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A cheesemonger is a merchant who specializes in the selling of cheeses, and also can be known as a cheese steward. Derived from the Old English word mangere, which actually is a derivation of the Latin word, the term monger simply means someone who deals in a specific commodity. Other common kinds of mongers often include fishmongers and ironmongers. A fromager is often mistaken for a cheesemonger, but this French term means cheesemaker, which is not the function of a monger.
Typically, a cheesemonger will be the owner of a small cheese shop or the head of cheese procurement at a specialty food store or restaurant. Cheesemongers do not produce the cheese themselves, but will have contacts among local farmers and larger cheese suppliers, which typically provides the monger with the highest-quality cheese in the region. A true cheese seller is passionate about the food in all of its forms, and will be able to recommend to the customer which cheeses will pair well with what food and wine, and will also be constantly seeking out new products.
Training for this career is varied, with some practitioners choosing to attend seminars hosted by the American Cheese Society (ACS), and others choosing to apprentice themselves at a company such as La Fromagerie Homel in Montréal, Canada to earn the title of cheesemonger. There is no formal training program to become a cheesemonger. While this was a common profession in mainland Europe even within the past century, it has begun to fall out of practice as young people choose professional careers over traditional roles. Conversely, in the United States, the development of cheese culture is on the rise, as are specialty cheese shops.
Cheesemongers often will also be affineurs, which means they have knowledge of how to properly ripen cheese. Once purchased and brought to a cheesemonger's store, many types of cheese will require further maturing before each can be sold. Parmesan, for example, can require between 10 to 18 months to properly ripen due to its hardness. The knowledge of how long to ripen cheese and what types of cheese require the most ripening are not easily acquired, and often take years to master.
Storage of cheese is also a key component in any cheesemonger's shop. Cheese will be kept in large, temperature-controlled environments and wrapped just tightly enough that the cheese will not dry out while still allowing it to breathe. The cheese needs to be checked often to make sure that the smell, taste, and texture all come together at the same moment. While each cheesemonger will have different training and ability, almost all will allow and encourage the tasting of cheese in their shop so that customers can get a sense of what they like and broaden their cheese horizons.