Like most people I look forward to Saturday, but for me it isn’t the start of the weekend. Instead, it’s my day at the Cheese Shop. After spending my weekdays working either as a freelance writer or running The Joy of Cheese, my series of informal cheese seminars, I spend Saturday afternoon and evenings at The Bedford Cheese Shop, and though exhausting, it’s always enjoyable.
First of all, I’ve done this sort of work in the food business since I was 24 and since the next birthday is number 51, it’s reassuring that I can still do something physically rigorous as well as I did when I was 28. It’s a fact reinforced by my collegial relationship with my coworkers who are mostly in their late 20s and early 30s. But the real highlight is the cheese, it’s what makes this kind of job, so much more than customer service.
The shelves are always teeming with new (to me, that is) pecorinos that ready to ooze buttery charm, alpines cheeses full of onioney-nutty grace, and never ending (even in winter) stream of soft cheeses that redefine the word lush. When I listen to a really great jazz saxophonist like Chris Potter, Bill McHenry or Noah Preminger, I don’t just hear the history of their instrument but ideas on how to experience that history, and when I taste these cheeses, I don’t just taste their stylistic antecedents but I experience an ideology about how those flavors can be enjoyed. In other words, they are more than food, cheeses of this caliber represent ideas about food and our own sense memory. It’s the “art” part of the word artisan.
What makes Saturday so much fun (aside from the comraderie of my coworkers) is that it’s a chance to connect people looking for ideas with the ideas that these cheeses represent. Some people come to the shop with an agenda and some come because they’ve read that Brooklyn is a culinary epicenter, but almost all of them are receptive to the new ideas these cheeses represent (the exceptions are the people who had a cheese sometime and they don’t remember the name but they want to get that one, not one like it but THAT cheese). So optimally 80% of my shift is spent connecting people to extraordinary cheeses or listening to my colleagues do it while I clean up behind them. The remaining energy is spent closing the shop, so that the folks on Sunday can do the same.
For years, I hoped that my freelance writing career would enable me to have my Saturdays for myself. I told myself and was told repeatedly (when I was younger) that if I became a good enough journalist, I wouldn’t have to work on weekends—I’d be a success. I am a good journalist, really good at time (check this story out, http://on.wsj.com/fOi1w4) but neither I nor my mentors anticipated the change in the media economy. No matter, I accept that that God failed, but allegiance to a failed God (whether its a belief in meritocracy, something religious, or something mundane like the Chicago Cubs) is one of the strongest romances in human nature. The failure of the God proves that diety really is in our image, foibles and all. But I don’t regret spending my Saturdays in retail. It’s a chance to be an agent in the advancement of culinary culture. I used to do it on Sunday too and I’m almost as inclined to miss my Sunday shift as I am to enjoy my day off.
I don’t think that’s what they mean by the power of cheese, but that’s my spin on it.