Cheese, Please: What’s This All About?
I’m leaving a life in publishing for a career in cheese and documenting here for posterity, purpose, and proof.
So, yes. I am now an aspiring cheese-seller and specialist. Gordon Edgar, in his book Cheesemonger, strictly warns that you should not call yourself a cheesemonger until you’ve really earned your stripes. Since I basically have this guy’s book to credit for solidifying my decision, I don’t want to overstep my/his bounds. (Though, if we’re being totally honest, I am an aspiring cheesemonger).
I am writing this after 4+ years in book publishing. Those years have been good, but they haven’t been great. When they have been especially not-great, I’ve always rewarded my efforts or soothed my frustrations with some nice cheese and some decent wine (I have lower standards for the wine than I do the cheese). And, while I’ve always passionately eaten and explored cheese, I never really thought that I could make a career out of it. I am now so happy (really, I can’t emphasize the ‘so’ enough) to see that I was wrong. I can make a life out of selling cheese, and that’s exactly what I hope to do.
While San Francisco isn’t the best location for a life in book publishing, it certainly seems to be the place for cheese. In the past months I’ve gotten more and more serious about making this career change, and I’ve been genuinely amazed at the opportunities and resources I’ve discovered in that time. First, The Cheese School of San Francisco. How could I take the presence of such a one-of-a-kind institution as anything but a sign that I’m on the right path? Just learning of this community and of the classes offered (I’ve already signed up!) has filled me with added drive, encouragement, and confidence. I’m also very lucky to live in the mission, where I have access to the friendly and informative cheese-sellers and experts at Mission Cheese, Bi-Rite Market, and Rainbow Grocery. All of these cheese professionals have been so encouraging and helpful, even further steeling my determination and inflating my excitement. One Bi-Rite employee kindly recommended the aforementioned Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar, and I haven’t been the same since.
Now, like I said, I’ve always loved eating and learning about cheese. I love tasting new flavors, experiencing new textures, and experimenting with wine, beer, and condiment pairings. The idea of spending my life doing something so fun — and bringing such fun into the lives of others — is what first attracted me to a career in cheese. It wasn’t until I read Edgar’s book that I realized how some of my other great passions are directly involved in cheese-making and selling. A longtime vegetarian (shhh — I try to pretend there’s no such thing as rennet), I’m passionate about animal rights & humane treatment, especially as relates to farming. For a long time, I thought I’d one day be editing and publishing books on humane and sustainable farming and eating practices. You can, and perhaps should, call me naive, but I had never directly connected this interest to cheese and dairy farming. How foolish! Once Edgar’s book brought to light the ‘politics’ of cheese (forage vs. feed, animal health, land use and suburban sprawl, climate change, etc.), I became even more convinced that I’d made the right decision. What first brought me to publishing — the idea of making a difference in the world — can also be directly applied to cheese-selling. I’m sold!
Now, I just need help in making the switch. My amazing colleagues at Berrett-Koehler publishers have worked with me to create an ‘exit strategy’, whereby I will be leaving the company sometime this summer (exact date TBD). In the time between now and then, I plan to learn as much as possible about cheese and the SF cheese community, meet as many people as I can, and suck up gloriously to those people in the hopes of a job or an apprenticeship. This change is as exciting and invigorating as it is terrifying. I’m starting this blog for me as much as for anyone else, to keep track of my efforts and education. Enjoy!