Tag Archives: holidays

Up for air

Another well-known cheesemonger mentioned this on his facebook the other day, but the thing that most of us – at least the cheese people who actually still work the floor – have in common is that the last two months of the year are a blur. At the beginning of January we come up for air, look around, and wonder, “I wonder what my friends have been doing for the last two months?”

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining here. I kind of love it. I like the craziness of the holiday cheese rush, I like watching cheeses that are hard sells 48 weeks of the year fly of the shelves. I like being busy. Plus it is consistent to my life-long work experience. My longest job before Rainbow Grocery Cooperative was at a photo lab. Back in those pre-digital days, the photo X-mas card business was booming and I regularly worked 50-60 hour weeks between Thanksgiving and X-mas. Long hours, but good money and the sense of accomplishment you get from doing more work than you thought possible when you started.

For instance, selling all this (and more) Reading Raclette:
reading raclette

There are many orders a cheesemonger gets in around Nov/Dec and says, “What was I thinking? How can I possibly sell all this stuff?” I will fully admit — for the benefit of the other cheese folks reading this — that I have moments of severe self-doubt, usually alone in the walk-in cooler while trying to make room for all the cheese. Is this the year I was over-confidant? Is this the year that I thought I was smarter than the historic movement reports? Will I succumb to cheese hubris?

Because all of us who have been in the same place for awhile have records of what we purchased and what customers bought the previous year. It may take a little of the romance off to look at one’s notes before making holiday pre-orders, but it sure makes it more successful. And the romance is there anyways. For every customer that comes in to buy only their same cheeses every year out of tradition, there are ten more who want new and exciting cheese, however subjectively that is defined.

So the feeling of accomplishment in mid/late December as the walk-in starts to empty out is phenomenal. Every square foot of air is a victory. Every hole on the backstock shelf is a justification of one’s purchases. At least until the retail shelves start emptying out and you have to worry about whether you ordered enough.

The life of a perishables buyer is always intense.


But yeah, If you wonder why I’m not making posts on my website, not teaching cheese classes, not sending out holiday cards and not even self-promoting very well (Cheesemonger is the perfect gift for Valentine’s day!) it’s because the cheese is demanding my full attention. Hello January. How is everyone?

On a side note, since I decided to start my book with the details of my recurring holiday dream,* I now get a lot of people asking “Have you had your dream yet?” It’s ironic that I – as someone who hates to talk about dreams almost as much as I hate hearing about other people’s dreams – have created a situation where I basically begged people to ask me about them, but there you go… I just tell ‘em I am sleeping more soundly since I got my CPAP machine.

* Every year during the holidays I have the same nightmare. I’m in the store’s walk-in cooler, but instead of the cheese area being 12’ x 16’, it’s warehouse-sized. Boxes of Fromage De Meaux, Vella Dry Jack, Valencay, Vacherin Mont D’or, Reblochon, and every other cheese I could ever want — legal or illegal — are stacked to the ceiling on shelves, on milk crates, and in every nook, cranny, and corner.

They’re rotting before my eyes.

Mites are turning the Gruyere into nasty tan dust. Orange, stinky, washed rinds are liquefying and dripping onto the cheese below. White bloomy rinds are yellowing, browning, and spotting. All the beautiful cheese is going concave: hardening or disintegrating, and I am helpless. When I look more closely, I see that the few remaining beautiful and snowy white cheeses don’t have rinds at all; instead, they are covered with seas of maggots.

** Don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter

Finally, a moment to spare…

Hey there. Perhaps I should have mentioned that I wouldn’t be posting in the last couple of weeks of 2009. Cheese enthusiasts are forgiven for not assuming that, but cheese professionals should have expected it. After all, between the food holidays and New Year’s parties, no person who really works in cheese retail has any free time.

Year after year I am surprised by vendors, reps and cheesemakers who try to conduct business during the last two weeks of the year. The best thing I can say about them is that they are bored and trying to find something to do. But seriously, every year some people try to call me up/drop by to talk about non-timely matters. Do they not understand that I am trying to sell their cheese for them?

Even the best-laid holiday staffing plans fall apart. Every year there is illness, family emergencies, (drunken) accidents, vacations etc. If those things have no happened to me personally, be assured that they have felled other members of our department. We have to cut (roughly) $10,000 worth of cheese a day this time of year just to keep pace and that is while doing about 5 times as much hands-on customer service. I don’t wanna hear about anything not directly related to that until January 2.

Three weeks ago: The backstock is overflowing!
backstock cooler near x-mas 2009

The following is a list of acceptable reasons for cheese professionals further back in the distribution chain to contact a cheese retailer at the end of December:

1. Changes to delivery schedules
2. Bringing in emergency replenishment of stock
3. Amazing deals that need to be bought right away
4. Bringing in presents: chocolate, booze, cheese, or holiday cards
5. Personal shopping

Seriously. That’s it.

A few years ago a certain rep turned up at the store the day before Thanksgiving. That is traditionally the biggest day of the year for grocery retail. Our little prep area was jammed with workers. The customers were elbowing each other out of the way to get to the counter. At least 5 different cheese conversations were going on. This rep walked in – completely oblivious to the commotion — a started talking to me, actually interrupting someone who was asking me what kind of Gruyere she should buy. My co-workers had to push past her to get to the cheese case. She was all, “Hi there, I brought you a schedule of promotions for February. Can we discuss them?”

I looked at her. I took a deep breath and – despite the fact that she was the only rep I had who often came through with free Niners tickets for me and my co-workers – I said, “Get out of here! Don’t come back til January! Look around you. What are you thinking?”

She looked surprised but backed off, murmuring some kind of sales rep pseudo-apology as she left. I was immediately re-engulfed in customers.

I don’t actually know what happened to her. Either she lost her job or got transferred to a different region (not because of me! I never mentioned this to anyone until now) but I never saw her in the store again .I’ve never gotten any more free football tickets either. But it was worth it.

Timmy, the P’tit Basque shepherd, gets in the holiday spirit. See how he is at home, in his apartment, and not visiting retailers: