The Jobs Report: I’m A Cheesemonger
9:30 am, March 15th | by Sarah Devlin
This is the latest installment in an ongoing series we’re calling The Jobs Report. For recent college graduates (and others just starting out in new careers) the task of finding a job you love — or finding a job at all — can seem insurmountable. We want to offer an antidote to the depressing data and shine a light on jobs outside the typical doctor/laywer/teacher mold, so we’re asking women we know who have found jobs they love to share how they got their gigs and what challenges and rewards them about their careers. Previous installments can be found here.
Pamela Brewer is a cheesemonger living in New York City.
When and how did you decide you wanted to be an cheesemonger?
It was less of a decision and more of a stumble! During winter break in college, a friend and I got seasonal jobs at a specialty food shop making gift baskets. After a week or two, management realized that they needed staff at the cheese counter and pulled us both onto the floor. Despite our lack of experience, we managed to stay afloat during those first hectic weeks and learned a ton about cheese over the next few months. I had no idea at the time how valuable and formative that experience would prove to be. Our stint in the cheese world was pure happenstance, but my friend and I both have careers in food now — a testament to the fact that you really never know what unexpected events will shape the course of your life!
How did you get the job you have now?
Immediately before this job, I was working at Slow Food USA, an organization and movement dedicated to promoting good, clean, and fair food for all. I love the organization and what it stands for, but I was working in an administrative role and longed to be more directly involved with food and New York’s many amazing local food producers. I discovered that Greene Grape Provisions in my neighborhood of Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was hiring cheese counter staff and I immediately applied, emphasizing my brief college experience. Luckily, I landed in the job and several months later I was given the chance to step into the Buyer/Manager position.
What’s something challenging about your job that you didn’t know about before starting it?
Cheese is very much a living thing! (Well, technically many tiny living things bundled together, but who’s counting?) Each wheel that comes in is different from the last. This can mean some soft cheeses are over-ripe and ammoniated, non-blue cheese becomes host to blue mold, hard cheeses get overly musty or dried out, or any number of other irregularities occur. How the cheese is stored and handled makes all the difference, especially in terms of temperature, humidity, and sanitation. If any one of those variables is off, the cheese’s development will be affected, and it’s heartbreaking when we encounter a good cheese gone bad!
It’s mind-boggling to think about the long and treacherous journey some cheeses take from their place of origin here to New York. Take Munster-Géromé: a soft, very stinky cheese made high in the Vosges mountains of France that has a relatively short lifespan. They’re basically little ticking time bombs, and it’s kind of a miracle that so many of them DO arrive here healthy and perfectly ripe. Thanks to very sophisticated distribution pathways, mishaps only occur once in a blue moon, and in the unlikely event that we receive a cheese we find to be subpar the folks we work with are extremely gracious about taking it back.
What’s something great about your job that you didn’t know about before starting it?
Incidentally, the same thing that poses a challenge to my job is also one of the greatest joys! Every wheel of cheese is unique, so cracking open a new one is always accompanied by some anticipation and excitement. Often a wheel is even better than the one before it, and that’s a real treat.
I am also lucky to be working in a close-knit neighborhood shop with a loyal, engaged customer base. Many folks are very interested in the stories behind our food, and we as cheesemongers have the unique opportunity to champion the hard work of cheesemakers near and far. We’ve developed real relationships with our customers and do our best to tailor our selection to the needs of the neighborhood while also introducing new cheeses we find exciting. That dynamic is really fun, and whether someone is buying 3 pounds of cheese for a party, or a scant ⅕ pound just to treat themselves, I never tire of seeing people light up when we find their perfect cheese.
The best thing about my job though, without a doubt, is the incredible team I get to work with everyday. It is humbling and energizing to work along side such knowledgeable, passionate, hilarious and hard-working people. Whatever the day brings, we have each other’s back and rise to the occasion. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
Do you know a woman who has a cool job that she loves? Are you that woman? Nominate yourself or someone else to be featured in The Jobs Report at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Photo via Shutterstock]