We anticipate a room full of applicants at this year’s American Cheese Society’s Conference, almost 200 cheese peeps who will be taking the broad-based exam, each one hoping to become an ACS Certified Cheese Professional. You have to be more than merely a cheese “lover” to sit for the exam; you must show work experience in the cheese industry. The application process is closed for this year’s exam; the ACS is now accepting applications for the 2014 exam. Again, the exam is broad-based; no one who took the first exam last year got all the answers correct. Cool thing about cheese: there are so many facets to it. This certification is intended to support the artisan cheese industry by promoting education and recognizing the professional skills required to properly care for cheese. We believe the Certification effort is the best thing that ever happened to the American Cheese Society. It should go a long way to getting cheese some respect.
On my subway ride into work this morning I overheard a pre-teen kid ask his dad who cut the cheese.
Whenever I hear the word “cheese,” or whenever I see it referenced in print, I tune in.
On hearing this question, and then hearing it again a couple more times, it reminded me of what my daughter may have answered years ago when classmates would ask her what her dad did for a living: “He cuts the cheese.”
Snickers all around.
Besides the association with its misinformed association with daunting aroma and poor food choices, cheese suffers from its association with poverty, as though it is no more than a poor man’s steak.
I recall another comment recently: “Or we could just have cheese.”
Precisely: why not?
The “C” word is heard more frequently than ever. I suppose “bad” publicity is better than none at all. The excitement is building; we are poised to see a capacity crowd taking the second American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional™ exam in Madison this summer.
In my current duties I may not cut the cheese at the break-neck pace the way I use to at Picholine years ago, yet I eat at least as much as I ever did, if not more.
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!