Our cheese specialists are a remarkable group of experts found in each of our stores, bursting at the seams with cheese knowledge. But what do they do? Let Alicia Baldwin and Liz Nerud, our cheese specialists at St. Louis Park and Lunds Central, tell you themselves. They really know their cheese and are two of only six Certified Cheese Professionals in Minnesota!
Q: What does a cheese specialist do?
Alicia: Our main job is to take care of the cheeses, as the cheese maker intended, and deliver them with the highest quality to the customer. We’re here to educate our customers, answer questions, help with recipes and suggest pairing ideas. We also help source and sell specialty and artisan cheeses made domestically, as well as abroad. My job also includes the opportunity to train many employees for the company, teach cooking classes, and perform wheel splittings throughout the year. It takes passion and a love for food. The combination of those two things can be a transforming experience!
Liz: A cheese specialist gives a guided tour of the cheese case. We try to convey a sense of fun, answering questions about cheese plates, recipes, and so forth in assisting a customer in choosing the perfect cheese for the occasion. Cheese specialists try to take the mystery out of navigating the case, which can be quite overwhelming to the newcomer, or even someone who has good familiarity of the case. I love introducing new tastes and applications of cheese!
Q: How did you become a cheese specialist?
Alicia: It takes a long time to develop the knowledge needed to be considered a specialist or “cheesemonger.” I became one over time. One of the first things I tell new trainees is to not feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you need to know. It takes months before you feel comfortable and we’re constantly learning on the job. Reading books, blogs, research papers, and cheese magazines are some of the ways we stay on top of the cheese business and trends.
We also have an amazing and supportive cheese program at Lunds and Byerly’s. Throughout the year we try new items, take exams, learn from cheesemakers or vendors about new products and even go on field trips for a more hands-on experience.
I became a Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) last summer. There are currently six CCPs in Minnesota, four of whom work for Lunds and Byerly’s. It took months of studying up on everything from the chemistry of cheese making to health regulations/sanitation and regional pairings from around the world. It was a labor of love, and I’m very proud of all that I’ve accomplished.
Liz: You can put on an apron that declares you’re a cheese specialist, but that doesn’t mean you are one. It’s a process that’s ongoing and I learn more every day. I became a Certified Cheese Professional last year. The process was created by the American Cheese Society and has defined the highest standard of knowledge for cheese professionals. It really awakened a thirst in me to further explore cheese and share that exploration with my customers and colleagues.
Q: What’s your all-time favorite cheese?
Alicia: I get asked this a lot, but I never really know how to answer it; it’s like asking if you have a favorite child! I go through moods or seasons where I love one or the other. I probably love Gouda the most, although once I say that I think of several other cheeses I love. I do look forward to Upland’s Rush Creek Reserve the most, because you can only find it in the fall.
Liz: Widmer’s four-year-old cheddar, from Theresa, Wisconsin. It has everything I’ve ever wanted in a cheddar, and being from Wisconsin, it satisfies my natural flavor profile! That said, it depends on the purpose of the cheese. I have different favorites for different applications.