Interview With A Cheesemonger

Talking about alpine greens, killer Gruyere and the Certified Cheese Professional exam with a Di Bruno Bros. cheese expert

The cheese counter at the new Di Bruno Bros.

Di Bruno Bros., the restaurant/retail operation with the highest concentration of Certified Cheese Professionals of any independent retailer in the nation, clearly has a thing for cheese. Cheesemonger Rocco Rainone at Di Bruno Bros. answered a few questions for us about what exactly goes into becoming a CCP.

“The American Cheese Society has a little bit of an outline of the test and what’s going to be on it. There are some suggested readings, but it’s not a very specific guideline,” Rainone said. “It’s pretty wide-ranging, and there’s a lot of chemistry. So cheese is made up of the same basic ingredients and there are thousands and thousands of types of cheese. Milk type is the main thing that is changing, but there are a lot of things that can change the cheese along the way—how you heat it, how you age it, how many cultures you add to it, how long you let it sit…there are a lot of different factors that go into it and a lot of what we studied was how you get from making it to the finished product.”

But the CCP exam, which takes about three hours to get through, isn’t just science.

“It’s a very specialized area in food,” he said.  “It’s always been a tradition for the cheesemongers to have a relationship with the farmers.”

Rainone explained that the history of cheese is just as important as the science. He said that going back in history to England, the cheesemongers would always have relationships with the farmers, suggesting less butter or more butter, less milk or more milk, to create the exact taste customers were looking for.

“It’s important for the mongers to understand the farming,” Rainone said.

When asked about whether he believed these relationships with farmers had changed over time, Rainone said that it was a cyclical thing. “I think it, too, depends on your level, you know? And we’re not a small store, so we’ve always worked very closely with our famers. We have a lot of open communication with them; we give them feedback. So yeah, there was probably a time when nobody was talking to their farmers but the U.S. has kind of reverted back.”

Rainone said that although he loves to eat and eats a lot, he didn’t always have a thing for cheese.

“It was never a focus for me. But it’s easy to come to respect the production. It kind of tells the story of a lot of places, and the history of the economies of the past.”

Rainone says that his favorite cheese varies seasonally (much to my surprise as I was unaware that cheese was a seasonal food).

“I tend to eat light goat cheeses in the summertime. Right now, I guess my favorite is an English cheese, Ticklemore. It’s got a lot of different textures,” he said.

“I tend to like Alpine cheeses for the fall. Right now, we have killer Gruyere.  Some of the stores have a Gruyere alpage —a wheel made in the summertime. The farmers in Switzerland, they practice transhumance–taking the herd up into the mountains, the Alps, and allowing them to eat the really pure and green grass up there. The cheeses that come from those cattle are very prized.”

If you’re interested in hearing more about Swiss cheese and killer Gruyere, Di Bruno’s certified cheese pros offer a wealth of knowledge. And also, they sell some pretty awesome cheese.

Di Bruno Bros. [Official]