Curd Quips: A big wheel in all those rounds of cheese

Running away and joining the circus has endless appeal. Perhaps itâ??s the perceived chance to reinvent yourself on a tightrope (of your own choosing) or live behind a mask – bringing joy to others. Maybe itâ??s more like finding a sense of purpose among a dedicated group, a group living a life outside the â??norm.â? On the surface it all sounds appealing. Like the proverbial grass being greener on the other side of the fence.

Some decades ago I walked briefly in this world with a travelling circus, but thatâ??s another story. The other week, on a lark, I sent in an application to be a conference Cheesemonger for the American Cheese Societyâ??s â??ACSâ? Annual Conference. Ok, I know you can hear a pin drop with that statement, like â??what is he talking about?â?

ACS Conference Cheesemongers are the individuals (three are selected) who make sure that the cheeses are ready to play starring roles (think big tent) at the ACS Conference. For a period of 7-10 days (and working several months before), Conference Cheesemongers oversee and manage the receipt, movement, storage, and preparation of thousands of cheeses. We are talking about tenâ??s of thousands of pounds of cheese. Can you just smell the interest?

The behind the scenes work is akin to the travelling circus and who sets the tent â??itâ??s the performers (and elephants) that you see on display when the spotlights are on. It takes hundreds of volunteers to make the big show come together. Itâ??s also the chance to see and work with more Real American cheeses at any one time than any Cheesemonger will in their lifetime. The reality of working back to back 12-hour days at the conference melt away with the chance to be part of that much cheese.

So now that the application is off, the waiting begins. I find myself in a position much like our high school seniors waiting to hear on their college applications.

Did I fill out all of the forms properly? Should I have said something different in my essay? What if I am chosen? What would it be like to be around that much cheese?
The waiting may not be the hardest part, but the not knowing can get inside your mind. Just hang around a high school senior and ask, â??How is it going?â? and the topic will come up. Trust me. Still, despite the competition and queasiness, I am feeling optimistic.

In my eyes, getting this volunteer job may be the toughest job that I will ever love. As evidence, I remember seeing (briefly) one of last yearâ??s conference cheesemongers as he had a momentâ??s respite to quaff a beer and admire his handiwork. The moment came in an event hall full of beautifully presented cheese with hundreds of people enjoying the same.

The satisfied smile on his tired face said it all. Was it worth it? Oh, yes. That and he had a way cool chefâ??s jacket embroidered with his name and conference title. Like a chance to play in the center ring â?? I want the chance to run away and join the cheese circus.

Jeffery Mitchell is the owner of the Culpeper Cheese Company. He is also a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at or 540-827-4757