Cheese counters can be awfully intimidating: All those foreign names, different styles, and stinky aromas are enough to overwhelm anybody. Not to worry: a good cheesemonger is like a fairy godparent. They just want to make all your cheese wishes come true!
While a good monger knows their cheese, they don’t know you—and that makes communication key when buying cheese. They can usually tell whether or not you like a sample by the expression on your face, but only you can articulate what it is you’re looking for. So, the next time you go cheese shopping, bear these tips in mind and watch the magic happen.
1. Come with purpose
Whether it’s destined for a fancy dinner party or a light snack, the right cheese exists for your occasion. Your purpose sets the tone for your entire shopping experience. The trick is giving your monger the necessary details to bear in mind as they select samples: the situation, the number of guests, and what other food you’re serving. Coming in to experiment can take a while, but is a fun learning experience. In the end, the decision is yours as to what cheese you’re going to bring home.
2. Know your preferences
If you really love or really hate a certain kind of cheese, tell your monger. If you want to try something new, let them know what you’ve had before. If you’re craving blue cheese, just say it. Even mongers can be overwhelmed by the size of their counters sometimes; the more you can tell them about what you like, the easier it will be to narrow your options down. Or, if you really are open to anything, ask your monger what they’re most excited about.
3. Know your crowd
You don’t need to know everyone’s favorite cheese, but like understanding your own preferences, knowing your crowd can go a long way to ensuring everyone finds something to love. Be mindful of allergies and pregnancies; neither you nor your monger want to be responsible for sending guests to the hospital. If you don’t know how many people are partaking, then overestimate. No one should go home hungry.
4. Think with your stomach
Weight means nothing to an empty stomach; it’s merely a measurement by which price is determined. A quarter pound of Brie resembles nothing of a quarter pound of Manchego. Unless a recipe calls for a specific amount or you’re buying on a budget, try to think visually. Number of fingers’ width is a widely accepted form of measurement among mongers, and is more appealing to the senses; you can see how much cheese you’re getting rather than guessing.
5. Be adventurous
There is nothing mongers love more than showing off perfectly ripe wheels of cheese and finding customers brave enough to taste them. You don’t have to love every cheese you taste; every monger does not love every cheese, after all. But a willingness to sample demonstrates an appreciation for all kinds of cheese and the hard work that goes into making and selling them.