I think that is the sound of all of the information I must learn that has been dropped into my lap. Today was a day full of “teaching moments,” as my sister would probably call them. Mainly, I stumbled my way through the entire day. I worked with the person I am going to replace, and boy do I have some big shoes to fill! Watching him work makes me realize I have sooooo much to learn. of course, he has been doing this for two years already. He, and Carlos, the other cheesemonger have about the same number of years of experience, and watching them pair all the wines, cheeses, and accompaniments like honey or confiture, is pretty staggering, seeing as there are about 70-80 constantly changing cheeses, constantly changing confitures, and an entire wall of wines. Ahhh!! I have so much to learn!!!!!! I need to taste all those wines!
Of course, I’m not complaining! This is exactly why I wanted a job (career?) like this, to force myself to develop my senses and learn the craft of cheese. With that comes wine pairing, so I need to learn some oenology as well. Watching my two colleagues in action just puts me in awe. I need to learn so much . . . . I can do it, though! They both have told me I should just relax, and that I’ll learn a little bit every day. This is all true. I do need to learn to relax a lot (that would also really help out my singing), and I am learning a lot every day. It’s just that now, confronted with so much information and wine and cheese, it can feel overwhelming! So here’s some more stuff I need to work on to be a successful cheesemonger:
ALCOHOL. The establishment where I work sells not only specialty cheeses, but a LARGE collection of wine, and some specialty beers. For various reasons, people come in, plunk down, and want a drink or three at noon. The bartender only gets there at 5pm. So, not only do I need to master my sense of smell with regards to cheese, I need to . . . learn how to be a bartender and pour beer from a tap. That was my big fail of the day, but the girls at the bar watching me try to do it, my husband, and my colleague all say, “No! It’s difficult!” OK. I will take their word for it, because after three tries, all I got was foam, with maybe about 1 centimeter of beer. At the same time, my colleagues make it look so easy. I think I just need to move faster and get the glass closer to the beer. I know that when I get that little art mastered, I know that’s going to feel pretty special. Of course, under this category goes the ability to pair the wine and beer with the cheeses.
CLEANLINESS. Over at the cheese counter, I also learned some important lessons, like how to use that deli slicer to create those delicious, translucent slices of prosciutto for the “best sandwiches in town,” according to one client. Another important lesson I learned is that the Barely Buzzed cheese, an American (from Washington state) cow cheese rubbed with lavendar and coffee grinds, is SO MESSY. The cheese is a delight, but sheesh!!! I am going to have to be SUPER careful about those coffee grinds so they don’t get into the other cheeses. I also had to handle some new cheeses. We have an aged gouda that I needed to cut up. It is so flaky! I had a hard time cutting it, so my colleague showed me. (teaching moment!). OK, so now I know that in the case of a flaky cheese like that, I need to just cut large chunks, and then get what I need from the chunks, instead of from the wheel. Practical knowledge!
CASH REGISTER. I think I might have learned how to use the cash register, but next time I try, it will probably fail. It will all come, though, just like driving a manual car. :)
KNIVES. The cheese knives are an integral part of the cheesemongering experiece, and I am slowly learning how to use them. My colleagues are showing me how to hold them to get maximum control and speed. I’m particularly excited about this because I’ve always been fascinated with knives. Not in a violent way, but in the precision that goes into cutting bread uniformly and quickly, or in knowing how to cut 5 different types of cheese in about 10 seconds! I want that! Maybe in a few months, I’ll get there. Then I can get my cheese samurai sword kit.
WRAPPING. Also an integral part of being a cheesemonger is wrapping the cheese in a nice little package for the customer, like a present as my colleague would say. I know I love seeing cleanly wrapped cheese, but I can’t say I know how to do that perfectly . . . yet! I wrapped two packages for a customer today, and my colleague wrapped another three. You could definitely tell who wrapped what. I just seemed to have a lot of excess paper! He showed me how he does it, but I think it just takes some practice, even if you are armed with the knowledge! Each cheese has its own unique shape, too, which just makes things more interesting. Definitely, I need to practice this. My giftwrapping skills in general are pretty good though, so I don’t think I should have too much problem. I am thinking that this skill will be one of the faster ones I develop.
My mind is just tired now from trying to learn the cheeses, and learn how the store is run at the same time. We did get some new cheeses in today, though, for those of you who are curious. We got a large wheel of Humboldt Fog, a California goat cheese ripened with a layer of fine ash down the middle of the paste, a hommage to the Morbier cheese (which we have also). We got half a wheel of Ewephoria, a hard Dutch sheep’s milk cheese. We also got a round of Délice de Bourgogne, a triple cream cow’s milk cheese created by Brillat-Savarin, from Burgundy, France, obviously! (speaking of which, if you haven’t yet, Brillat-Savarin’s book, Physiologie du Goût, you must do so!). I’ll have to get the pictures some time this weekend.
Well, that’s all for now! I’m so tired! I’m going to spend this weekend reading more about wine and cheese pairings. I REALLY need to get studying on that. G’night!
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