Vanessa Chang became an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional™ (ACS CCP™) in 2013. She and I “met” in a Facebook Cheese group and I invited her to answer a few questions… she graciously consented.
She is a cheese geek and food nerd who loves to cook and experiment with food when she’s not busy at Creminelli Fine Meats of Utah.
Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? When did you realize you were a cheese geek?
“I never thought I would work with food. My folks – good Korean stock – expected me to grow up and be a lawyer or something. But, instead of nerding out about rhetoric and legal precedents I found myself preferring to nerd out about all things food. Cheese in particular, mostly because I love wine but am a lightweight. So if I wanted to keep pace with the wine consumption I had to keep pace with the food, which most often meant cheese. Eventually, I got it through my thick skull that they’re awesome together. Not bad for someone happily raised on Kraft singles. I figured I could give food a proper go career-wise after working with Steve Rosenberg and Liberty Heights Fresh and connecting with amazing people in Utah’s growing food community like Matt Caputo and the up-and-coming regional cheesemakers. Their passion, their craziness, and dedication inspire me.”
Why did you want to become a CCP? How has it changed your cheese life or career path?
“Why become a CCP? I mean, why not? Working in food, there aren’t a lot of exams or milestones (unless you’re in wine) and for me, it’s good to have goals, however crazy. The year I decided to go for it, I had started at Creminelli Fine Meats. Totally, unrelated, right? Wrong. Meats and cheese are my jam. People can’t think of one without the other and for good reason. Plus my background stemmed from cheese and I had my experience with Tony Caputo’s Market, Liberty Heights Fresh and my own research, so I figured it was worth a shot.
And, if I’m honest, a bit of affirmation by way of an official looking piece of paper is somewhat of a comforting conciliation for a first generation Asian kid. Sad, but true. But I’m totally proud of it. And this pride was a hell of a lot cheaper than my Georgetown degree.”
Where do you work and what is your job title? Describe a “typical” work day.
“Marketing & Education Manager at Creminelli Fine Meats. Officially it means I help to manage the product lines – artisan salumi for the deli case and specialty cheese sections and some other special projects – as well as handle social media, and PR. That’s the first part. The second part entails a lot of training for folks who with the artisan meats and to incorporate them in everyday life (by way of cheese, often). I run our Salumista program – an intensive training program that sort sends people down this artisan salumi rabbit hole.
The best and worst part about the job is that there is no typical day. Some days I’m helping to develop some new merchandising to make the food look badass in a case. Other times I’m planning a demo strategy. Some days I stare at logo designs and colors. Or packing pallets. Or designing trade show booths. Or working on pairings and recipes. Or brainstorming new special batches and taste testing with Cristiano (THE Creminelli in the company, and all around nice guy) or following him around to document his general badassery. Or answering customer emails about product care. Or…you get the idea. And yes both Cristiano and I both LOVE cheese.”
Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?
“As much as I profess to be a snob, I actually love most cheese. But to pinpoint – I love cheese that surprises me. With flavor. With a story. With its ability to be amazing with any pairing. Lagrein fits into that category, though some folks might consider it too pedestrian. But those kind of cheeses make fine cheese palatable to more folks and that’s always a good thing. Plus if we think of the quote “Cheese for Life” why not “cheese for all” and if that means it’s amazing by itself on a plate, equally good on eggs, someone’s random cheese toast, or topping a burger AND tells a great story, it’s a good thing in my book.
When I’m feeling super gluttonous, I’m kinda weak in the knees for anything oozy – soft, bloomy, mild butteriness or washed rind funk. That ooey-gooey-window is usually the time when not only the texture is sublime but good shit is happening with its flavor. I don’t care if it’s Explorateur or Haribson. If it oozes and maybe even drizzles, I’ll take it.
All-time favorite? That’s hard … but my default cheese seems to be the Alta Langhe beauties like La Tur. I once even served it for dessert drizzled with a dark chocolate olive oil sauce. Brioche toast. Boom.
Raw vs. Pasteurized? Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?
“Does it have a huge difference? I can’t say. But I couldn’t deny the downright magical feeling of trying my first raw milk camembert. Maybe it was the circumstance – me trying to speak shitty French to an eager but non-English speaking cheesemonger, or that I was in Paris (hell, an amusement park churro in Paris would be amazing, because, Paris).
But I think a lot of cheesemakers have shown you can make a stunning cheese with pasteurized milk. It’s just sad the full scope of their work and any potential flavor is inherently limited by law.”
Should the US create a system similar to the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?
“I’m kind of torn. In the wine world, you see some benefit from formalizing production areas and standards with viticultural areas and designations (AVAs) and marketing wise it can be argued that it helps. But at the same time, so much regulation could be a bad thing the way you see it confusing the system to rate things like “organic.” Would it help smaller producers or bigger companies? Or both? The EU system is handy when it comes to learning about the cheese and with intentions of preserving traditions, but sometimes I feel that traditions may be too small or too intuitive to regulate and for some they may be priced or paper-worked out of the system entirely.”
Tell me about one of your “cheese journeys”. Was it traveling for pleasure or maybe “on the hunt” for an obscure cheese you just had to taste?
“Not so much a journey as a happenstance. It was one of my first times exploring San Francisco and I had partied it up the night before. While my co-travelers were sleeping off their hangovers, I crept out to the Ferry building’s farmers’ market. It was foggy. It was cold. My head was throbbing. But I bought a bag of sappy figs and wandered looking for some bread and cheese when I spotted Andante’s table and behind it, none other than Souyoung Scanlan.
I fan-girled SO HARD. This is what it must be like when a teenage girl meets a member of One Direction. I don’t remember what I said. I don’t think it was anything coherent. She probably thought I was a mute or didn’t speak English because I just giggled and pointed to things I wanted to try. I finally muttered “You’re my hero,” and it must have made her feel awkward because she didn’t say anything. But when I told her it was my last morning in the city, she loaded me up with a few extras and said “until you come back next time.” That pretty much sums up what I love about the business – crazy talented people, all totally human and awkward, and still so kind and generous. I ate all the cheese on the plane. It was only a two hour flight.”
Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.
“I’m also a chocolate nerd – I study fine chocolate and dig it so much it’s the only tattoo I have (“cacao” Mayan hieroglyph).”
If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?
“Play outside in beautiful places. Hiking. Foraging. Climbing. With snacks and good friends. I try to do it once a week.”
Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for my readers.
My thanks to everyone participating in my 2015 Virtual Q&A with Cheese Professionals. I hope all of you, my loyal readers, are enjoying this as much as I am…
Interviews will continue throughout 2015… sometimes, they will be “stand-alone” and sometimes they will be presented as round-table discussions with several Cheese Professionals answering the same question. Those participating include Cheesemakers, ACS CCPs™, Cheesemongers and Cheese Professionals and Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.
List of 2015 Cheese Professionals.
List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.
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Taking the 2015 ACS CCP™ Exam? Please see my page on Tips for Studying for the Exam.