As I go out into the wide world, and meet more people, both in the cheese world and without, I have received more requests to put something on my blog to explain myself—where my interest in cheese comes from, why I write this, why people should care. I have hesitated because I have never wanted to put myself in the spotlight, especially when the cheeses and their makers so deserving of attention! But, since people have asked, here goes. If you are one of the people who don’t care, that’s all good!
First off, I come from a family of Vietnamese origin, which, as you probably know, does not have a dairy culture. I was born in the U.S., but all previous generations had lived in Vietname. Half of my family is lactose-intolerant, and so was I for about six years, after one evening when I ODed with 10 glasses of milk in one sitting. I was ten years old. Before and after that lactose drought, I have been the cheese-lover of the family. The first dish I learned to make was Velveeta shells and cheese. I think I was 8 years old. I didn’t know what Velveeta was, but you have to start somewhere, right? Today, macaroni & cheese is my 2nd favorite dish, after pho. Since my family didn’t have a strong appreciation for cheese, for one reason or another, I knew that if I wanted to develop a better cheese palate, or understand the history behind artisanal cheese, bread, wine, or anything Western in general, I would be on my own.
In many ways, these kinds of cultural challenges excite me. For instance, I never quite fit in at any of those Irish step dance competitions I worked so hard to win during my childhood. I think I competed for about 6-7 years, and, along with my sister, we were among a handful of minorities involved with that curious art form. Although my grandparents spoke French, I only learned it by elbowing my way into France for a total of about two years, deliberately deciding to not utter a word of English while there, and studying plays by the likes of Molière, Racine and Corneille. Despite the nearly flawless French I developed, I was still mistaken for a Chinese person, because I also learned that many French people (not everyone!) are simply ignorant of non-French cultures (and non-French cheeses). Navigating my Vietnamese origins and these Occidental interests is something I know many people from immigrant families must do in the United States, and this just happens to be the path I followed.
I had tasted and adored French cheeses while living in France, but my real cheese education began after I graduated from law school and entered the depressed legal market. After sending out resumes that number in the triple digits, I came across a Craigslist ad for a “cheese guru.” Well, I had developed some knowledge of cheese in France, and I loved the subject, so I decided I should give the job a shot. Luckily, I got the job, and I could focus 100% on developing my knowledge and skill in the field. My parents worried that I was going to fail in life and career, my husband thought I was just crazy, but I felt discouraged from my legal experience, and wanted to get my hands dirty.
I learned so much from that one year working behind the cheese counter, not just about how to handle cheese, pair cheese, and care for it, but also about the people around the cheese. I returned home each evening exhausted from running around the shop and carrying 20-30 lb. wheels of cheese, and my hands always smelled of cheese. I learned to dodge the jokes about “cutting cheese,” and I learned how to be pleasant with whoever came through that shop door. People trusted my opinions when they ordered those three to seven cheeses they were choosing for their parties. My tattooed colleagues added color—literal and figurative—to daily life. I knew that this was a temporary job, but it was something to savor, and so, following my impulse to document everything, I began writing this blog.
When I moved to San Francisco and began meeting more people involved in the cheese industry, I was quickly drawn to how easily they opened up to me and by their passion. These “cheese people” span all types of backgrounds. These cheesemakrers, buyers, and managers are former lawyers, executives, university professors, realtors . . . the list goes on. For those who think that making cheese is easy work, they are wrong! The folks I have met who are in cheese are 100% committed to it. They are up making cheese at all sorts of odd hours, putting in 18-hour days, and attending trade shows and farmers markets. I admire their dedication, and I feel that by writing their stories, I can retain some of their fortitude.
Some of you may have noticed that my blog posts have slowed in recent months. That’s because in May, I decided to start putting my California bar membership to good use and practice law. I am now a solo law practitioner, and with that, have taken on a boatload of responsibility! My practice focuses on trademark, copyright, and entertainment matters, and it has heralded an exciting new chapter in my life. I still attend food and cheese-related events, but I have been a little slower in writing about them on my blog. The law practice has allowed me to meet so many interesting people in the city, though, and I am excited about the stories I will be able to write in the future. While I am no longer handling copious amounts of cheese on a daily basis, that little spark stays with me. I tell everyone about cheese, and people have started coming to me with their cheese-related stories. It’s the happy cheese wheel of life.
In any case, that is way more than enough of me! Have a good weekend, everyone!