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.
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.
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