Regarding 'The Moment'
by Claudio Nunez
I'm a cheesemonger. And during the course of my brief but exciting career as a cheese professional I've really come to love that sentence. It's a great way to be introduced: “Hey guys, this is Claudio, he's a cheesemonger”. It tends to get a room’s attention. Some people laugh (both ‘with’ and ‘at’ varieties), others respond with something like awe, but nearly everyone has a question. What's a cheesemonger? What's your favorite cheese? Where did you learn about cheese? Have you ever made cheese? How are you not 300 pounds? I understand the reaction… spending 40 hours a week with fermented milk foods is weird!
A monger's job consists of a few basic tasks. We receive cheese (from distributors or direct from farms), keep it healthy, answer questions about our products, and do our best to help people enjoy it. On the surface it's a pretty technical pursuit — we are the point of sale for the specialty dairy industry and it’s our job to know about the cheesemaking process, stylistic characteristics, flavor molecules, etc. But if you talk to any cheesemonger worth his or her salt, I'll bet a month’s pay that the thing they really love is something far more right brain. Something I've come to affectionately know as The Moment.
I'll set the scene. A person walks off the street and into the shop. They may be looking for cheese to take home, someone may have told them to come in, or maybe it was pure chance. The point is…they're in a cheese shop simply looking for a tasty treat and this poor, blessed person ends up with an emotional experience. I've seen it manifest itself as eyes rolling back in the head, or as a furrowed brow and a slight headshake with an “I love this one” grunt under their breath. Sometimes people's bodies seem to get instantly heavier and their shoulders and knees start to soften. Frequently it's a far off look at nothing in particular and just a hint of Mona Lisa's smile. It's like the brain can't make sense of beauty of the flavors, but it’s clear that a small bite of cheese has changed this person’s day.
How amazing is that? Milk, salt, enzymes, and time put together in such a way that a person briefly experiences bliss in public…and I get to show them to that door and watch them walk through. In concise terms I would define The Moment as a realization. It's the instant a person learns the real potential of Flavor. Not every food has that power, but good cheese does. And that is the ultimate perk of my job.