The 2024 Hot List: Alisha Norris Jones | culture: the word on cheese
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The 2024 Hot List: Alisha Norris Jones

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 Credit: Matthew Gilson

Alisha Norris Jones

Freelance Cheesemonger, Immortal Milk
Chicago, Illinois

Alisha Norris Jones describes her path to cheese as long and strange. Before becoming a cheesemonger, she was a member of AmeriCorps, an underground party organizer, and a religion and anthropology major at DePaul University in Chicago. Her first industry job was at The Publican and Publican Quality Meats, which established her love for the meditative aspect of cheese care. She later transitioned to a few well-known Chicago restaurants, did a stint behind the counters at Whole Foods Market and Beautiful Rind, started the cheese program at Marz Community Brewing, competed in the Cheesemonger Invitational, and dipped her toe into sales at Blakesville Creamery—all while running an underground cheese plate business under the name Immortal Milk. Her work is inspired by her love of design and culture, and she firmly believes that all folks deserve a seat at the table (or counter). Cheese is for everyone, regardless of gender, class, or educational background.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the cheeseworld?

Tia Keenan’s The Art of the Cheese Plate (Rizzoli, September 2016) was a seminal piece of work for me as a fledgling monger and restaurant professional. Her work at The Modern and Casellula, which beautifully complemented Anne Saxelby’s efforts in New York City at the time, went a long way in lionizing American and non-European cheeses in fine dining—and eventually, greater American food culture.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve experienced or overcome in the industry?

Being a BIPOC monger has been challenging in many visible and invisible ways. For every opportunity and experience I’ve had, there’s emotional labor, double consciousness, and constant internal check-ins that come with them. Am I doing right by my standards, work, and community? Do other cheese professionals experience this? Are they tired as well?

While this challenge isn’t specific to the cheese industry, it certainly feels amplified here. I’ve never, even in my hospitality work, had to code-switch between speaking to fellow BIPOC mongers, makers from former sundown states, and literal cheese legends—within the span of 15minutes. It’s for love, but it’s exhausting.

The Cheese Culture Coalition, Mexican Mongers, and the relationships that have sprung out of competing at the Cheesemonger Invitational have all been incredible sources of safety and support. Community is a balm.

Pair a celebrity with a cheese.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera paired with Corazón de Mantequilla (Butter Heart), a raw, bichromatic, cow’s milk cheese from Chiapas, Mexico, that I first tried at Lactography in Mexico City. Butter Heart’s bright and mildly sour side is Diego, while the fierce and fiery chiltepin side is all Frida.

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

My love for hand-dipped ricotta is well documented and true. Good olive oil, flaky salt, and ricotta? Never gets old. Fingers crossed this island has good tomatoes.

What is an underrated cheese that everyone should know about?

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese New Woman, especially when paired with bresaola and mango chutney. New Woman reminds me of a Jamaican beef patty: a ubiquitous beef turnover usually found in Kingston, Boston, DC, and many other communities with a large Jamaican presence. Patties are beloved across the African Diaspora, and I love that there’s a cheese that taps into that.


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