8 years ago

Meet our experts: Cheese specialist Liz Nerud

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 Liz Nerud, cheese specialist at Lunds University & Central, tell you herself. She really knows cheese and is one of only six Certified Cheese Professionals in Minnesota!

Q: What does a cheese specialist do?
A: Our cheese specialists provide customers with a guided tour of the cheese case. We try to convey a sense of fun, answering questions about cheese plates, recipes and so forth, assisting people in choosing the perfect cheese for the occasion. Cheese specialists 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 Certified Cheese Professional?
A: Taking my expertise to the next level, I became a Certified Cheese Professional! The program was created by the American Cheese Society and has defined the highest standard of knowledge for cheese professionals. It took months of studying everything from the chemistry of cheese making to health regulations/sanitation and regional pairings from around the world. There are currently six CCPs in Minnesota, five of whom work for Lunds and Byerly’s. This process really awakened a thirst in me to further explore cheese and share that exploration with my customers and colleagues. 

I was also recently chosen to participate in Cheesemonger Invitational in San Francisco, California! This invitational is a biannual gathering of nationally prominent cheesemongers, featuring a rigorous exam, blind taste tests, cutting and wrapping events, pairing challenges and more.  After winning a contest from Cypress Grove Chevre, I received a full sponsorship to show my stuff by competing against 45 colleagues from around the country. It was a valuable experience, validating expertise I have acquired, and showing that there’s always so much to learn about cheese!

Q: What do you like most about working with cheeses?
A: No question about it, my favorite thing is customer service; luckily, cheese is my vehicle to do so. I get to know my customers, their kids and what they are having for dinner. I know their tastes, their interests and hear stories about where and when they ate that special cheese. I love that people include my store in their daily life, and that they can come to me for any grocery needs, not just cheese. Building a community has been extremely satisfying to me. 

Q: What are the current trends you see for your area?
A: I love the trend for American specialty cheeses. Over the past few decades there has been tremendous growth in American artisan cheeses. This is very gratifying, and there are lots of local cheeses that are truly world class. Understanding food and where it comes from is another great trend happening in the cheese world. It’s important to tell the story of a cheese, connecting the dots between maker and consumer. It makes food real and important. Cheese isn’t just about alleviating hunger; it’s about experiencing what we eat and appreciating it. 

Q: What’s your all-time favorite cheese?
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.

Q: Any tips you can give our readers?
A: Buy small amounts often. There’s no sense in buying more than you’ll use in a short time. Specialty cheeses are expensive and it’s a shame if it goes to waste. Also, make friends with your cheese specialist! We’re highly trained to guide you through a perfect cheese experience. And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Tell us the purpose of your cheese and we can talk through different options with you.