Italian Admiral

You can always count on John Greeley for a pithy quip.

Italian Admiral oriented1 225x300 Italian AdmiralJohn served as the American Cheese Society’s Judging Committee Chairman for several years and is still very much involved with the process as Chairman Emeritus. When he saw the many colorful ribbons on my conference lanyard last week he said “It’s Max McCalman, the Italian Admiral!”

The ribbons included:

Ask me about Certification
Committee Member
Certification Body of Knowledge
Competition Judge

I have been involved with the cheese professionals certification project since its inception in 2005 (seems longer) when Kathy Guidi and Laurie Greenberg moderated a panel on that topic at the American Cheese Society conference in Louisville. One question in their minds was what made me a Maître Fromager? How did I earn that title? As it turned out, it was mostly autodidactic.

The title was given to me by Picholine restaurant’s Chef/Owner Terrance Brennan. When we launched the cheese program at Picholine I juggled the jobs of Fromager (cheese person) and Maître d’Hotel so he combined the titles into one. It seemed to make sense at the time, even though the jobs are not usually held by one person simultaneously. Indeed, I was not able to manage both jobs. The demands of the cheese program became so great that I had to give up the “hotel.”

The Maître d’Hotel job title is often reduced to “Maître d’” anyway; concluding the title with “Fromager” added cachet and, deserved or not, to be the first one in a US restaurant added more. The job offered an outlet for my dining service talents, much the way tableside service used to offer the Maître d’Hotel positions. The cheese service was a little more physical, sensual and creative.

The Maître Fromager title stuck, even though I knew very little about cheese at the time. I certainly was not the expert the title suggested. It behooved me to become as expert as possible asap. The restaurant’s diners asked me questions about our cheese selection, about cheese in general, and about other cheeses I had never heard of. No other work experience better proved the Socratic theory of learning. I attended seminars, joined the American Cheese Society, invited other cheese persons to come and give me advice, and read everything on cheese I could find (before Google and Wikipedia). Back then there were precious few resources in English. Steve Jenkins’s Cheese Primer was published after we launched our cheese program at Picholine.

It did not take long to discover that holding that title was a big deal in some places – like France.

Our ACS session on certification spawned the endeavor; many of us thought it should be a Fromager certification, similar to a Master Sommelier certification. That idea was nixed by ACS members, some of whom said they would sooner call themselves (if they passed an exam) a Certified Cheese Monger. The Francophobes got their way, but only up to a point. I pointed out that the word “Sommelier” was commonly used and is now a part of our English language which is about 50% French-derived anyway. The Cheese Monger title was rejected by our side of the aisle so the more generic Certified Cheese Professional name was adopted.

Our ad hoc certification committee was led by Susan Sturman. She oversaw the entire development of the certification, which reached fruition upon administration of the first exam at the 29th American Cheese Society conference August 1st, 2012. Susan selected that occasion to resign from the committee chairmanship after nearly a decade at the helm. The ACS Board of Directors gave her a special award for her outstanding leadership.

I have taken on her old job as chairman of the committee, but only after I received Sue’s assurance that she would assist me during the transition and then into the future. Even though she resigned from the position she assured me that she will assist as needed.

It was a Raleigh good conference.

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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One Response to “Italian Admiral”

  1. Tanya Says:

    I'm sure you're doing Sue proud, Max! Absolutely *loved* your Cheese 201 class at Artisanal last year. Cheese is such a wonderful food!