Cheese: Meeting an idol

After a brief hiatus, our food artisans series is back! Here Ellwood Thompson’s cheesemonger, Dany Schute, tells us about meeting one of her cheese idols, Herve Mons.

Welcome to the latest installment in our food artisan series in which some of Richmond greatest food enthusiasts and craftspeople share what they love about what they do. Here Dany Schutte, cheesemonger in the Indulge Department at Ellwood Thompson’s, tells us about meeting one of her cheese idols.

I carry his business card in my wallet.

This is not an unusual thing to carry someone’s business card around with you. I can tell you that his is the only cheese industry card I keep with me at all times. Not because he is my go-to man for help. He is my hero. And he handed me his card.

I suppose every industry and niche has those who rise to the top — the ones who inspire the rest. Herve Mons is one of those folks. Herve is a third generation affineur in France is ranked among the top in his field there. For a small time cheesemonger like myself, Herve is god, with a little ‘g’. And I got to meet him once.

I was working in San Francisco, moving a lot of cheese and being amazed on a regular basis by the cheese folks who would, without warning, wander into my location. Just because, hey, it was San Francisco and who doesn’t want to visit? So, I have been able to meet more than my fair share of cheesemakers, dairy farmers, food importers, brokers, and distributors from all over the world. It was all about being in the right spot at the right time.

One week, we were all excited because a locally-based importer was hosting a talk by Herve Mons at one of their offices. So, there we were, all fitted into this classroom space, eager to listen to the man: Janet Fletcher (food writer and author from The San Francisco Chronicle), Gary Danko (James Beard Award winner and Premier Chef in San Francisco), bunches of food folks, and a gaggle of cheese peeps from the region’s retail stores. Herve had a slide show of the various dairy farmers he buys the cheese from and the caves in which he does his aging in. This man was so excited and passionate about what he does, he could no longer maintain speaking in English and just suddenly reverted back to French. The distributor jumped up to do translation from that point onward. I was very excited when I left there, because, you know, it is catching.

The next day, who walks into my store but Herve and the distributor. Herve wanted to see the store before going to the airport. I was thrilled. I showed him around, including downstairs where we kept our backstock. We talked about how selling cheese in America differs from Europe and what can be done here to better preserve the cheese. We even unpacked an order of his cheese that arrived on the loading dock while he was standing there. He pulled out his digital camera and took pictures because this was the first time he had ever been on he receiving end of his cheeses after an international trip. He smiled and told me that he was giving me my first lesson in affinage, as he proceeded to tell me how to best wash the wheels of Morbier and Raclette so they would continue to live and mature. Those two hours I spent with him were very magical to me. I learned from the master, and he was gracious and patient with me. Before he left, he handed me his business card.

And I still carry it in my wallet.

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Dany Schutte

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