One of the most common questions I get asked when I’m behind the counter is “Do you have any recommendations?” The short answer to this question is “Yeah, you bet I do.” But that is almost never what I answer.
Mostly because as a professional cheesemonger I have definitely developed a love for the funky, the stinky, the sticky, the mite-ridden, and the mold-covered. So going straight to my recommendations is likely to turn many cheese neophytes (and even some cheese veterans) off.
So instead of just coming out with my “I dare you” recommendations, I prefer to engage my guests. What do they like and dislike? How are they planning to use the cheese? How much do they want to spend?
In other words, that question is an opportunity to put my “cheese sleuth” hat on and begin digging into your past cheese life so I can direct you to something that makes YOU smile.
I’ll ask what your favorite cheese is. That’s a HUGE road sign as to where to take you next. If you say “I
just LOVE all the stinky cheeses like Brie!” I know where to take you.
I may try to tease you out of your comfort zone with a cheese whose paste is smooth and runny like brie, but that offers a little more oomph, like a ripe Reblochon or Pont l’Eveque, and thereby baptize you into the wonders of washed-rind cheeses, but I’ll probably not drop a Langres or Humble Herdsman on you.
On the other hand, if you tell me you just loooove Stinking Bishop, well then, we’re off to the races.
See, my job isn’t to recommend what I like, it’s to do a little detective work in advance so I can recommend what you like.
So whenever you come into my shop (or any good cheese shop), feel free to engage the cheesemonger in a conversation before diving into tasting. (By the way, that’s how you know you’re in a good shop, they WANT to have that conversation no matter how busy they are).
Let’s chat and let me get to know you a bit, cheese-wise. I’ve got plenty of time to woo you over to the dark side, so let’s not rush things. You may not be ready for me and my bag of tricks, but I promise to be gentle.
And if you are game, eventually I’ll get you to where most cheesemongers end up—Mostly, because if a customer walks in and asks me this question cold, I can almost guarantee that what I will recommend will end up being scraped off their tongues and deposited in the trash.
We put things in our mouths that might make new cheese enthusiasts look for the trash can because of the smell or texture, but make us shed tears of joy and revelation.
Stick with me and over time I’m fairly sure that eventually, you’ll be digging into a mite-eaten Mimolette with gusto. And then I can tell you what beer or wine to pair with that as well!