As a cheesemonger, you travel the world through your palate. You help transport customers from counter to farm and make-room with stories of faraway pastures and generational tales of cheesemaking.
But actually traveling as a cheesemonger is (let’s face it) really hard. Between your unpredictable schedule and hourly salary, resources can be tight. So how do you take your cheese knowledge to the next level and visit the farms, cheesemakers and shops you always talk about?
Here are some tips we’ve put together to help you fit travel into your cheese career...
Apply for scholarships or contests
There are yearly scholarships out there with the specific goal of bridging the gap between American and European cheese professionals (check out our Resources page for more info).
Some scholarships are competitive and may require CCP certification or a longer history of working with cheese. If you’re relatively new to working with cheese (less than a couple of years), you may consider entering a contest.
Right now, for example, Uncommon Flavors of Europe, an educational initiative sponsored by the European Union, is running a contest to send Americans cheesemongers to Italy. Visit http://uncommoneurope.eu/learn-earn/ to learn more about the three Uncommon Flavors of Europe partner products (Asiago PDO, Pecorino Romano PDO and Speck Alto Adige PGI) and complete a quiz to earn entries in a contest for a trip to visit the production zones.
Ask your distributors
Your distributors or friends who work in distribution (read: people you can meet at counter culture!) can be an invaluable source of info for contests and travel planning. Distributors often host merchandising competitions or may know about contests sponsored by other organizations.
On the planning front, a distributor may be coordinating their own trip and can offer personal tips or share an itinerary. Or, they can help put you in touch with their producers so you can plan your trip on your own.
If you’ve always been a big fan of Gruyere AOP, why not connect with the producers of the Gruyere AOP you sell? They’re invested in helping you learn more, so be curious and don’t be shy!
Travel local (before making that big trip abroad)
So maybe Europe is a couple of years away for you— that’s totally okay! It is just as valuable to learn about cheeses being made locally and much easier to plan.
Use your shop’s connections to talk with cheesemakers you work with.Often times, cheesemakers are more than happy to show you their operation.When you stay local,you may even be able to fit a mini-cheese tour on your regular days off — no vacation days needed!
Cheese festivals are another way to meet many cheesemakers at once. Take advantage of festivals in your area (or in other places around the US if you’re able to travel farther), and plan excursions to visit a few of the makers in the surrounding areas. While you’re at it, visit other cheese shops, too.
Once you’re abroad , stay for a while
The greatest expense in a European cheesecation is the airfare, so why not plan a longer trip and visit multiple regions while you’re there? You’d be surprised how close things are by train or car! Did you know you can get to the Fontina DOP cooperative from a fermier Reblochon DOP producer in an hour or so?
Can you be an effective cheesemonger without having travelled to see cheesemaking in action? Yes. But will it forever change your life to meet the people, animals and land that feed your passion for cheese? Absolutely!
Once you do make it abroad, tag us in your photos (@counterculturecheese) and let us know what you’ve learned!