Grafton Village Cheese: The art of cheese making and selling
Brattleboro — When you walk into Grafton Village Cheese's retail shop on Route 30, the first thing you notice is the aroma — like walking into an Old-World deli with its fragrance of ripened cheese.
The second thing you notice is hunks of cheese, a cutting board and tempting slices of cheese waiting to be sampled. Both the scent and the vision are purposeful.
"It was my intention to create an approachable work space," said Joseph Green, Grafton Village Cheese's "cheesemonger." "It gives it more of a hands-on, customer-service kind of feel."
Green has been Grafton's official cheesemonger since late 2014, but he got his start as a cheese expert while working at Di Bruno Brothers, an Italian market established in Philadelphia in 1930.
"That's where my formal education in cheese began," he said. He eventually worked his way up to assistant manager and was certified as a cheese professional by the American Cheese Society. To receive certification, a cheesemonger wannabe has to have 4,000 hours on the job and must take a 150-question test.
"Everything about cheese, from raw materials to retail," said Green of the test.
He is now one of four certified cheese professionals in Vermont.
Part of his responsibility has been to take a hard look — with Sherry DiBernardo, Grafton's retail manager — at the retail facility in Brattleboro, Vt., and figure out a way to refocus its mission on Grafton's core product — its cheese. He has also been making the rounds of local cheesemakers, learning about their techniques and sampling their products, some of which are now available at Grafton Village Cheese.
"You need to know the history of the cheese, who's making it and how it is made. At the same time, I want to be able to educate people and show them our local cheeses are just as good as international cheeses."
One of those cheesemakers featured at Grafton Village is Ira Grable, owner of Berkshire Blue in Dalton, Mass., who got into the business as a distributor of blue cheese. When the former owner of Berkshire Blue decided to get out of the business, Grable jumped in and took over.
"It was a matter of me maintaining the recipe and using the same type of milk," he said. "Over the years, I have learned to tweak the cheese to the point that people who don't like blue cheese like my variety."
Berkshire Blue is sold at supermarkets and cheese shops in the tri-state region.
"It's always been a niche market, but before becoming a cheesemaker, my forte was pushing a product," he said.
Grable said being successful in cheese making hinges on finding the right market and pushing it to build name recognition.
For a cheesemonger to be successful, it's not enough to just be knowledgable about cheese, said Green, but he or she also has to be able to suggest the right kind of wine or crackers to go with a particular cheese, be able to advise as to what cheeses are best to cook with and what cheeses are best for fondues and how best to store cheese.
But a good cheesemonger also has to listen, he said.
"I am learning the tastes of the people who come through the front door."
By quizzing his customers, Green hopes he can develop an array of cheeses that appeal to cheese aficionados and people just peeking in the door.
In Brattleboro, there are two upcoming opportunities to meet Green and sample some of the cheeses offered at Grafton Village Cheese. On April 17, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., there will be a cheese pairing with four samples of hard cider from Citizen Cider. On April 18, which is Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Day, Grafton Village Cheese has teamed with Hermit Thrush Brewery for a raw milk cheese and beer tasting at the brewery on High Street from 3 to 6 p.m.
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