How We Think
When I look at birds, I'm more interested in what they do--how they fly, where they nest, whether they pick things off the ground to eat or nibble berries on a tree--than I am in their specific names. My father, an avid birdwatcher and twitcher, despairs. "You're not assiduous in your birdwatching," he laments, after asking me whether the bird I just saw (which no one else saw because they were turned a different way) had a black eye band and a white rump.
"I don't know. I just know it was a woodpecker by the way it was flying. And for a short while it was trying valiantly to get something edible out of that telephone pole."
Dad sighs, shakes his head and turns away with binoculars at full salute. I'll never be able to help him with his yearly bird list.
But that doesn't mean I don't love birdwatching!
I use this analogy to talk about cheese.
I'm not an assiduous cheese studier, either, though hundreds and hundreds of names come through our shop and I'm familiar with most of them. But I do love being a cheesemonger, and I'm a good one! Some of us have memories for names and were probably the same people that scored high on tests (my father won a Fulbright). Not me.
I learn by doing, watching, tasting. And cheese, for me, is about the kind of milk, the style and origin of make, the ripeness and seasonality. With this in mind, I like to urge customers to learn what they like rather than demand a particular cheese. It opens them up to a much larger cheese spectrum, which in turn, frees them from disappointment.
Love Manchego? Chances are there are several sheep's milk cheeses that will please you just as much, and a good cheesemonger will walk you through the choices on hand and make you very, very happy. Brie? This is a massive category that can lead into all kinds of wonderful cheese areas. I'd have you try Camembert washed with Calvados, Cowgirl's Mt. Tam or even a bite of an oozing Epoisses, as long as I could tell that you weren't afraid of stronger flavors. One of those might just rock your world.
My point is that, for me, it's not about memorizing names. It's about learning cheese styles, going with your mood at the time and allowing yourself to think outside of the list.
That's right. Don't be too assiduous about it.