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Cheesemonger in Training

April 26, 2010

A couple of months ago I heard about a cheese shop that focuses on American Artisanal cheeses, and I immediately became excited. I think that this speaks directly to our society in terms of us defining our own food culture and American traditions.  Having a shop like this is important, and Lucy’s Whey is just that shop.   The original location is  in East Hampton on Long Island, and the Chelsea Market location in New York City just opened last year.   As Manager of the Chelsea location, Amy Thompson, shares information about the cheese and cheese makers with anyone who happens to stop in.  It’s a great concept, and this exemplifies why I am passionate about the artisanal cheese movement here in the United States.  So imagine my surprise when I heard that they were looking for a part-time cheesemonger!

I contacted Amy, we met for an interview, talked about cheese, the position, what it would entail, and I started 2 days later.  A job to talk about and taste cheese all day long.  What could be better?

When I walked in for my 1st day, there was a bit of “buzz” because “Grapes to Glass” was preparing to interview Amy for their weekly television show about cheese and wine pairings.  After Amy gave me a brief overview of the store, I busied myself by looking at the cheese cases and checking where everything was located.  As soon as she finished the interview (she did a great job, by the way) I figured that I would have some time to observe and shadow before the 1st rush.  Not so at this shop!  Chelsea Market is a food-centric area that is awash with multitudes of tourists and food connoisseurs on a daily basis.  Saturdays, in particular, are pretty busy to say the least.  Right from the start, customers came in asking questions, looking for recommendations and taste samples.  In addition to a fabulous selection of cheeses, Lucy’s also offers a couple of daily sandwich offerings, and other local products such as honey, pickles, spreads, breads, caramels and crackers.  Right off the bat, I found that this shop affords a real opportunity to connect with the customer and tell the stories behind the cheeses.   Setting out a great 14-month aged Gouda is one thing.  Setting this cheese out and telling your customers that this particular Gouda is made by a family that came  from Holland 10 years ago and brought all of their cheese making equipment with them to maintain authenticity, is something special.

I think the greatest (and most interesting) challenge is to identify a customer’s  taste and make a suggestion based upon your stock.

“Do you have a Manchego”?
“Well we only carry American cheeses, but I CAN offer you “Dante” from the Wisconsin Sheep and Dairy Cooperative.  This is a sheep’s milk cheese made in a similar style and it is fantastic!  Let me give you a taste…”

It is a great feeling when you are able to witness someone making a realization for the first time.  “Wow!  Better than any Manchego I can remember having…” I heard customers make similar statements all day long.  Obviously, the way that you learn is to taste…and taste…and taste…  The more you taste, the more you can identify flavor profiles and nuances, and then articulate them to someone who hasn’t tried a cheese before.  So I guess I will have to work on that.   Oh no…what will I ever do…?

As the day progressed, I started to get the hang of a few of the things that were giving me trouble, such as eyeballing and cutting a 1/4 lb on a wheel (it’s really hard), or re-wrapping cheeses so that they weren’t a mess of plastic wrap and seams.  I still need to perfect the latter, but I improved vastly over my first few attempts.  Another problem that I started to work through was individually wrapping the cut selections in cheese paper, and writing the name on the side.  If you ask my wife, she will tell you that I am the absolute worst gift wrapper in the history of mankind.  With the amount of practice that I had on Saturday, I think I might be put in charge of gift wrapping this Christmas.

Before I knew it, my shift was over (it had been for almost an hour) and it was time to head home.  I had a great time, I learned a lot in a short period of time, and I am anxiously anticipating my next shift.  If you have time and you are in New York City, do yourself a favor and head to Lucy’s Whey.  They have a great selection, knowledgeable staff, and I hear the bald guy might be there next weekend…

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 6:38 pm

    I have a feeling the bald guy might ask for a cot in back… 😉

    Very cool stuff. I am constantly reminded how much wine and cheese have in common. The notion that there are good domestic options, and the most important step to increase knowledge is the hedonistic act of tasting and tasting some more, well, hard to beat that.

  2. April 27, 2010 2:52 am

    Sounds like a great shift! I think that selling cheese is THE best way to get to know the differences between all the cheeses out there and the difference aging and handling makes! I’m a part time cheese fondler too! I’m a whiz at wrapping cut pieces in cheese paper – I’ll make a video for you!

    • April 27, 2010 6:44 am

      Haha! That’s great Karen. I will take all the help I can get. Thanks!

  3. April 27, 2010 10:48 am

    Dude…I’m so proud of and psyched for you for making this happen! Anyone who has spent even a few hours with you (Evan) knows how intensely-bordering-on-insanely passionate you are about cheese.

    It’s awesome to see you get this hands-on experience. Something tells me cheese will be your life sooner than you ever thought.

    And Evan…do you mean a cot, or a Cot — like Malbec from the Loire? Both would work well in a cheese shop I think.

    • April 27, 2010 10:55 am

      Lenn – Good point. Let’s go with Cot. We opened one with Aaron in October!

  4. April 27, 2010 11:50 am

    Thanks Lenn! I am very excited to get this opportunity and glean all that I can from the experience. It’s a great place with a lot to offer!

    As to your point Evan, couldn’t agree with you more about exploring domestic options. Chances are that they can meet and even exceed our expectations given the chance.

    As far as the Cot, I say we can stay with the kind that you drink…


  1. Welcoming a New Cheesemonger and Cheese Blogger! — Lucy's Whey Blog

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