A friend told me about a recent cheese shop visit when the cheesemonger told her that the crystals in an aged Parmigiano Reggiano were salt. Alors! Not that there is no salt in Parm but this does not make the cheese sound especially desirable, and more importantly, this is inaccurate information. Had the retailer provided the correct information (that those are tyrosine amino acid crystals) the cheese would have been far more attractive to the would-be buyer.
I like to drop in unannounced at cheese shops from time to time, just to hear what cheese people are saying. Actually, it is a little disturbing, especially when these people try to give recommendations regarding nutritive values and the safety of cheese. I’m sure they mean well. They are often excited to pontificate about their cheese knowledge. Fortunately, cheese tends to bring out the humility in people, especially once you’ve been in the industry long enough to discover how amazingly complex this food group is.
Yet I am concerned. Cheese has suffered quite enough: through mishandling, sloppy packaging, temperature abuses, too little or too much ventilation, abandonment for weeks in hostile storage conditions, left exposed to hungry pests, left on one side for weeks on end to the point that they develop “soggy bottom,” or outright physical abuse.
I welcome the enthusiasm but get the information correct, please. You never know when a customer may be better informed about a product than you are. There are so many facets to cheese that it is impossible to have a full knowledge of the entire lactic universe. We would expect that one would want to know how to convey accurate information. Or if the answer is unknown, that one would admit it, maybe come back to the topic later in the day and study up.
Then there are the “perfect-pairing” suggestions. There are some reliable principles of pairing cheeses with wines, or other beverages. These food and beverage pairing principles can be applied but they should not be stated as dogma. Classic pairings exist, such as Roquefort and Sauternes. On the “pairing” point, it is best to recognize that this is a little subjective.
We expect that the Certified Cheese Professional™ will help the entire industry. American and European cheesemakers are embracing the endeavor, and are applauding our efforts. Some of us are Cheese Educators, so how do we earn that title? As Chairman of the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional Committee, I may not be able to take the exam ever. That’s okay though: I believe I may be “grandfathered” in.
I want as many applicants as possible to pass the next exam July 31st at the ACS conference in Madison, which is why in our Master Series we teach everything we believe one should need to know to be a good cheesemonger, whether or not the topics are on the exam itself. It’s the right thing to do.
Again, we need more Certified Cheese Professionals!
- Max McCalman