10 Observations from 17 years of teaching cheese
17 Years! On Monday, February 14th, 2005 I got on a plane and flew to Buffalo, New York for my first day with ANCO Fine Cheese as one of their corporate trainers. With the guidance and support of my friend and colleague Chef Warren Katz I began my cheese journey.
I’ve seen a lot of changes in our industry and also have some observations as well, here’s my top ten.
TOP 10 OBSERVATIONS FROM 10 YEARS OF TEACHING CHEESE
by Michael Landis ACS CCP, CCSE
In the last 17 years, I have flown over 3.1 million miles, taught over 500 cheese related courses from basic cheese knowledge, fermented foods, pairing with beer, wine, chocolate and breads. I wrote a boon on Beer and Cheese paring and have another one coming out in 2022. I have Judged cheese at the International, Global and World Cheese Awards, taught at extremely fun venues like the Great American Beer Festival, California Artisan cheese festival, Craft brewer’s conference, all Ale to the Queen, SweetWater 420 Festival and the American Cheese Society's conferences. I passed the American Cheese Society’s Certified cheese Professional exam in 2012, authorized as a CCP Trainer and was inducted into the Guilde of International Fromages in 2011, along with the Court of Master Sommeliers Exam. My life has been blessed with meeting some of the most wonderful, genuine and caring people around the world. I have friends that I have met though cheese in Australia, England, Montreal and from Florida to Hawaii. My life has been forever altered for the best by these friends and colleagues, they have supported, challenged and pleasantly argued with me over these 17 years. I want to thank each and every one for a great time and I’m looking forward to another dynamic 17 years!
Top 10 Observations in 17 Years
# 10 - Everyone loves cheese – My favorite cheese
The moment that I tell someone that I teach cheese, they immediately without hesitation tell me that they love cheese. When I ask which cheeses, they usually narrow it down to one or two. Many times when I ask about Blue or Washed Rind they wrinkle their nose and shake their head no. But, they love cheese! Today, more often than not I’m seeing more of a diverse love of different cheeses, more interest in cheeses other than cheddar. They are asking for complex cheeses, more flavors and not as concerned about price. I think that this is because; Cheesemongers are taking the time to sample out cheese and to tell the cheese’s story. I was enjoying a beer at a local brew pub and one of the patrons who has been in my classes before, came up to me all excited and show me a picture of Jasper Hill Farms Harbison. He was so excited to find and enjoy that cheese. Actually, me too!
# 9 – A better cheeses - You never go back
The one thing that I am very happy to say that I have seen over the years is that once someone tries a cheese that they love and it’s better than the last one they tried, they do not go back to their old lesser quality cheeses. Cheesemongers take the time to tell the customers about the differences and why they should pay a little more for better quality cheeses and flavors. Cheesemongers are taking them up to the next cheese, one cheese at a time.
# 8 - Your Palate - Cheese is different for everyone
No matter how much you love blue cheese or how wonderfully rich, buttery and slightly aromatic that cheese is, someone will not like it. Amazing as it seems, not all palates are equal. Taking the time to help someone understand that it is more than just the style and name of a cheese, these changes happen when Cheesemongers work with one customer at a time and take the time to help them understand the difference in cheeses.
# 7 - Beer & cheese pairing – Not as new as you thought
I have been pairing up beer and cheese since the first time I had craft beer somewhere in the mid-nineties, Pete’s Wicked Ale with a simple cheddar brought out the buttery flavors of the cheese and the cheese brought out a richness of the malt. The British have a lot more time at it and cheese has been part of the pub scene for hundreds of years. Today we have Cheesemongers who love craft beer and many of the specialty grocery chains and cheese shops are now featuring little brew pubs in their stores. Local craft brews and artisan cheeses, an educated Cheesemonger will take you down that wonderful path.
# 6 - Cheese Certification – Verified Experts in Cheese
When I started my first prep class for my American Cheese Society Cheese Professional exam, I ask why they wanted to get this certification. Why spend all this time, money and stress to be called an “American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional? The most often answer, “I want people to know that this is my profession and I am qualified to be a Cheesemonger!” To qualify to take the exam you have to show proof that you have 4,000 hours of experience working with cheese and have taken professional cheese courses. That’s just the start, there’s so much more to the exam than just cheese, there are nine domains within the Body of Knowledge which cover all of the principal knowledge areas within the cheese profession. It can be a full time job just studying for the exam, flash cards, quiz reviews, webinars and professional cheese seminars. I have students from all over the US, from Hawaii to Florida traveling to attend the prep seminars. These Cheesemongers are full time cheese geeks and they love spreading the word about cheese. As one of my students said, “Cheese glorious Cheese” with this huge smile! Cheesemongers make my job fun!
# 5 – Cheesemonger Invitational – I really am a cheese geek!
At my last CMI, more than 700 people showed up to watch 40 Cheesemongers cut, weigh, taste, and serve cheese in a bizarrely riveting competition. I had the unique privilege to Judge one year and I have to say, these are cheese geeks and nerds to the X factor! It was mesmerizing to watch, the passion, desire and stamina to endure the extremely long day of testing of their skills. Blessed are those Cheesemongers!
# 4– Someone’s watching the store – Cheesemongers are now in the Deli
Ten years ago the cheese’s were set, displayed and sold by someone in the Deli or the Deli manager, there were few and far between actual Cheesemongers setting the cases and selling cheese. It seemed at the time that many of the people in the deli were assigned to take care of the cheese, were the “last man standing.” Today, more and more Cheesemongers are available for your questions on cheeses, Thank you Cheesemongers!
# 3 – American Artisan cheese – What will they think of next
When Europeans immigrated to American, they brought cheesemaking with them, along with some very famous recipes. For years American cheesemakers created cheeses that were similar in style and flavor that they missed from their homeland. Cheeses like Parmesan and Romano are huge favorites of anyone making Italian recipes and even Asiago is made in the United States. They are similar but not the same. It took a while, but we started to see American Artisan Cheesemakers creating something that reflected the “Sense of Place” from their lands, cattle and creative use of cheese cultures. On the downside is the availability of many of the jewels of cheese, on the upside many of the best Cheesemongers work in places that feature these jewels of cheese. Lucky are those Cheesemongers!
# 2 – Cheesemakers and Brewers – Same fabric, just a different color
Besides being able to teach almost every day and share a passion for cheese, I get to work with the most passionate and driven people, Cheesemakers and Brewers. When you put these two in the same room, it’s almost magical. I get to create events that feature Cheesemakers that make the cheese with the actual brewer that makes the beer. There’s nothing more fun than adding alcohol to a cheesemaker, just kidding, well not really. They are fun, passionate and love to explore different experiences with their cheeses. Today we see beer and wine bars sprouting up at many of the specialty grocery stores alongside of the Cheese Shop, why the Cheese Shop? Because they have a Cheesemonger that will guide them along for the best cheese, beer and yes, wine pairing! Glad to have the Cheesemonger working with brewers and winemakers!
# 1 - Passion sells Cheese – Is passion more important than the cheese
Cheese sitting in a cheese case without a Cheesemonger is bought by people who know what they are looking for. Cheese that is bought by a person who doesn’t know what they are looking for is treated to the passions of a Cheesemonger. I have worked with grocery chains from Alaska, Hawaii, Pacific Northwest, Southern and Northern California, InterMountain West, Southwest, Midwest, Northeast, Atlantic, Southeast and visited grocery stores in France, Italy, Holland, Spain, England, Ireland, Luxembourg, Nepal, Thailand and Hong Kong. There’s one common thread about a successful cheese department and that’s the Passion and love of Cheese from the Cheesemonger. I have seen stores go from a little cheese sales, to one of the top selling stores in a chain just with a passionate Cheesemonger. I have seen stores go from the top of sales to the bottom of sales when the passionate Cheesemonger leaves and their position is not filled with the same. One passionate person, one passionate Cheesemonger, so many happy customers!
I am looking forward to seeing how the next generation of cheese buyers take to these Cheesemongers and their wonderful cheeses, it is an exciting time to be in the cheese business and I hope that when our customers are looking for a cheese that you seek out an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional and ask them “what does the Cheesemonger suggest?”