching the upper age limit of being able to to stand, bend, reach, pull, push and heave wheels of cheese all day, so it's a good thing I'm doing this before I get any older. Let's just say that at the end of each shift, ibuprofen is my friend. Oh, and I've lost 30 pounds since I started. Booyah!
Back in January, I began a crash course with an amazing team of co-workers, learning the ropes on how to stock, face, cut and wrap cheese. Nearly five months later, I feel like I've hit my groove, and can adequately answer almost any question a customer throws at me. I also know where the secret stash of super cool demo baskets live, have braved both the boiler room to retrieve giant green trash bags, and survived the cavernous underground walk-in cooler in a successful search for lost boxes of fresh sheep's milk cheese.
What's really surprised me, however, is how much I enjoy the customers. Some of my favorites continue to be the ones who are never really sure what they're looking for. They know they like cheese. They know they once had a cheese they loved. They just can't remember the name of the cheese, or anything about it. Challenge accepted.
Once in awhile, we get lucky and a customer will just mix up a name - such as: "Do you carry Pleasant Valley Gruyere?" Then we guide them to the Wisconsin section and hand them a piece of Pleasant Ridge Reserve with a smile.
The hardest questions are the ones like this: "I'm looking for a cheese that I sampled here a couple of weeks ago. It was white. I remember it being salty." Then the guessing game begins. More often than not, we're actually able to discern what we think the customer tasted and they leave a happy camper. To date, I've never had a customer get angry with me. I've come to the conclusion that cheese just naturally makes people happy.
Working with cheese - actually handling it day in and day out - is a much different beast than writing or talking about it, which I've done for most of the past 10 years. Thank you to the crew at Metcalfe's for putting up with me, and I look forward to the next two years (or more!) together. Who knows, I may never leave. :)