Meet Jeanne Carpenter, ACS CCP™
I met Jeanne in 2010 at the ACS Conference in Seattle. I got lucky and worked with Jeanne, preparing cheese displays for the Festival of Cheese. Her tips on merchandising cheese proved invaluable in my career as a monger. In addition to thanking her for sharing her knowledge, I am also grateful that she agreed to participate in my Q&A for the website.
- Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? When did you realize you were a cheese geek?
I grew up on a beef and hog farm in southern Wisconsin. You’d think living in America’s Dairyland would have meant eating cheese every day. Nope. The only cheese in the fridge was Velveeta. As a special treat, my mom would make us kids Velveeta cracker sandwiches with Saltines for road trips. I didn’t get into real cheese until I was working at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture and was assigned to a team that became the Dairy Business Innovation Center. The first real piece of cheese I had was in 2003, and it was Dante from the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative. We were meeting with the co-op sheep farmers and they passed around a wedge of cheese with a pocket knife. I didn’t know cheese could taste that good. I haven’t eaten Velveeta since.
- Why did you want to become a CCP? How has it changed your cheese life or career path?
I think everyone wants to be the best at what they do, and becoming a CCP was a way for me to prove to myself that I knew cheese. Studying for the exam completely changed my career journey. I was running my own public relations company and decided I needed some retail cheese experience for the exam, so I persuaded the nice folks at Metcalfe’s Market in Madison to hire me for 20 hours a week. Less than a year later, I retired my PR company and became the cheese manager. My feet hurt, but my life is sure a whole lot more fun.
- Where do you work and what is your job title? Describe a “typical” work day.
I am the specialty cheese manager at Metcalfe’s Market-Hilldale in Madison, Wis. We are an upscale grocery store with destination fresh seafood, meat, specialty cheese and produce departments. In the cheese department, we cut and wrap about 150 different cheeses, emphasizing Wisconsin artisan cheese and high-quality imports. A typical work day for me starts with calling cheesemakers and placing orders with distributors, receiving and cataloging shipments, followed by tackling the day’s “cut list”, all the while talking with customers, answering questions and recommending cheeses. Thursdays are the best day – that’s when the majority of loads arrive, and we get to open hundreds of boxes of wheels to inspect, sniff and generally admire. It’s like celebrating Christmas every Thursday.
- Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?
I love the stinkies. My new favorite is Good Thunder from Keith Adams at Alemar Cheese in Mankato, Minnesota. It’s a little washed-rind square that I’ve been known to eat in one sitting with a baguette and bottle of brown ale. I’m not ashamed.
- Raw vs. Pasteurized? Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?
There are lots of outstanding cheeses being made in both categories. I’m not a raw cheese snob. Show me a cheese with excellent flavor and a good story, and I will sell it. Period.
- Should the US create a system similar to the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?
We actually looked at this in Wisconsin in the mid-2000s, when a graduate student named Gigi Cazaux did her master’s thesis on this very subject through the Dairy Business Innovation Center. The consensus was that American cheesemakers are too independent to be regulated into making specific cheeses. I guess that’s the beauty of American innovation.
- 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 lead an international tour every two years for 20 cheese enthusiasts (next trip: Switzerland in September), but my favorite trip was this last spring, when I went to England for a week with a small group of cheesemongers through Anna Juhls’ group, Cheese Journeys. Among other things, we spent two full days with Jamie Montgomery in Somerset County, walking his land, making cheese in his factory, and visiting both of his dairy farms. It was amazing to spend that amount of time with one of the most famous cheesemakers in the world. And I finally got to visit Neal’s Yard Dairy – talk about visiting the mothership. That place is amazing. Owen Bailey and Bronwen Percival are my heroes. I want to be them when I grow up.
- Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.
I can type 99 words per minute. Wait, that’s not very fun. How about this: my husband and I play cribbage every day. Wait, that’s not very fun, either. Dammit.
- If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?
Write. I miss having the time to write creatively. Everything I do is now on deadline.
Interviews with Cheese Professionals continue through 2016… sometimes, as “stand-alone” interviews and sometimes as round-table discussions with several Pros answering the same question. Those participating include Cheesemakers, ACS CCPs™,Cheesemongers and Cheese Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.
List of 2015-16 Cheese Professionals.
List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.
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