You may ask, “What exactly is a Fromager?”
The easiest way to describe my position is to say that I am like a sommelier for cheese. I create the menu, write the descriptions, and select the accoutrements (or condiments) we pair with each cheese. During service, I am on the floor, available to answer questions and make suggestions. I also put together each plate, bring it out to the table, and describe each cheese and pairing to our patrons.
However, the most important part of my job is to select and procure the cheeses that go on the cheese plates we serve in the restaurant. It is by far the most time-consuming but also fun part of my job. In order to do it well, I have to taste a lot of cheese. I work closely with distributors, retailers, and local cheesemakers to keep track of what is in season, what is available, what is really good right now, and what is new. I spend a lot of my time visiting cheese shops, green markets, and local farms. I also attend the annual conference of the American Cheese Society, where cheesemakers and other cheese professionals from Mexico, Canada and the U.S. come together. This year, there were more than 1600 cheeses displayed at the Festival of Cheese which is held on the last day of the conference.
Your next question might be, “Does this position commonly exist?”
I would have to admit that I had never heard of such a position before coming to Casellula. There are few other restaurants, if any, where the cheese program is large enough to hire someone full-time to work exclusively as a Fromager. Often it is a responsibility attached to the duties of a chef, manager, sommelier or anyone else with an interest in cheese. However, when you consider that Casellula has 40-45 cheeses (imported and domestic) on the menu, and Elsewhere has 20-30 cheeses (American), it seems necessary that someone be designated to curate and manage the cheese list much like a sommelier does for wine.
Finally, you might wonder, “How did you get this job?”
It all began when I decided to leave the corporate world and look into a possible career in cheese. I signed up as a volunteer assistant in the classroom at Murray’s Cheese. In exchange for helping set up and clean up the classroom, volunteers can sit in on the classes for free.
My first class was with Mateo Kehler from Jasper Hill Farm. I was so impressed by the cheese, the story, and the vision he had for cheesemaking in the U.S., that I decided then and there that I wanted to be a part of it, no matter how small. Over the next two months, I attended any class I could and was able to build on that first meeting to finally arrange a one-month internship at Jasper Hill Farm. I worked three days of the week in the cheese house, and the other two days in the Cellars patting, washing, scrubbing, and flipping cheese. It was hard work, but an invaluable first-hand experience in how cheese is made and aged.
While in Vermont, people would ask me, “What will you do when you get back to the City?” I would reply, “I’m not sure, but it would be great if I could work part-time behind the counter at Murray’s, and part-time at a restaurant like Casellula.” Within a week after my return, that is exactly what happened. Murray’s was entering the holiday season and needed extra hands. Casellula had just put up an ad for an Assistant Fromager. I worked both jobs until the opportunity to work full-time at Casellula came up. Soon after, the second restaurant Elsewhere was opened, so I now run the cheese programs for both restaurants.
I am excited to contribute to Lactography, and would like to thank Carlos for this opportunity. We met in one of my very first classes at Murray’s, and he has been an important friend and mentor ever since.
I think cheese is amazing, as much for the interesting stories attached to it as for the enjoyment and nutrition we get from eating it. I look forward to sharing the stories I uncover with all of you.