Dany Schutte: Cheesemonger
Dany Schutte’s ideal vacation is to settle down in a farm cottage, nursing baby sheep and trudging across muddy farm fields to a rustic red barn each morning to learn how cheese is made. In fact, a week of cheese immersion in upstate New York nine years ago is what convinced Schutte that being a cheesemonger was her life’s passion. Schutte, head cheesemonger for all three Southern Season stores, is one of a growing field of Certified Cheese Professionals (CCP), and the only one in Richmond.
Schutte (pronounced “SHOOT-ee”) is a native Richmonder who started noticing cheese while working at the specialty food department of a Whole Foods grocery in San Francisco. As a food mecca, San Francisco attracted food professionals from across the globe.
“We got a lot of cheesemakers visiting from Europe,” Schutte says. “I got to walk them around and ask questions, and that gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of amazing producers, importers and brokers.” Schutte was captivated by the endless variety of ways that producers build flavor from cheese’s simple elements.
“There are basically five ingredients for all cheeses,” she says. “But the flavor profiles are vastly different depending on what the animals are eating, and if the milk is pasteurized or not, the terroir, the milk quality, whether or not the cheese was washed, did it go into a cave. All those things change it. Cheesemaking is both an art and a science.”
When a family issue called Schutte back to Richmond in 2007, she took over Ellwood Thompson’s cheese counter. The American Cheese Society (ACS) began offering an annual exam in 2012 to sanction CCPs, and Schutte felt that the certification added credibility to the field.
“Cheesemongers, the folks who stand behind the counter and passionately sell their wares, you just earned the name by being behind the counter for enough time,” she says. “There was no way to differentiate or quantify how much knowledge the person had.” The exam, which costs $650 for non-ACS members, was five months away in Madison, Wisconsin, when Schutte signed up.
The CCP exam is formidable—three hours of multiple-choice questions about cheese styles, processes, protein structures and fat percentages. Schutte studied by reading her way through the ACS’s suggested bibliography in the evenings and on her days off. In July 2013 she flew to Madison to sit for the exam along with 200 other applicants.
“On the flight I was still freaking out about milk composition,” she says. Also, the sole suggested book that she hadn’t read turned out to be the one every other applicant seemed to be toting around the hotel.
Despite the challenges and nerves, Schutte breezed through the exam in two hours. She is one of only about 400 cheesemongers in the world who can add “ACS CCP” to their professional credentials.
Schutte teaches classes and attends workshops and other events in order to maintain her certification.
Like most cheesemongers, Schutte primarily buys inventory, helps customers select the right cheese mix and suggests food and drink pairings. What she does not do is put into practice all that she learned during those vacation barn days.
“Pulling my own mozzarella,” she laughs. “That’s not really my thing.”