2013: The Year of The Cheesemonger – Marcella, the Cheesemonger ACS CCP
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2013: The Year of The Cheesemonger

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UPDATED 3/9/2013 – Please see bottom for information re certified educators for the exam:

Inspired by the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional ™ exam program  that began in 2012, The Lady and I have “declared” 2013 our “Year of the Cheesemonger”. Throughout the year we will be featuring Cheesemongers we know or ones who have been recommended to us. Many will come from the 2012 graduating class of the ACS CCP™; others will be outstanding mongers currently working in the cheese mines throughout the world.

We will introduce our first Cheesemonger later this week; he lives in Belguim, owns his own shop and is a member of Guilde Internationale des Fromagers.

For a little background on the ACS CCP™ program, The Lady and I turned to Sue Sturman, Director, Anglophone Program at Academie Opus Caseus, and Jane Bauer of the American Cheese Society to provide information about the program; both how it started and where it’s going. We also read an article Sue wrote for Cheese Connoisseur Magazine, posted on her website. We listened to Max McCalman talk about the program on Heritage Radio Network’s Cutting the Curd.

Almost a decade ago at the annual American Cheese Society Conference, Kathy Guidi and Laurie Greenberg hosted a breakfast session about the possibility of creating a certification process for cheese professionals. The ACS had never explored creating a path to recognize knowledge and encourage on-going education among those working in the cheese industry.

Other than the Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker program administered by the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and endorsed by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and accredited college and university courses in cheesemaking, most cheese knowledge came as a result of individual passion, on-the-job training and a few books. Even today, the majority of cheese knowledge comes from the internet, which has no policing mechanism to ensure accuracy… Let’s face it; when a cat can host a cheese website… but I digress…

This conference seminar, which extended right through that day’s lunch, would start years of discussions, meetings and conference calls that launched a grassroots movement within the ACS to provide professional recognition for those in the cheese industry who were willing to learn and continue to learn throughout their careers.

In addition to Kathy and Laurie, present at that breakfast were Max McCalman, Susan Sturman,  Denise Carr and many other luminaries of the cheese world. Along the way more than one hundred cheese professionals, including the late Daphne Zepos contributed their time and expertise to make certification a reality.

Five years ago, the process took another turn when Jeff Katcher, a cheese geek with more than twenty years in the credentials business, sat the group down and explained how to make it happen and, more importantly, how to make it “matter”. Pulling no punches, he told the group they could either “put on a play in a barn” or hire consultants to guide them through the process to create a certification the professional world would recognize. In other words, the ACS could provide a “certificate” or it could provide a “professional certification”.

About this time, Sasha Davies, a member of the ACS Board, became an advocate of the program and volunteered to serve as liaison between the group and the board. The board voted to bring in Knapp and Associates International, Inc. to professionally monitor and assist in phase one of the process.

Using their expertise and guidance, the group, which by now was a committee, presented a survey to the entire ACS membership to learn if a certification was desired and if so, what the membership wanted from the certification.

Following a resounding affirmative from the membership, the Board and the Committee realized it was time to take the next step. Bids went out to several consulting firms and the committee was hit with a new hurdle: every consulting firm wanted to see their “Body of Knowledge” in order to craft a path. (The committee recommended to The Board that they hire Knapp to continue the process and take them to the goal line.)

The committee realized that basically they had been doing everything backwards; they had no Body of Knowledge. As mentioned earlier, other than cheesemaking, this is largely a self-taught industry with few “rights and wrongs”. For example, there is no right way to set a cheese case; nor is there a wrong way. Even in sanitation, rules and regulations change from state-to-state and even principality-to-principality. There was no school to attend to learn distribution, mongering or monitoring inventory. The few published books are not considered textbooks. Max McCalman’s book, Mastering Cheese, is probably the closest but most of the others are books for cheesemakers or guides about types and names of cheeses for the lay person.

The Committee enlisted the help of more than twenty professionals to write an outline for the first Body of Knowledge, which was expanded and then expanded again via webinars, phone conferences and the use of Google docs. Surveys were conducted to learn what people in the industry did to make their job work and to achieve success. Various domains were created for different positions and a grid was created for knowledge versus tasks done on a daily basis. All of this eventually led to the creation of an acceptable “Body of Knowledge” and a road map for the exam.

Based on the Body of Knowledge, another group began writing questions to consider for the exam.

Knapp conducted a class on how to write the questions. Questions had to create a platform for a person to demonstrate a “well-rounded knowledge” of the business and a minimum level of knowledge in order to be considered a professional. Another aim of the process was to provide a path for both vertical and horizontal movement within the industry. In other words, one of the goals of the exam was to make those holding certifications more valuable to current employers and more attractive to potential employers.

Nearly three hundred questions were submitted for consideration. After one group wrote the questions, a second group reviewed them for accuracy; another for underlying source material and still another group reviewed questions to make sure they were formatted correctly.

Daphne offered her space to the ACS Board to conduct a raw item review session to select the final questions to submit to Knapp. Every question had to have a source; a place where those taking the exam could go to learn that piece of knowledge. Between one hundred seventy-five and two hundred questions were submitted to Knaap, who assembled the final one hundred-fifty questions into the final exam, based on the exam specifications and roadmap that had previously been established.

As the process continued, more than one hundred ACS members became engaged in creating the certification. Sasha and Susan wrote a business plan and with the support of the ACS Sponsorship Committee, approached sponsors to help defray the expense of creating the exam, implementing it and ensuring its success.

Policies and procedures were proposed and put in place with the help of the consultants. “Firewalls” were created between the various groups of participants to ensure security and the integrity of the exam. No one group could gain access to what other groups were doing.

Finally, Knapp and the ACS Board pronounced the project ready to present its first certification exam in 2012. Knapp expressed its belief that the certification community would be impressed and if third party accreditation was sought, it would be easily attained.

Sponsors were not prohibited from taking the exam however, those individuals who were tasked with reviewing the final exam in its entirety, the Passing Score Working Group and individuals who saw all the questions are prohibited from sitting for the exam for three years from the time they withdraw from working on the exam committees.

The submission process began and by January 2012, 150 applications were submitted and approved, the maximum number allowed. This was six weeks before the application deadline! Knapp proclaimed this an unheard of success rate for a first-time certification program.

To support candidates, the Certification team created a detailed Certification Handbook, a searchable database of cheese education in North America, a bibliography drawn from the sources supporting the exam questions, as well as the Body of Knowledge.  Candidates themselves formed study cells across the country, either through their employers or on their own.

The exam itself includes knowledge of raw products and procedures needed to make cheese, caring for cheese, aging cheese, health department rules and regulations, distribution needs and procedures, nutrition, selling and marketing and general knowledge of cheese styles and types. Passing the exam shows a well-rounded understanding of the cheese business.

The same day as the 2012 exam was administered; The Wall Street Journal featured the ACS and the ACS CCP™ on its front page.

Before announcing the results of the testing, Knapp led the Certification team in reviewing all the answers and statistically analyzed every one of them looking for anomalies. For example, if a high percentage of participants answered a specific question incorrectly, then Knaap analyzed it to determine if the question had been written properly so that it could be answered correctly. If not, the question was taken out of the equation. Results were kept confidential; those who passed were so informed, and those who did not were given feedback on the general areas they needed to work on.  A separate committee, again under the guidance of the consultants, determined the passing score for the exam, using an objective set of criteria.

121 passed and became the first group of American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professionals™.

Already those certified in 2012 are enjoying positive results in the industry; promotions, raises in pay and interviews with potential employers and movement to new positions with different employers. The Food Network Magazine has an article planned to showcase the ACS CCP™.

In the case of individuals without this certification, the lack of the certification in no way means a lack of professionalism; but the certification proves a broad, minimum level of knowledge and experience to others in the specialty food industry.

Going forward, the Body of Knowledge will continue to evolve and reflect changes in the industry and re-certification will be necessary every three years to demonstrate continuing education in the world of cheese. Between 15 and 25% of the exam questions will most likely be changed each year. An updated Body of Knowledge will be published in the next few months to reflect new and updated information and changes.

To contact one of the 121 ACS Certified Cheese Professionals™, for more information or to apply for participation in the 2013 Certification exam, contact the American Cheese Society.

The 2013 Certification Exam will take place immediately before the ACS Annual Conference on July 31 in Madison, Wisconsin.

To qualify, an applicant must have worked actively in the cheese industry at least 4000 hours and fill out an application applying for the ability to sit for the exam.

In addition to grassroots study cells and employer-supported groups, Academie Opus Caseus will be offering a two-week Essential Foundations for Cheese Professionals course scheduled just prior to the exam (July 15-26 in France).

UPDATED 3/9/2013:

Denver, CO — The American Cheese Society (ACS) has launched the ACS Certified Cheese Professional™ (CCP™) Authorized Educator Program. The program authorizes organizations or individuals offering education geared toward the ACS Certified Cheese Professional™ Exam. This allows qualified educators to use the licensed trademark ACS Certified Cheese Professional™ (ACS CCP™)in promoting and marketing their educational offerings.

Four authorized educator designations are now available:

1. ACS CCP™ Authorized Education Center: Designed for for-profit educational centers that provide courses to assist cheese professionals in their preparations for the ACS CCP Exam, with content covering any or all domains in the ACS Body of Knowledge.

2. ACS CCP™Authorized Educator: Designed for individual ACS CCPs who wish to offer coursework covering any or all of the Body of Knowledge domains. Qualified individuals may be independent instructors or work on a contract basis with outside educational facilities.

3. ACS CCP™Authorized Corporate Trainer: Designed for companies that provide education and exam preparation to internal employees, customers, or potential customers.

4. Non-Profit Universities or Colleges: Varied levels of authorization are available to non-profit educational facilities. Please contact ACS for more details.

Authorized educators will receive permission to use the ACS CCP Authorized Education Center/Educator/or Corporate Trainer designation and ACS CCP Exam logo in all marketing materials promoting relevant educational programs. They will also receive:

· Premier placement in the ACS online educator directory;

· Inclusion in official correspondence between ACS and exam-takers;

· Authorization to teach to ACS Body of Knowledge domains, and to market relevant courses accordingly;

· Priority notifications when changes or revisions to the ACS Body of Knowledge are made.

Program applicants must have an ACS CCP on staff, with the exception of organizations that qualify for a special exemption. Visithttp://www.cheesesociety.org/events-education/acs-ccp-aep or contact ACS at 720-328-2788 for more details including application guidelines and requirements, special exemptions, and licensing fees.

UPDATED INFORMATION Source: American Cheese Society (ACS)

If you know a Monger we should feature, please send us an email. (Our email addresses are on our About Me page.)

To order Max McCalman’s, Mastering Cheese, please click on the amazon icon below.

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