Sunday, October 28, 2012

From suit to hairnet

Did I mention that I used to be an accountant? Probably if you've met me you already know this but just in case, I thought I'd write a little post to briefly explain my transition into the world of cheese.

Me at the cheese caves, quite pleased with myself
for having broken down an 80kg Emmental
(wearing a hairnet)
Me about to take on the world as a
public sector accountant
(wearing a suit)

So basically, I trained as a chartered accountant, essentially as a civil servant. I was in the job for a few years and whilst I enjoyed elements of it, I felt that maybe it wasn't what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. My office offers a career break scheme, whereby we take a two year trial separation, after which, in theory, I return.

I decided that maybe I should take the career break and move to France, with the lovely Jen, to pursue a solid grounding in the world of cheese, or more specifically, the French world of cheese - which the French would probably describe as 'the world of cheese'.

We left England in September 2011, with some savings, an idea that we might want to live in Lyon and a fair amount of enthusiasm for a change. I didn't really have any work lined up, just a contact from the UK end of the MonS organisation (from asking nicely at their cheese stall in Borough market). After a fair bit of uncertainty, and a few interviews (in my heavily accented and rather halting French) I managed to get myself some work experience over Christmas and New Year. Apparently I did sufficiently well to later be employed at the Lyon MonS shop where I have been working since June (following a hefty stint in the cheese caves to learn the ropes - fodder for several future posts I'm sure).

A common (and reasonable) question that I'm often asked is 'why cheese?'. This is a really difficult one, but basically, I think it results from the fact that cheese is a financial dead end. There is too much work involved, too much varied expertise required and too little profit for anyone to make any real money out of the industry, particularly at the artisan/farm house end. This means that the motivations for people to stay in the industry are quite compelling - wanting to keep something historic alive, wanting to create something new and brilliant, wanting to give away huge quantities of their time and effort essentially just for the love of cheese. That kind of person is exciting (or maybe, interesting - in all the senses of the word) to be around.

Ok, there are other draws too. I love cheese, its taste and the variety of its production. I love the complexity of the science behind it, the fact that actually, we don't really know all the details about how curds form and develop with age. I also find that cheese is a great window into the world of French gastronomy and to an extent, French family life.

Well, there's lots of material here for future posts, where I'll hopefully be able to do some of these subjects a bit more justice, for now though, I hope that this serves as a brief introduction to my move from suits to hairnets, and from excel to cheese wires.

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