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Portrait of a CCP Wannabe


Hi! My name is Beth and I’m delighted to be a finalist for the Certified Cheese Professional exam scholarship sponsored by culture and Sartori. They’ve asked us to blog a bit here, so I figured I’d start by introducing myself with the entry I wrote for the scholarship.

That'sme!

That’s me!

A little over 4 years ago, my husband and I opened Eastern District, a market in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, specializing in craft beer and great American-made cheeses. Admittedly, I was a little green at that point. My professional cheese experience in 2010 was limited to 6 months of employment at Manhattan’s Artisanal Bistro and Bar Artisanal. I had also taken several classes at Murray’s, including their weekend-long Cheese U Boot Camp. But I knew that the time was right to start this business. Exciting things were happening in the world of artisanal cheese, especially as more people were discovering how fun it was to pair cheese with craft beer. I had the money saved up to finance the business independently, and I felt that my beloved neighborhood of 13 years was ready for a shop like Eastern District.

Come visit me at the cheese counter at Eastern District!

Come visit me at the cheese counter at Eastern District!

As I had expected and hoped, choosing a career in cheese meant choosing a path of lifelong learning. Although as a business owner much of my time is spent with marketing plans and financial statements, the best parts of my job will always be tasting and caring for cheese; talking to customers, producers and other cheese experts; and reading more about this infinitely fascinating food. The history is rich, the scientific knowledge is continually developing, and cheesemakers (especially in the Americas) are constantly innovating.

As I continue to drink in the cheese knowledge (how’s that for an awkward metaphor?), I am honored to have the opportunity to share my learnings with others. It’s wonderful to share the delight of a customer who is discovering a cheese for the first time, and having that “ah-ha” moment when they understand why it has “eyes,” tastes like caramel or smells like used socks. One of my favorite managerial responsibilities is hiring and training new cheesemongers. Some of our past mongers have gone on to graduate school in literature and philosophy, but I am secretly most proud of those who continue on with careers in cheese.

A cheese plate from Eastern District.

A cheese plate from Eastern District.

Obviously cheese education is important to me. I have been privileged to participate in one American Cheese Society conference and several Cheesemonger Invitational competitions, which have both been outstanding learning experiences. The only thing that has stopped me from registering for the CCP exam so far is the expense. I have invested my life savings into our business, and it sometimes feels like a minor miracle that we can afford to pay our New York City rent, our employees and vendors, and utilities and repair bills. When we do have a few extra dollars to spare, we re-invest it into a staff cheese tasting night or an upgraded set of cheese knives for the store. Our rare, brief vacations always include visits to cheesemakers and cheese shops.

Learning about cheese will always be an important part of my life, CCP exam or not. But having an opportunity to take this exam will help me justify setting aside my Quickbooks and checkbook for a while, to dig deep into the ACS body of cheese knowledge. The learning itself is my primary goal in making this application, but I also know that CCP certification can help me afford to continue and develop my career in cheese. With these credentials I can get work as a writer and consultant, and raise the profile of our business within the cheese and food worlds. It will help me communicate my belief that learning about cheese is not just an exercise in connoisseurship, but a way of learning more about the human and natural worlds, and something that can be used to contribute substantially to our culture and society.

A few of the artisanal American-made cheeses at our shop.

A few of the artisanal American-made cheeses at our shop.

In thinking about why I want to pursue this opportunity, I have developed a new goal for myself. I would like to team up with an expert (or experts) in childhood education to develop an interdisciplinary curriculum for children, using cheese as a gateway to learn about history, culture, chemistry and biology. Frankly, this is an idea that just came to me in the past 24 hours. But it seems like a real possibility – and one that CCP certification could help make possible.

Do any readers know of any cheese-based educational curricula for kids? Do you have any experience in this kind of education? If so, let me know about it in the blog comments!


Help Beth become the 2015 #SartoriScholar by voting for her!

 

Beth Lewand

A lifelong dairy fan, Beth Lewand became deeply fascinated with the science and history of cheese in the early 2000’s. She left her career as a digital media professional and in 2010, with her husband Chris Gray, founded Eastern District, a cheese and craft beer shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. There she oversees an evolving selection of 60-100 mostly American-made artisanal cheeses. She was a finalist in the 2014 Cheesemonger Invitational competition. Her favorite part of the job is seeing people’s faces light up when they discover a new favorite cheese. Follow her @eastrict

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