If you are one of the obsessed cheese lovers (like, you read cheese books instead of novels in bed) who are considering leaving your stable job behind to devote yourself to a life of spreading the cheese gospel, but are unsure of your options…
Here are 5 Career in Cheese Options for your consideration.
The first time I officially worked with cheese was when I arranged a slice of Morbier next to Dolce Gorgonzola on a cheese plate when working the dessert station in a San Francisco kitchen about 18 years ago (omg my 20 year high school reunion is this October). Things have changed a little since then. Not only has the number of artisan cheesemakers skyrocketed, the number of people aching to pack their fridges with cheese has soared, and so has the number of jobs to sell that cheese to them. Or to make it. Or to teach them about it. The industry is ripe right now, my friends.
But which job or career in cheese is for you?
If you’ve been dreaming of starting your own creamery, opening a cheese shop, mongering, or teaching, but are confused about which direction to go in, read below. To help you dig a little deeper, I sum up the pros and cons of 5 of the most commonly coveted careers in cheese. Some I’ve worked myself, others I’ve seen people working close-hand, and others I’ve learned about because I’ve considered them too. Read before you leave your desk job, and happy cheesing.
5 Careers in Cheese: Pros & Cons
As Anthony Bourdain said “You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.” Nowhere is this more true than being a cheesemaker. If you own your herd, expect to have to milk them at 4am and 7pm. If you don’t, expect to obsess over the milk anyway. Expect long hours, heavy lifting, following set sanitation rules to a T, frequent and surprise food and safety checks by the FDA, cleaning making up more than 60% of your day, learning a lot of chemistry, no vacations for years, and talking more about acidity than a than a vinegar maker. The pay is low and opening your own creamery will be more expensive than raising a child. But expect to feel extreme feelings of love when you get it right and see your cheese baby age from infancy to maturity, and by knowing you’re connected to a noble tradition that goes back thousands of years. You will also develop impressive arm muscles.
2. Cheese Shop Owner:
Cheese is expensive but margins are low. It’s not only hard to break even, it’s hard to convince people to pay for farmer’s and cheesemaker’s love, sweat, and tears in the form of fermented milk. But once you do,….. ah!!!!! It’s heaven. And while you may not be able to pay yourself a salary for years, you get to write off cheese travel as a business expense. Expect to spend most your time on your feet behind a counter or on excel spreadsheets or cleaning cheese wires and grating machines more than thirty times a day, and prepare to work holidays for the rest of your life and to cry when doors shut on the day before Thanksgiving because it’s finally over. The trick is diversification (sell condiments, books, classes), and giving people what they want until they trust you. Oh, and finding good employees that love cheese as much as you do and doing everything you can to get them to stick around. Speaking of which….
Cheesemongers help the world go round. But they don’t get paid much (be nice to them). You get to eat insane amounts of cheese, meet makers, and help customers ease their way from being Fromage D’Affinois lovers to funky Époisses dreamers. Like when owning a cheese store, expect to spend most your time on your feet behind a counter or cleaning cheese wires and grating machines, and prepare to work holidays and to cry at when doors shut on the day before Thanksgiving because it’s finally over. You also have to talk to a lot of people. Cheesemongers are awesome people though, and I think every career in cheese should include a stint as one. You learn so much, and there is an opportunity to compete in this.
4. Cheese Importer/Distributor:
Whew. Lots of competition, and have you seen how confused the FDA is about European cheese shipments these days? Prepare to wait a very long time for some of your stock to arrive. Plus, shipping and distributing cheese in college should be its own major. Think barges soaring across the ocean, trucks driving from NY to CA (all Euro cheese arrives to NY then gets sent west), arranging in-city-transport, and making sure as little cheese goes bad before this is all completed. And you really have to network. But… you get to meet and visit cheesemakers all over the world, and you will always have enough cheese at your fingertips to make fondue. And a cheese sculpture. And a cheese plate. And mac n’cheese. Or,…. you could just work for a cheese importer or distributor.
5. Cheese Educator:
Love it. It’s gratifying. I learn every time I teach. I love my students. I eat amazing amounts of cheese and get to take pretty pictures of it. It also requires a lot of background knowledge and there is a lot of competition. That’s to say… it takes tons of work to make it pay the bills, so plan on piecing this together with something else to make a career in cheese if that’s what you want. But it’s so fun! In addition, know your role as facilitator can alternate between being a cheese expert, a chemistry teacher, a cat herder (yup, alcohol is often involved), a caterer (you have to lug a lot around), and an entertainer.
What to hear more? If you’re interested in learning about more careers in cheese, I’m happy to oblige- email me at [email protected], and check back for interviews with these folks below here soon.