As I am living vicariously at Cheese Camp this week through Twitter and Facebook, I thought it would be appropriate and fun to share my Virtual Q&A with one of this year’s Conference Official Cheesemongers, Erin Clancy, ACS CCP.
Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? When did you realize you were a cheese geek?
I started in cheese about 7 years ago. I started working at Whole Foods in the bakery and realized that slowly I was becoming friends with everyone in the Specialty department. When I moved to New York I transferred to the Specialty department. When I started in cheese I didn’t know much about it, or honestly, anything at all but I was lucky enough to work with some seasoned cheese folks. The cheesemongers took me under their wings and taught me about different cheeses and cheesemakers, plus I was able to try hundreds of cheese.
I think I had the “Ah-ha” moment when I was working at the Union Square Whole Foods as the cheese buyer and I had realized that slowly I had turned the entire full service case into a washed rind heaven. If you had asked me a year ago about washed rinds I would’ve told you I didn’t like them. But as my palate changed so did my ordering. I did have to change my case though. I realized only giving people the option of washed rind cheese wasn’t an option either. 🙂
Why did you want to become a CCP? How has it changed your cheese life or career path?
I wanted to become a CCP to push myself to learn more and to have the opportunity to become part of a small group of people in North America that actually had become CCPs. As the number of CCPs are growing I feel excited to be a part of the group. There have only been 3 tests given and knowing that myself, and many fellow cheesemongers that I consider to be friends, are part of about 400 or so people who have passed the test is amazing. Since then, I still work at Whole Foods, but now I am a Specialty Department Team Leader at the newest store in Berkeley. It’s pretty cool, and there is a cut to order case, which is great. I missed cutting cheese to order.
Besides that, I was the official Cheesemonger at the 1st Berkeley Cider Fest, I participated in the 1st Cheesemonger Invitational on the West Coast (and am also headed back for one more chance to win at the 2nd West Coast CMI), I ran the 2014 cheese sale at the ACS conference, and I worked Cheese Lands at the Outside Lands concert in San Francisco. All pretty cool cheese events!
Where do you work and what is your job title? Describe a “typical” work day.
I work at Whole Foods at the new Gilman location. I am the Team Leader of the Specialty Department. None of my days are typical because I work in all four of the sub-teams that are included in the Specialty department. Some days I stock beer or stock wine or order and stock housewares, but my favorite days are in cheese. Whether I am cutting and wrapping cheese, resetting our coffin case, resetting out cut-to-order RRB, doing a few orders here or there, or helping customers it’s my favorite. During the holidays it gets a bit crazy with my schedule. For instance, yesterday I reworked my cheese coffin, reworked my RBB, made some cheese dips, cut some cheddars, and helped build a wine endcap. Tonight I have an overnight to cut parm and other hard cheeses so the next few days (it’s the Sunday before Christmas….) all we have to do is concentrate on customer service and cutting cheese to order instead of worrying about cutting down a parm, pecorino, 40lb blocks of cheddar, etc.
Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?
Like most cheesemongers I don’t have a favorite cheese but more so a favorite “right now” cheese. Currently, I am in love with Harbison. I would pair with some kind of cured meat and a sour beer. Right now I am digging the Almanac sours as well as the Jolly Pumpkin and Rare Barrel.
I also love Challerhocker and Bay Blue right now. I am spending Christmas eating all 3 of those on a cheese plate. To pair with the Challerhocker, I am picking up a bottle of Pinot Noir from Hamacher Wines in Carlton, OR. My buddy told me about this winery so I brought them in to sell in my department. They are outstanding. You all should check them out.
With the gorgeous Bay Blue I would go a couple ways. I could drink some of that sour that I am drinking with the Harbison, or I might do a minerally Riesling, or maybe one of the couple Barleywines I have aging.
Raw vs. Pasteurized? Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?
This is a hot topic right now. Personally, I find raw milk cheeses tend to have more flavor. With that being said there are plenty of excellent pasteurized cheeses. For instance, I haven’t been able to get my hands on raw milk Harbison this year and I am still in love with the pasteurized one. Also, there are some raw milk cheeses that I find don’t necessarily have the flavors I am looking for. I really think it depends on the cheese.
As for the whole raw vs. pasteurized debate, I personally think it’s a waste of time. People have been eating raw cheeses for hundreds of years and seem to be doing just fine. I think it comes down to is the cleanliness of the facility. I am glad that Peggy Smith and the rest of the ACS Board of Directors went to Washington last week to meet with the FDA.I think a lot of these laws comes from a misunderstanding of the Artisanal Cheese world and I am all for anything we can do as a group to help the FDA understand.
Should the US create a system similar to the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?
As of right now, I like that the US doesn’t. The cheese makers in the US are being incredibly creative in their cheesemaking and most of the results (well the results we get to see in cheese shops) have been great. I like that this room for creativity exists. Without that, we may not be enjoying some of the delicious cheeses we are able to. I mean some of the cheeses we eat regularly have come from mishaps in the cheesemaking process! As American cheesemaking continues to grow it may be a path that we wander onto, but for the time being I like that we have a system that allows for anyone to try and make different styles of cheese.
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?
I backpacked through some of Europe eating cheese. My favorite part was getting to London and going to see the Maturation Arches at Neal’s Yard Dairy and then the following day working in the shop at Borough Market. I was able to do inventory with the shop manager Michael as well as help customers when it was busy. I think my favorite part was when two older ladies came in and made fun of me for being American and thinking that I knew cheese. Little did they know what cheeses are being made stateside right now. When they left we all had a good laugh and kept working. It was priceless.
A couple years ago I went to Montreal in February and there was a terrible snowstorm (surprising, I know). I left my friends in the underground world in Montreal and started my journey to different cheese shops all over the city. I was on the hunt for raw milk Vacherin. I actually did end up finding one, after trekking through the snow to a couple different shops. The guy there was great too because he did not speak English and I cannot speak French but we were able to communicate that I had to go back through customs on our drive home. He cleverly put a pasteurized stick on the cheese and said the guys at customs would never know. It was awesome.
Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.
I have lived in 5 cities in the past 7 years (Chicago, Brooklyn, Jersey City, San Francisco, and now Oakland)
If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?
I would serve cheese and beer to people. I would make them try different cheese and beer pairings to expand their horizons in both the cheese and beer world.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Please check out Erin’s resume here.
Erin is currently reworking my website, so if you’d like to get in touch with her for now you can message her through twitter or instagram. You can also email her at odbrie @ gmail.com. It’s an email specifically for things all cheese related.
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 includeCheesemakers, 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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