Make no mistake, I love artisan and farmstead cheeses! The cheese industry has been my chosen career choice for a decade thus far and I am passionate about all things cheese and cheese-related. I adore a wheel of Epoisses and always appreciate it when my boyfriend manages to come home with a new cheese that I have somehow overlooked ordering at the cheese counter. However, I can also appreciate a good basic cheese.
First though, a dirty little secret about myself: I didn’t always love and adore cheese! I know, it’s shocking. I remember my job interview at Sendik’s Food Markets for a cheese associate position as if it were yesterday and not a decade ago. The question was, “Do you like cheese?” I responded with, “Not really, but don’t I just need to cut and wrap it?”
I really just needed a job to get through college. However, my manager was so enthusiastic and passionate that I couldn’t help, but start trying new things. We started with the basic cheeses and my palette started to blossom! I moved from sharp cheddar to aged goudas to some of the best cheeses in the world like Pleasant Ridge Reserve. I ate imported bries and started to enjoy the tanginess of a good chevre.
Soon I was studying cheese books as much as psychology books and I loved every minute of it. I loved every minute of it then, and I still love it now. It is why I took on the position of cheese department manager. I couldn’t bear the thought of my manager’s, now my mentor’s, hard work falling into a stranger’s hands. This is how I ‘fell’ into the role of cheese manager and I am grateful every day that I get to go to ‘work’ and tell the stories of our local cheeses, as well as the rich histories of our imported cheeses.
Anyhow, back to the reason I still sometimes go ‘back to basics’ when selecting cheeses. First, we all comfort eat at some point in our lives. Believe me, I appreciate a good, gooey brownie, but the ultimate comfort food that takes me right back to 5 yrs old at the lunch table with my mom is grilled cheese. I know, you are thinking, but she just said she hated cheese early on in life?!? Like a typical kid, I hated cheese in any other form, except melted. I loved grilled cheese sandwiches between 2 slices of white bread and slathered in butter. I still occasionally make a grilled cheese like this when I am super stressed (like the holidays in retail) or getting sick. It is instant comfort and it brings back a wealth of happy memories!
Another reason to go back to basics is that when you put a gourmet cheese tray together for a mixed crowd sometimes it’s useful to put a basic cheese amongst your gourmet cheeses. Not everyone in the group will necessarily be a turophile (cheese connoisseur), and sometimes kids may be at a party. Keep in mind that a cheese which more people are familiar with provides a comparison point for them to explore the other cheeses on the plate. It serves as a reference point. Many customers at my cheese counter over the past 10 years have been eased from a basic cheese like sharp cheddar slowly into cheeses such as Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Explorateur, Aged Goudas, and many, many more choices.
My goal in my career is to help people expand their horizons when it comes to cheese tastings, and to help them see just how amazing cheese really is. I love to share the stories behind every bite of cheese and I hope to truly delve in and help myself as well as other come to understand how so many of the cheeses out there have come to be. And by the way if you really just like a regular, old cheddar or some pepper jack that is okay with me too, and I am happy to help you select the highest quality one I can!
Help Crystal earn her CCP at the American Cheese Society conference this summer. Vote for Crystal.