Monger vs Maker
In my last blog, I talked about what it is to be a cheesemonger, one of the more loved (and laughed at) titles that I've ever had the pleasure of using in my professional life. This blog, as promised, is about the difference between a cheesemonger and a cheesemaker. Based on the question I get often ("What kind of cheese do you make?"), I am sure that it must be made clear that these things are NOT the same.
Quite simply, a cheesemonger sells cheese. A cheesemaker makes cheese. And that's really the difference. One is there at the birthing and the other is there just prior to the hand off to the happy cheese consumer.
But there is more to say on this because they are interdependent folks and need each other to survive. Without the cheesemaker, the cheesemonger has nothing to sell. Without the monger, the maker is in serious trouble. Mutual respect and a healthy, in depth understanding and communication with one another is what leads to success for each profession.
I'm a cheesemonger (www.oxbowcheese.com). I have the right temperment for selling cheese, proudly telling the story of beloved cheeses and cheesemakers near and far. I love to please my customers by providing them exactly what they want at any given moment for their dinner, party, nibble, wedding, etc. I'm also very keen on the set up of the shop, the cheeses taking the front seat and leading sales, and I know my customers so well that I can literally purchase knowing what they will want over the coming weeks and months. I'm also keen on giving feedback to cheesemakers on the way customers react to changes in cheeses they produce (new tweaks in style, seasonal variations, packaging changes, etc) so both my shop and the cheesemaker can learn and do better, in every way.
I've thought about cheesemaking along the way and occasionally spend a day helping a local cheesemaker so I can learn hands on about her daily work, see first hand what goes on in the make room and with her goats, and dabble in a world that I chose not to make my own. From what I see, a good cheesemaker is a person of the highest standards with enough self-assurance that s/he can turn out cheeses that everyone will eat (we all know how scary it is to make food even for a dinner party!) as well as a healthy dose of self-criticism so there's always an improvement as each batch of cheese is made. There is a solitary aspect to cheesemaking that I find daunting but makers must embrace. And three particular areas of study take a top rung on any cheesemaker's ladder: an interest (often a passion) for chemistry, excellent attention to detail, and an assiduous mindset for cleaning.
So, am I a cheesemaker? No. Monger? Yavol. And even those companies that manage to incorporate these things under one roof (mongering, making and, sometimes, even wholesale distribution) need very different folks manning these specific areas. In other words, I am so very grateful to cheesemakers and distributors for making my mongering world work!
Next up: Maybe how we think is what drives how we learn about cheese
culture: the word on cheese & Oxbow Cheese Merchant, Napa, CA