Cheese smarts: Get what you need for a career in cheese

A student in the Cheesemaking Technology course at University of Guelph learns how to pour Camembert-style cheese into forms.

Cheese education in Ontario is thriving, as evidenced by the array of tasting classes catering to those who wish to enhance their appreciation of cheese. But what about individuals looking to carve out a career in the cheese business who require a more thorough, professional education?

Here’s a roundup of courses available to mould a fresh batch of cheese professionals.

The University of Guelph has been offering some version of its cheesemaking course since 1893, though its present professor, Art Hill, began teaching his Cheesemaking Technology program with the Food Sciences department in 1986. The program—designed for artisan and commercial cheesemakers, cheese hobbyists, and government and sales personnel who work with cheesemakers—focuses on the science and technology of cheesemaking. Students attend lectures and apply the principles learned in a cheesemaking laboratory.

“The focus is on understanding the manufacturing principles of technological families of cheese, rather than becoming expert in the manufacture of particular cheese varieties,” says Professor Hill. The program is offered annually in the spring and runs for five days. The next course offering will run from May 2 to 6, 2011. Course fees are $2,055, with discounts offered to early applicants and company groups of three or more applicants.  Those interested can contact Nicola Ferguson or visit the course website.

Artisan Cheese Marketing, a cheese education and public relations company founded by cheese industry expert Kathy Guidi, was the first business in Canada to recognize the demand for professional cheese appreciation classes. In response, the company developed the Cheese Education Guild in 2005, the first institution in Canada to offer a certificate-level cheese education course.

To earn a Cheese Education Guild certificate, students must complete three 24-hour appreciation courses. The courses aim to develop students’ tasting and sensing abilities while building cheese vocabulary and knowledge. Cheese Appreciation courses 1 and 2 each cost $550, while the final Cheese Appreciation 3 costs $620. Information on upcoming courses is listed on the company website, and can also be obtained by emailing Artisan Cheese Marketing.

George Brown College has also sensed a demand for professional cheese education classes, and so the school began offering a Professional Fromager Certificate in January 2010. The course was developed by Scott McKenzie, a graduate of the Cheese Education Guild, and is offered through the college’s Hospitality and Culinary Arts department. The program consists of six classes, each focusing on an element of cheese appreciation and knowledge. The program includes classes on tasting and criticism, affinage, and pairings. Individual classes range in cost from $231 to $321, with the total program tuition fees amounting to $1,556. For more information, contact the department at (416) 415-5000 ext. 2517 or via email.

Monforte Dairy is developing its own unique program that will bring the company into the ranks of professional cheese educators. Unlike other programs available in Ontario, Ruth Klahsen, Monforte’s owner and head cheesemaker, has decided to offer an apprenticeship program that focuses on the craft of artisan cheesemaking.

“The school is intended to preserve and grow the art of artisanal cheesemaking as opposed to industrial cheesemaking. Ontario was once the dairy capital of Canada and Monforte would like to see more artisanal cheese operations across the province again. It would be our hope that the new cheesemakers would then be able to start up their own dairies,” says Maureen Argon, Monforte’s communications specialist.

Monforte is hoping to attract apprentices who already hold a keen interest in cheesemaking, and who have some food production knowledge. The program is still in the development stage, with cheese consultant Neville McNaughton building a curriculum. Monforte is also looking into partnership possibilities with Ontario colleges. The program will run over a two-year period, from January to April. For more information, contact Monforte Dairy through the company website.

Though the popularity of cheese education courses is on the rise in Ontario, some experts believe a more traditional education is all a cheese enthusiast needs to learn the business. Julia Rogers, founder of Cheese Culture, which offers cheese classes and events to the public, says that while these courses can contribute to an individual’s overall cheese education, on their own they are not enough to prepare a person for retail or entrepreneurial work in cheese.

“If you want a career in cheese, you’ve got to work in cheese, which means washing dishes, washing floors, getting up early, stressing over margins and expiry dates and Christmas pre-orders, fielding every consumer question known to humanity, juggling CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency) and Public Health inspectors, navigating the minefields of fickle urban trendsetter taste, meanwhile smiling . . . and doing it for minimum wage, 360 days a year,” Rogers says.

If, after paying their dues in such a gruelling setting, aspiring cheese experts still wish to pursue a career in the business, Rogers recommends seeking apprenticeships with industry professionals and foreign learning experiences to polish their skills.

—Phoebe Powell

A journalism graduate and budding turophile, Phoebe Powell last wrote for CheeseLover.ca about getting to know sheep’s-milk cheese.

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