Monday, September 13, 2010

What Is a Cheesemonger?

This year during the conference held in Seattle the ACS held their 2nd annual Cheesemonger competition. Cesar, our senior buyer and head fromager and myself-Cristi, the store manager at our French Market location- paired up to represent Pastoral.

The competition is modeled on the internationally recognized Caseus Competition held every other year in France. Some of the other retailers involved came from Whole Foods, Murrays, DeLaurenti and St. James Cheese. There were four areas, critical to the job requirements as cheesemonger on which we were judged: building a cheese case, wrapping, customer service and product presentation.

Building the cheese case was the first event of the day. Each team were given twenty cheeses of differing sizes and formats and two hours in which to build a case. Instead of the open case that we have at each of our stores, we had to work with a closed case. A bit tricky, but we worked hard to not just make the case beautiful, but to keep it close to what you see represented in our stores every day.

Up next was the wrapping challenge. Cesar took the reigns here. He was given five pieces of cheese paper and five cheese of various sizes and shapes. There was a scant 10 minutes on the clock in which to wrap all of the cheeses without using tape of any kind. Wrapping cheese perfectly under the experienced and watchful eyes of David Lockwood of Neal's Yard Dairy wasn't easy, but Cesar did a fantastic job and finished in record time.

Customer service is one of our strengths here at the shops and we brought those skills to Seattle. While Cesar was busy wrapping the cheese I was engaged in an exercise with three of the judges. For 10 minutes I was ask a series of situational questions designed to coax out the kind of responses we would give in a real world situation. While answering questions like "What's the difference between soft and hard cheeses?" and "I'm having a party for five people, what would you recommend I serve?" are easy to answer in the shops, trying to sell cheese to Herve Mons-one of the judges and easily one of the most well respect affineurs in France- was quite unnerving.

Finally came the product presentation. Cesar and I chose to do our 10 minute presentation on Pleasant Ridge Reserve (the eventual winner of Best of Show) from Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, WI. For us picking that seasonally-made, farmstead cheese was the obvious choice. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a prime example of what we at Pastoral strive to represent: small handmade batches of cheese made in a traditional manner by cheesemakers who are not just extraordinary craftsmen, but excellent stewards of their land and their herd.

In the end the fantastic team from DeLaurenti's in Seattle won the competition. We did walk away having learned something, and with a reaffirmation of why we do the things we do, and the way we do them. We are very proud of the work that we did and look forward to the competition next year. Montreal, here we come!

This part of the competition was at 7am. We look perky and focused though don't we?

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