Maître Fromager? Why not Cheese Monger?

46593807 Maître Fromager? Why not Cheese Monger?

So, what is a Maître Fromager (pronounced MEH-truh froh-mah-ZHAY)?

A Maître Fromager is a cheese master. I fell into the title while juggling the jobs of Picholine restaurant’s Maître d’Hotel and Fromager years ago. The proprietor and chef Terrance Brennan simply deleted the “d’Hotel” and combined the other two parts. At the time I could hardly call myself a master of cheese, yet the title stuck. Naturally it behooved me to become as expert as possible, and as quickly as possible.

It would probably have made more sense to use the title “Fromager.” The time demanded by the cheese service took me away from the Maître d’Hotel duties. This occurred soon after we launched the cheese program there.

When people heard the title Maître Fromager they questioned what that meant. The Fromager part was fairly easy to understand and pronounce, though the spelling seemed to be a little more difficult. I have often seen it misspelled Fromagier. The title Sommelier has been used in this country for decades and is now part of the English language; this could explain why the title is sometimes misspelled fromagier. It would seem that the pronunciation of Sommelier might be a little more difficult to master than Fromager.

And if the Fromager happened to be female, the confusion was more profound. Many females adopted, or were given, the masculine Fromager title. It should be Fromagère, which would be pronounced about the same, with just a little hint of the “r” in the last syllable.

Many Americans dismissed the title; some seemed to have a disdain for it. When we presented the idea of developing an American Cheese Society-endorsed Fromager certification many members balked. Some members flat out said they would never think of calling themselves a “Fromager.” They considered themselves “cheese mongers.” In a retail setting (which is where we believed the certification would have greater interest) cheese monger would be easier for Americans to adopt, pronounce and spell. However, the certification would lack a certain ring to it if one became a “Certified Cheese Monger.” In the fine dining setting I cannot see how that title would lend any appeal whatsoever. Not that fine dining has to be all about what is French!

Nonetheless, many restaurants across the country now have a Fromager, even restaurants that are not French-inspired. A reputable restaurant cheese program requires full-time dedication, or at least many hours of an employee’s time. I believe many “Fromagers” consider the French title a rather prestigious one, both in retail and restaurant environments. “Fromager” rolls off the tongue in a sensual way.

I suppose part of the rejection would be a rejection of all things French, like Liberty Fries. Alors!I like to point out that this country would not be here if it weren’t for the French. It is not whether or not you love the French; it just happens to be a word: attractive to the ear, three syllables instead of the four syllables in “Cheese Monger,” and easy to pronounce. One reluctance to embrace the “Fromager” word could be the suggestion there is a preference to French cheeses over domestic ones, or ones from Italy, or wherever.

As the certification effort began to take shape, the American Cheese Society came up with a compromise. Persons passing the exam would become Certified Cheese Professionals; they could add C.C.P. after their names. I am okay with Certified Cheese Professional but I will still call myself a Fromager, if not a Maître Fromager.

The goal of the certification effort is a noble one. It is to ensure that cheeses are delivered from the producer to the end consumer in the best conditions possible, with all the care and attention to details, and with the knowledge of the product that the public expects. A Certified Cheese Professional will better assure the consumer that the information they are given is accurate, that the cheese is in good form; and for the cheese maker this will give them assurance that their products are handled properly, promoted and described accurately.

To deliver a product at its optimal stage of ripeness should be the goal of fromagers, or whatever you call them. Our classes showcase the talents of our cheese professionals. One of them is Fromager’s Favorites. We look over the selection in our caves and pick out our favorites in each cheese category. Cheeses have their seasons. This means that those “favorites” will change from one class to the next. We are offering a new class this spring “Season’s Best” which is similar to Fromager’s Favorites but the emphasis will be on the notable changes that begin to occur in late April’s world of cheeses. Watch for this new class under Events and Education.

Max McCalman

Spread the curd!
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