Holly Chaves, 28, cheesemonger at The Cheeseboard
Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is a cheesemonger?
‘We look after the cheese, brush the cheese, care for the cheese, make sure they’re all looking healthy. Basically, I’m a cheese nanny! Also, we advise people whether a cheese is pasteurised or has raw milk. These days, customers want to learn more about what they’re eating and they expect their cheesemonger to know everything.’
And how did you come to monger cheese professionally?
‘At first, I was only doing it as a Saturday job to get money, and to learn more, because I was really into cheese. Then I went to a tasting last Christmas, and Ned Palmer, a big cheesemaker, gave a talk that really inspired me. I didn’t realise there was a career in eating cheese!’
What’s the best part of your job?
‘When we get a new wheel of cheese and I get to try it. The downside is carrying really heavy cheeses. I also do talks: I did one recently at the Women’s Institute, which was really funny. When I asked ‘Does anyone have any questions?’, one lady said: “Where did you get your top from?”‘
Please don’t punch me for asking this: do you smell?
‘Yeah, sometimes. I tend to carry a lot of cheese home with me every night. Last week I was taking some cheese to a tasting and when I got on the DLR I could really see people reacting to the smell. I just kept my head down.’
Do you turn your nose up at Babybel or supermarket own-brand cheddar?
‘Erm, they’re not on sale in my shop. But there’s nothing wrong with them. Not everyone can afford artisan cheeses. What we do stock is gjetost, a Norwegian brown cheese which some people are really snobby about and don’t consider a proper cheese. It tastes really strange, like fudge.’
And if you could only eat one cheese for the rest of your life?
‘Comté. A 24 month-aged comté. It melts well, so you could have it on toast. And in general it’s just really yum.’
Interview by Michael Curle
Hours: 35hrs p/w
Starting salary: £25,000 p/a
Qualifications: Learn on the job
Or why not become a milliner?
Photography © Rob Greig