Wednesday, October 1, 2014

American Cheese Month Begins!

Hello everyone,

Happy American Cheese Month!!!

October is one of my favorite months of the year for many reasons... I can start to wear turtlenecks and long sleeve shirts, Halloween and the Holidays are just around the corner, and it's a month that celebrates the wonders of American artisan cheese!!!

I'm celebrating American Cheese Month by enjoying some delicious Mt Tam over some yummy Apple crisps from Simple & Crisp topped with peach preserves... quite a treat!

If you want to know more about what American Cheese Month is all about and what other turophiles are doing to celebrate, you can visit these sites:


There are usually a lot of fun promotions going on at your local Whole Foods Market during this month as well. Look for the gold "ACS Winner" sticker to know who took ribbons home at this years American Cheese Society Conference in Sacramento.

During this same conference, 90 Whole Foods Market team members became brand new Certified Cheese Professionals!  Janet Fletcher (author of Cheese & Beer, Cheese & Wine, The Cheese Course and many more) even featured one of my colleagues in her latest Planet Cheese on her feelings of being one of the newly minted CCP's. See below:

Why the Big Smile?
Emailed October 1, 2014

Alison Martin

If your cheesemonger has a little broader smile these days, it could be because he or she has just passed the CCP exam. Like a bar exam for the cheese industry, the CCP (Certified Cheese Professional) quiz is a rigorous test of knowledge. Modeled loosely on programs like Master of Wine and Master Sommelier, the three-year-old credential encourages professionalism among the people who market and sell specialty cheese.

Alison Martin (above), an associate team leader for Whole Foods in Palo Alto, was one of several dozen company employees to sit for the grueling exam this summer. To learn more about her study regimen and how the experience has affected her work, I spoke to Alison by phone shortly after she learned that she had passed.

What was your studying strategy?
I got Max McCalman’s books—I already had your books [smart girl!]—and started reading everything I could. I would highlight passages and take notes. I repeated a lot of the knowledge to my family and friends, and the more I said it out loud, the more I got it.

Like what?
Like milk composition. The different compartments of a cow’s stomach and what they do. The average yield of milk per day from a cow versus a goat. I made a lot of flash cards.

Whole Foods put together weekly classes and webinars for us. They paid my application fee, test fee and traveling expenses. (Bravo, Whole Foods. The test fee is $500—prohibitive for the typical cheese-counter employee.) They also paid for me to go to Wisconsin and work at the Center for Dairy Research. I got to visit creameries there and a dairy farm. It was cool to see cheese making from start to finish.

What areas were the hardest for you?
Definitely the Old World cheeses that I haven’t been as exposed to. Remembering names of molds and enzymes. On our fridge at home, we have a picture of a cow cut in half so you can see the different stomach compartments. And on my desk at work, there’s a picture of the top breeds of dairy sheep, goats and cows, and a graph of the pH level in different cheeses.

What was the test like?
Really difficult. I went into it thinking that I knew everything. But some of the answers depended on your perspective. One question was what to do if you find mold on a cheese, and the choices were to give it a brine bath; cut the mold off and eat the rest; or throw the cheese away. That question haunted me because I didn’t know whether I was supposed to be the retailer, the consumer, the distributor or the cheese maker.

For another question, you had to put the cheeses in order from softest to hardest, but there was a cheese I had never heard of. When I left, I was pretty sure that I hadn’t passed, and I wasn’t sure what I would say to Whole Foods to let me take it again.

Are you a better cheesemonger for having done this?
I’m 100 percent more confident talking about cheese to customers. It has helped me with organizing our cheese case and even with organizing our walk-in, because I know more about how different parts of a refrigerator affect cheeses. Now we don’t put blue cheeses so close to the fan.

So what’s your ideal cheese platter? If you could take home any four cheeses from your case tonight, what would they be?
I always grab Piave. It’s been one of my personal favorites forever. It goes with beer and wine, red or white. I love Délice de Bourgogne. I tell customers if Brie and butter made a baby, this would be it. For a blue, I would choose Stilton or Bay Blue, and for a goat cheese I like Garrotxa because it’s not too gamy.

Any tips for shoppers on how to negotiate a cheese counter?
Don’t be intimidated by price. We can always cut cheese to a size that fits your budget.

Congratulations Ali and all other new Certified Cheese Professionals!!

And if that isn't enough, I recently heard some more exciting news. The Academie Opus Caseus is offering their first West Coast Seminar! It's called Cheese from Pasture to Plate and it looks like it's going to be super exciting! For more information, be sure to visit


You can also see the other courses offered by the Academie in France and Vermont at the same website. I've been trying to save up money to go and I can't wait until I can!

I know that this wasn't one of my usual blog posts, but I figured it would be as good of a time as any to get you all caught up in what's happening in the cheese world. I also wanted to be sure to let you all know that I will traveling abroad to Italy (Venice, Cinque Terre and Florence) for vacation as well as a wine/cheese training through Whole Foods Market. I'm super excited about this opportunity and can't wait to share my pictures and experiences with you all. I'm leaving this Friday and returning at towards the end of October, so you probably won't see much action on my blog during that time.

I hope you all don't miss me too much, *giggle*. I wish you all delicious cheese, luscious libations and incredible company in the time that I'm away.

Until next time, eat drink and be happy!!