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It’s All About the Service…Good or Bad

January 24, 2011

One of the things that I always enjoy about working in a cheese shop is introducing people to new cheeses and leading them to a new experience.  That’s the name of the game!  You give the monger an idea of what you like/dislike and what you are looking for, and then the monger builds upon that.  You taste a few things, the monger gives some suggestions based upon what is new/exciting/interesting/etc, and then you go about your merry way hopefully educated and inspired.  That is what the role of a monger is to me.  That is what I was taught, and that is what I expect as a customer.  Clearly, this same philosophy does not apply to all shops.

I am not going to name any names or places.  I’m not interested in that.  What I would like to do is relay a particular experience that I had in the hopes to highlight a couple of things for mongers and cheese lovers alike.

I walked into a shop yesterday to get a couple of cheeses for the coming weekend.  I had a few friends who were coming over and I wanted to grab a few new and interesting things.  I already had an idea of what to get, but I wanted to talk to the monger a bit, taste, and see if anything surprised me.

When it was my turn at the case, I asked for a mini-Kunik (outstanding triple cream from NY), and then asked what the monger liked.  With a shrug of his shoulders, the monger said, “I don’t know man…what do you want?” He then took his cell phone out of his pocket and started texting.   Not exactly the response I expected…  The counter wasn’t crowded.  In fact I was 1 of only 3 people there, and the other 2 were already taken care of.  Thinking that maybe he didn’t understand my question, I asked him what his favorite cheese was in the case.  With a big sigh he looks down, pulls out a piece of blue cheese, which didn’t look well cared for I might add, and started wrapping it up for me without asking if I wanted it, liked it, was morally opposed to it…  I asked him if I could taste it to which he replied, “It’s a blue cheese.  The mold is supposed to be there”.  Really?  Thanks for that… I asked him if I could taste it first. With another big sigh, he starts unwrapping the piece and cuts me off a piece of the rind.

The rind of this cheese was completely dried out with the outer edge of the paste turning yellow.  This wedge really needed to be scraped with a knife and cleaned.  (Shops normally clean and scrape some of their cheeses  in order to prevent  this.  Cheese is alive and must be taken care of.  Remember?).  I looked at the piece, looked at the monger, and was about to ask him about the condition when he cut me off: “It’s supposed to be like that.  That’s what the cheesemaker is looking for.”  Now I have met this cheesemaker before.  As a matter of fact, I have even made this particular cheese with him before when visiting the farm.  I know for a fact that this is exactly what he doesn’t want…

What to do?  Should I have berated the monger for trying to pull one over on someone who he thought didn’t know any better?  Talked to the manager and complained about his employee?  Or say nothing?  This was one of those situations where I wasn’t thinking clearly in the moment.  I told the monger that I didn’t want the blue, I paid for the Kunik and left.  Was it the right decision?  I don’t know.  In retrospect, I probably should have said something, but I m planning on sending an email to complain.  It’s obviously after the fact, but I think I owe it to the cheesemaker more than anyone else.

Even though this is an isolated incident, I think it important to highlight the customer service relationship that is established and developed as soon as you walk into a cheese shop or any other for that matter.  Customers rely upon the expertise and knowledge of the cheesemonger.  As much as I would like to think that the average person is getting more knowledgeable about cheese, we have a long way to go.  There are still people out there (I know some of them) who think that blue cheese is a sauce for chicken wings.  Honestly…  When I told someone that I was making blue cheese, they said that they try and stay away from that because of all the mayonnaise…  It is up to the monger to educate and assist people who are looking for a new experience.  Cheese can be a daunting experience for some and mongers need to help dispel that.  It’s cheese.  It tastes good.  We eat it.  There are no right or wrong answers in picking something that you like.

I hope that this monger was just having a bad day and wasn’t aware of his actions.  If I were anyone else, I don’t know that I would make a return trip.  That isn’t something that this industry can afford.  This business is based upon relationships.  Relationships between maker/monger/consumer and the quality of the product.  Unfortunately, you can have one without the other, but it is a detriment to the business if allowed to continue.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Genie permalink
    January 24, 2011 8:00 pm

    Aaron, I thought you handled this wrote-up really well — it’s a great illustration of what NOT to do as a monger without being too harsh or unfair. And what an unfortunate experience!

    • January 24, 2011 8:03 pm

      Thanks Genie! I was conflicted about writing it, but I think it had to be said.

  2. Tess permalink
    January 24, 2011 8:42 pm

    Aaron, PLEASE tell the shop owners (phone or email). I would hope and am pretty sure it’s an employee gone astray for whatever personal reasons. Help the shop and the true mongers by letting them know. IF that was an owner – they don’t deserve to be in business.

  3. January 24, 2011 9:02 pm

    I agree with Genie, you handle it well. I also agree that you most email the store and tell them about the situation. We owe it to the cheesemakers. Sorry to hear about your bad experience.

  4. January 25, 2011 4:42 am

    Hi (I feel like I should say hi first as although I read your blog regularly, I’ve never commented before). I think you should email. I’ve once or twice gone into a cheese shop and wanted to learn more about a cheese but been pretty much dismissed by the shop assistant. I’ve been too uncomfortable to say anything about it so just left, and ended up not ever wanting to go back, which feels like a shame.

  5. Cheryl permalink
    January 25, 2011 7:28 am

    The indifferance is definately wrong. Was he actually the monger or someone thrown behind the counter? Do phone or write the shop they need to know!

  6. January 25, 2011 8:35 am

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I am definitely going to write an email or 2 as a result of this.

    @Alanna – Hi there! That’s unfortunate that you have left shops feeling like that. Most shops I have been in are not like that. Even the one I am writing about here is usually not like this which is why I was so surprised. I hope there are other shops in your area where you can develop a relationship.

    @Cheryl – I am pretty sure he was a monger and not someone filling in. There was a casual familiarity present that indicated he wasn’t new to the place.

  7. January 25, 2011 12:25 pm

    Given your experience with cheese, I’m a little surprises that you didn’t ask to speak to the manager or at least work with one of the other mongers. The further you get away from the incident time-wise, the more likely it is to not be corrected.

    If this guy was awful with you, he was probably awful with other people that day…and it’s your fault 😉

    • January 25, 2011 1:11 pm

      I think I was still so surprised that I wasn’t thinking very clearly in the moment. Normally I would have said something, but I was caught up a bit.

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