Take 5: Highlighting the apprenticeship “breaks” of cheese industry pros
In this ongoing series, culture profiles folks in the cheese industry expanding their expertise and gaining diverse experience beyond their time behind the counter or at a vat.
Meet independent cheesemonger Carrie S., who turned their relocation from Madison to Chicago into a “cheese summer.” Carrie traveled around the country attending flagship cheese events like the Cheesemonger Invitational in New York City and the American Cheese Society Conference in Des Moines, Iowa. But the crown jewel of the summer was their month-long internship at FireFly Farms in Accident, Maryland, made possible by the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund. Carrie shared their insights on overcoming challenges as a trans person, finding refuge in camaraderie, and the transformative impact on their future career goals.
What made you want to take a break from your daily life to participate in this internship?
Carrie S.: I was moving from Madison, Wisconsin to Chicago in conjunction with my partner’s grad school internship, so I was already in the process of transitioning out of work. It felt like a golden opportunity to participate in something that hasn’t been available to me before because of my full-time job. I like to think of this time as my “cheese summer”: beginning with The Cheesemonger Invitational, then receiving a scholarship to attend the American Cheese Society Conference, and capping off with a scholarship from the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund which sent me to FireFly Farms for a month! After connecting with so many folks in the cheese industry over the summer, it was a dream come true to be making and aging cheese!
CS: Since joining the cheese world in 2019, I have been anxiously awaiting an opportunity to get my hands in a vat! Still, my worries of not being strong enough or good enough at cheesemaking got in the way of taking my next cheesy leap. The Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund allowed me to earn a living wage, experiment in a time-limited and learning-focused environment, and inspired me to move past my anxiety and thrive as a student of the craft!
What was an unexpected challenge you faced during the internship?
CS: As a trans person, navigating a conservative environment where I didn’t know anyone posed challenges; as I imagine it might for a large portion of the cheese communities I am a part of. I’m certainly familiar with having to hide a lot of who I am to ensure I fit in. Despite trying to blend in as much as I could, I still encountered overt misogyny, racism, homophobia, and bigotry. From glances and stares, to hushed whispers, to even loud remarks while grocery shopping or walking downtown—it was pretty jarring. Nevertheless, parallel to those experiences, I was touched by the refuge I found in camaraderie with my colleagues; whose kindness and support made all the difference during my time with FireFly!
What was your major takeaway from this experience?
CS: Despite my hesitations, it’s worth it to take on every interesting opportunity I can get my hands on (and in)! From walking through pastures, to meeting the people who cut the curd every day, to washing molds off cheeses, I learned that the more I get out from behind the counter, the more I’m able to expand my skills, knowledge, and love of cheese!
How has this impacted your future career goals?
CS: The small amount of affinage work I got to experience at FireFly Farms has inspired me to do more flipping, washing, and moving in the future! During my internship, I also had the opportunity to visit Wildom Farm. There, we learned how the owner, Julie Friend, is raising heritage livestock in humane, restorative, and regenerative ways—all while building community in a small rural town. It was really compelling! Over the next couple of years, I hope to learn more about farming and affinage, and eventually turn my family’s dream of operating a small farmstead into reality!
How has this impacted your overall view of the cheese/food industry at large?
CS: This internship opened my eyes to a lot of things! Overall, I think it would be impactful if there were more opportunities for paid internships, short term work, and mentorship in our industry that incentivizes learning and expands accessibility, especially for marginalized folks. Most of all, this experience has shown me what’s possible when our industry works together and prioritizes sustainable practices! Deepening relationships and valuing the labor we each contribute to our amazing products is integral to our shared future and survival.
Interested in participating in an internship with the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund? Applications are open for the 2024 season.
Are you participating in a break of your own? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured in an installment of Take Five.