To Cheese or Not to Cheese… Professionally

Last week I had a rather frustrating exchange with a cheese professional I respect immensely.  He has been in the business for a looooong time and is probably one of the greatest cheese connoisseurs in the US and maybe even the world.  I met him at the Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival over the summer and have kept in touch with him sporadically ever since.  I wrote to ask him his advice on the best way for a cheese-lover like myself to learn more and delve even deeper into the world of cheese – to become a connoisseur like him…  internships, classes, etc?

He responded back to me right away with a sort of ‘shit or get off the pot’ answer.  His point, was that if I’m really serious about becoming a connoisseur and being taken seriously in the world of cheese, then I have to start working behind the counter as a cheese monger.  That is the only way.  He also said there are only a few real paths in cheese – importing/distributing, retail (owning a cheese shop) or writing about cheese (which he seemed to think was an improbable way to make a living) – all of which are extremely hard work.  Or… he said, I can remain a “dilettante” if that is satisfying enough for me.

I had to look up the exact definition of dilettante – as in my head, it carried a negative connotation along with it.  The two Myriam-Webster definitions are:

1: an admirer or lover of the arts
2: a person having a superficial interest in an art or a branch of knowledge : a dabbler
Now, this really struck a nerve with me.  I’ve always been a little afraid of that with myself… that I am just a dabbler… flighty, interested in many things but only on the surface.  I have always worked hard – in school to get good grades, in my sales career to get more commissions.  I like being well-respected and successful.  But the truth is, I don’t like working super hard unless it’s also super stimulating and fun for me.  I’ve never been the work-a-holic type and I really don’t want to be.  People, family, relationships, travel, new experiences – those areas have always been what fills me up the most.
Also – I did get a job as a cheese monger when I first left my ad sales job… and it was a miserable experience for me.  It could have been the timing… the shop was just having their grand opening, but it was stressful – I was on my feet all day, I had to use a deli slicer for cured meats (which scared the crap out of me), I felt like the people who worked there were not very warm or helpful (I was the only one who had never worked in a food retail shop before), the hours were long and I got paid $12/hour before taxes.  Now if the situation would have been different, the money wouldn’t have mattered to me… because all I wanted was to learn (I volunteered to take on extra shifts… trying to be a team player and get more experience in), but it wasn’t a nurturing environment for learning… so after two weeks, I quit, feeling pretty lousy about myself.
So really… working retail doesn’t appeal to me at this phase of my life.  But I AM craving more serious cheese knowledge.  I can keep buying cheeses and reading about them and writing about them on my own just for fun… but I want to be around other people who know MORE than me and who can teach me.
So that’s that.  It’s a dilemma… maybe I don’t want to work professionally in cheese – but I DO want to know as much as the professionals know!  Hmmmmm.  To be continued I suppose.
Meanwhile, here are my photos from Saturday and Sunday:

Photo 281 out of 365 – “Bakery Barbie”

"Bakery Barbie" - Settings: ISO 1600, f/4.5, 1/80 sec, 24-105mm lens (40mm)

I took this at the Red Ribbon Bakeshop in Queens after our dinner at Sripraphai on Saturday night.

Photo 282 out of 365 – “Profile in Front of the Bookcase”

"Profile in Front of the Bookcase" - Settings: ISO 6400, f/4, 1/30 sec, 24-105mm lens (85mm)

I took this last night while watching the Patriots get beat by the Jets.  Boo.  Rob here was playing the guitar in between plays.  I made the background that greenish hue because it subdued it a little, allowing Rob’s face to stand out more.
Happy Monday all.
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5 thoughts on “To Cheese or Not to Cheese… Professionally

  1. I was in my 20´s and I had a friend who I did admire. He did lots of things at the same time. One day he was a tennis player, the following month he was trying to open a restaurant, then he played an instrument and the list is too long. Once I asked him why, what was he looking for and he said, very simply, why do I have to be just one thing in life if I don´t have several lives to be all I want to be? I have to be all I want to be in just this one life. I don´t care if I´m not the best at what I do, I enjoy it.

    That day I learnt a lesson that was life changing. Because from that point on I never felt like a failure when I went into things that abandoned after a while. I never guilt myself into being shallow and if I was, ok, I was a shallow woman that had fun while the other serious women were being unhappy, stuck in a situation they didn´t like but didn´t change because of all the haves to that are in the air.
    Just like you, I wanted to be a connoisseur but not of cheese if not of wine. And I don´t think I´ll make a career out of it, but I do enjoy the knowledge and I go to all the tastings I learn of in this city. And I have fun (and I get drunk too LOL).
    So I say look harder, you like me, live in a large city where you can find almost everything. There must be a nicer expert who´d like to share the knowledege with you, even if it´s not a course.
    Having said so I have to ad that I do like your today´s pictures!! and envy your camera too LOL because you use high ISOs and there is no noise!!

  2. Thanks for sharing that story of your friend Ellen. I love it! I can see how changing your outlook like that can be totally life changing. 🙂

    what type of camera do you have?

  3. I have a compact one, it´s pretty good but not very good at high ISO´s. It´s a Canon and being a compact, well, limited. I also have a reflex but just with the lense that came with the kit. Here lenses are awfully expensive, to give you an idea, my month -holidays was cheaper than a lense! So I perform my daily miracles with my faithful compact :)) I don´t complain!! I´m happy to have it!!! but I´d love to buy a better toy some day!! What camera do you have??

      • Canon Rebel is the reflex I have, that one is really good. But you have to multiply the price by 4.20, in here, that´s the parity dollar vs my currency :((( I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, south south south !!!!

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