There was very sad news in the cheese world this week with the passing of two important cheese people.
I did not know Dr. Pat Elliott very well so I will leave memorializing her to others. I do remember meeting her at my very first American Cheese Society conference though. I didn’t know anyone at the bar but she invited me to her table of cheese folks and made me feel welcome. Over the years we always said hello at various national cheese events, but reading her obituary makes me wish I had sought her out and made time to really talk to her. She will be missed.
Fred Hull was a different kind of cheese person. He wasn’t a cheese maker or distributor and he didn’t seem to work in cheese stores very often. I did not know what he did with himself when he wasn’t at the American Cheese Society, but I know that when I would arrive, Fred would have already been there for awhile, doing crucial behind the scenes tasks. If you didn’t work in the judging room, you may never have met him, but he was one of the handful of people who made the whole thing work. He was there to bring out the cheese, to replenish supplies, to make sure everyone had what they needed. He loved being around cheese so much that he would do things, unpaid, that others might complain about while getting a paycheck.
Indeed, Fred was someone who – every year – would help me rekindle my love for my job. As much as I love cheesemongering, there are times in any job where things get you down. The customer service nightmares, the invoice hassles, the cleaning of the drains… whatever. Fred’s enthusiasm for cheese couldn’t help but make you forget all those things. Every year I judged I would start saving little nibbles of the best cheeses so that when he walked by I could share them. I loved watching his reactions, hearing his voice when he would talk about the richness or the complexity or whatever he liked about the sample. I noticed that a lot of the other judges did the same thing. I think our moments with Fred were a treat for all of us. I know he was one of a few people who, just being around, helped me go back to my work refreshed and energized.
I am having a hard time believing that when I show up to Madison this year to judge. In his years volunteering at the conference he became an integral part of our community. He was not a fame seeker (unlike those of us with enough narcissism to write cheese books). He just seemed to love every minute of the time he got to spend around cheese. He soaked everything in, exuding back a pure joy of appreciation for the time he got to spend a whole week doing nothing but talking cheese, tasting cheese, and being in that rarefied community of cheese people that gather every year in a different state because, sure it’s our job, but also because we are a little obsessed.
I am not sure yet what should be done to honor Fred this year at the conference. But his love of cheese was something that needs to be remembered. Fred will be missed by all the cheese people who knew him.