The 2024 Hot List: Agela Abdullah | culture: the word on cheese
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The 2024 Hot List: Agela Abdullah

This story is part of culture’s 2024 Hot List. Click here to learn more about the selection process and to see the entire list of recipients.

Photo courtesy Agela Abdullah

Agela Abdullah

President, the Cheese Culture Coalition
Chicago, Illinois

As a cook, Agela Abdullah had worked with cheese before, but she never thought of it as a career. While taking a break from the restaurant industry, she took a part-time job behind a cheese counter. Fifteen years later, she never expected to still be working in the cheese world. Since then, Abdullah’s held various positions, but she’s most proud of her role as president of the Cheese Culture Coalition, and her induction into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers. Abdullah is also a contributing columnist for culture, and launched the Cheese for the Culture column in our Spring 2022 Innovation issue.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the cheese world?

One of my biggest inspirations is Whitney Roberts, the founder of the Cheese Culture Coalition. A lot of us were talking about the barriers and inequities that BIPOC folks in the industry experience, but Whitney had the courage to get things started on a professional level. I’m also inspired by all the folks showing up in the industry exactly as they are. They aren’t apologizing for who they are, and they’re speaking up and showing up in more spaces. It takes so many people working together to create safe and nurturing spaces, and I feel like a proud cheese auntie watching the industry become more visibly diverse.

What’s your number one goal for your career in the cheese industry?

I want the Cheese Culture Coalition to continue to grow. Last year, we offered two micro-grants of $250 each. This year, we’re able to give more micro-grants and establish a professional grant program, which will give two cheese industry professionals $1,500 each. Over the next two years, we want that number to grow to $5,000. I’m passionate about widening the path for BIPOC folks in this industry and being as supportive as possible, both professionally and personally. The Coalition is also looking into grants to help us offer paid employment to folks. It’s so important that as we grow, we expand our ability to pay folks for their labors.

Pair a celebrity with a cheese

Megan Thee Stallion is a fluffy cake of Robiola Rocchetta. I will not elaborate.

You’re on a desert island and can only eat one cheese for the rest of your life. What is it?

If it’s an American cheese it’s going to be Jasper Hill Farm’s Alpha Tolman. This past winter, I spent so much time making grilled cheese with Alpha Tolman and orange marmalade. I ate that combo for weeks on end, and I’ll do it again. For an International cheese it has tobe Taleggio. I love melty cheese, and I still have dreams about a Taleggio panini we had at a job I had more than 15 years ago.

What is a pairing you’re ashamed to love?

I have no shame when it comes to cheese. Nothing works on a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich quite like a slice of ooey gooey American cheese singles. No shame. I recently saw a video featuring a 200g Babybel and heard you can only get them in Europe. I desperately want to do a big Babybel en croute. Maybe add a little lingonberry jam. If anyone can get me a big ol’Babybel, hit me up.

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