You're a What? Tales of a Cheesemonger
If I could earn a dime for every time someone cocked their head, looked at me quizzically and asked me “What is a cheesemonger?” then I would be a very rich lady indeed. Completing our mortgage paperwork and filling in the field for occupation as “Cheesemonger” sent the underwriting department into a tizzy. Cocktail parties are always a source of new questions. “You do what?” “Is that a real job?” “Did you make it up?” And I try to answer the question as best I can before their eyes begin to glaze over. Starting with that I’m passionate about selling cheese seems confusing and/or incredibly exciting but more often than not begins and ends with something like “Oooh! I like cheddar. Do you like cheddar?” The conversation wraps up before I can get into the details of why I love what I do, my passion for the cheesemakers, the history of our products, the anthropological reasons why cheese was made. And then I’m left on my little cheese island reading obscure works about cheese history.
As the English language is wont to do the definition of monger covers two seemingly opposed explanations. 1) A person who is involved with something in a petty or contemptible way and 2) a dealer in or trader of a commodity. Within these ranks we find such illustrious professions as warmonger, gossipmonger, fear monger and – more palatably – fishmonger. We all practice and ply trades in which specialty goods are transacted, perhaps for nefarious purposes, but we surely do believe in what we do. To specialize in one good you have to be deep in the roots of its creation, its reason for being. Practicing cheesemongering is – one hopes – the least controversial of the monger professions.
I prefer the translation of the unrelated Vietnamese word “mong”. For them mong means hope. While it bears no etymological relationship to the roots of monger it strikes more at the core of what dedicated cheesemongers do. We tell the stories of makers, of their families, of the products they make with a wish that their labor and expertise is important to our customers. We strive to spread the curd word in the hopes that people care about where their food comes from. We have optimism that whole foods, slow foods are of value to people. And we know that the cheese we sell is more than just a tasty treat, that it’s a connection to our past, to traditions lost that hope to be found again.