Certified Cheese Professionals Share Tips from Behind the Cheese Counter

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Certified Cheese Professionals Share Tips from Behind the Cheese Counter

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November 4 2019

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After rigorous training and exam preparation, each of the professionals below has earned the credentials of Certified Cheese Professional from the American Cheese Society. Fewer than 1,000 people worldwide hold the status of CCP, and we're proud to recognize them as part of the Hy-Vee team. 

Learn more about Hy-Vee's artisan cheese in our Cheese Guide.

  1. Chris Luken, CCP, Cedar Rapids, IA

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Taste it twice! The first taste acclimates your palate, so the second taste is more complete in terms of texture, aroma, and flavor, because the senses are more prepared for what's coming.

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Landaff. This New Hampshire made cheese, which undergoes affinage (cheese ripening) at the cellars at Jasper Hills, is unlike any other cheese in my current selection. It's based on a welsh style cheddar known as Caerphilly. The flavor lingers on your palate like a cheese custard with notes of a brulee-like milkiness. 

    Why Hy-Vee? Coming from a specialty store in Madison, Wisconsin, to Winona, Minnesota, was quite a change, but I stay with Hy-Vee because of their commitment to grow the specialty cheese selection, the in-depth training they provide, and the steadfast support I've had from store directors!

    Best Lesson to Share: Take a few minutes to look up where your cheese came from, learn about the cheesemakers, why they chose to make that kind of cheese, and the history behind it. This connection helps understand the complexities in specialty cheese vs. a commodity product.

  2. Karen Lange, CCP, Rochester, MN

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Know what it is about your favorite cheese that you like. Then your cheese specialist can help you find something similar, but with a twist.

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: St. Agur, with its triple creaminess and its mild to sharp blue flavor, it's great on a burger or a cracker.

    Why Hy-Vee? So many opportunities. I started as a shift manager and then became a deli manager, and now a Certified Cheese Professional. I love cheese, so it has become my passion. There is so much to learn and know and so many things to do with it. It's never boring.

    Best Lesson to Share: If you don't like a cheese the first time, don't give up on it. As your palate develops, the cheese may become your favorite. Wait a few months and try again.

  3. Kathy Scheer, CCP, New Hope, MN

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Go for it!! It's cheese. You can't go wrong. I try to advise that cheese isn't just for snacking, because there are so many ways to use cheese in cooking.

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: When a cheese delivers more than what I anticipated, it has a wow factor. Recently I was wowed by Vermont Creamery Clover Blossom Honey Goat Cheese Log. I'm super picky about my honey but this one made my taste buds dance. And I keep thinking about it.

    Why Hy-Vee? I wanted to work for a company that shared the same retail values that I do. I love the fact that I have autonomy and am responsible for the Cheese Shop, from customer service to buying to managing all aspects of merchandising. Oh, and I also love trying new cheeses and learning every day.

    Best Lesson to Share: Try a different cheese every time you shop. Start by trying a different cheese from each family then zero in on a couple of families to really explore. I also like to encourage trying cheeses produced from local resources. 

  4. Sarah Buschkamp, CCP, Coralville, IA

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: If you're worried about buying a whole piece of cheese, talk to our cheese specialist about having a smaller piece cut for you. And try not to judge a cheese by its look. Some of the tastiest cheeses aren't the prettiest. 

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Cypress Grove Purple Haze. I love goat cheese, and this creamy cheese is filled with fresh lavender and wild fennel pollen, creating a truly unique flavor.

    Why Hy-Vee? I love trying new cheeses and pairings with my customers. It's a great feeling to share in a new experience with them. Plus, both my parents worked for Hy-Vee and it's a culture I grew up with. It's like a perfect fit.

    Best Lesson to Share: I would like everyone to know how hard the farmers work to produce these beautiful cheeses. Every wedge they buy is a reflection of the cheesemaker's passion for their craft. 

  5. Katie McKenna, CCP, Des Moines, IA

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: I would encourage customers to strike up a conversation with their cheese professional. 

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Jasper Hills Harbison from The Cellars

    Why Hy-Vee: I'm always really happy to talk about cheese and help customers discover something they love.

    Best Lesson to Share: When putting together a cheese board, know your audience; how adventurous are they. Don’t be afraid to try something new. 

  6. Diana C. Weir, CCP, Omaha, NE

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Talk with your cheese specialist about your flavor preferences. How do you plan to use the cheese and what will you serve with the cheese? Your cheese professional will guide you to some great choices and provide samples for you try.

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Aged goudas are one of my favorite cheese groups. Their complexity and slightly granular texture are a wonderful treat, especially for snacking.

    Why Hy-Vee? Hy-Vee is a customer-centered company, and my greatest joy is to help a customer discover a new cheese that brings them joy.

    Best Lesson to Share: Cheesemaking is an art with the finished product mirroring the maker's passion for their product. Each nibble is an adventure for the taster.

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  7. Tina Knutson, CCP, Marion, IA

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Start with your favorite flavor profile—cheddar, gouda, havarti, etc. Then try a different version of it: aged, cave aged, grass-fed, or one from a different region. You can ask your cheese specialist for a sample.

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Fontal. I find it extremely versatile, from snacking to cooking, and it's a perfect melting cheese for mac & cheese. 

    Why Hy-Vee? I choose Hy-Vee because of the family atmosphere. Plus, the ability to go through the CCP process has given me the tools to be able to better serve and teach my customers with compete confidence. 

    Best Lesson to Share: Take time to taste the cheese, not just consume it. Artisan cheese has hidden flavor profiles that can get missed. 

  8. Merrill Klemm, CCP, Cedar Rapids, IA

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Try it with an open mind. Use as many senses as possible, especially touch, smell, and taste. Taste it carefully and analyze what you are sensing. Think about pairings that it might go with, both food and drink. Pairings allow you to enhance the cheese experience. 

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Blue cheeses have always been a favorite. All of the Rogue Creamery Blue Cheeses rank high with me. Caveman Blue is still my overall favorite.

    Why Hy-Vee? I enjoy working with customers and educating them about cheese.  

    Best Lesson to Share: Be open to trying everything. Don't limit yourself with preconceived notions or ideas. 

  9. Twyla Carson, CCP, Omaha, NE

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Taste. Taste a different kind of cheese within a group you like, such as gouda or cheddar. By tasting different ages, for example, you get more complex flavors.

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Reading Raclette from Vermont and anything from Beehive Creamery, or Red Dragon made with mustard seed and ale. 

    Why Hy-Vee? I love all my customers, and helping them discover a long-forgotten cheese profile to something new and trendy. I also like the family-comes-first culture.

    Best Lesson to Share: Try tasting the same cheese from different areas and compare the similarities and differences. 

  10. Rose Davidson, CCP, Omaha, NE

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: Ask for a sample! We are more than happy to open up a cheese for you to try before you buy it.

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: I'm a huge goat cheese fan, so Midnight Moon and Cablanca are always at the top of my list. As we come into winter, my preferences lean more toward gruyere for its warm, comforting qualities and amazing cooking applications.

    Why Hy-Vee? I was a shopper at Hy-Vee and loved the welcoming environment. In my years at Hy-Vee, my coworkers have consistently been my favorite part of the job; the support and camaraderie are outstanding.

    Best Lesson to Share: The price is worth it. Not only are the quality and flavors found in specialty cheeses above and beyond what you find in commodity cheese, but you are supporting traditions and family farms that sometimes go back for centuries. 

  11. Rachel Boyk, CCP, Omaha, NE

    Best Advice for Trying Something New: It's a great way to try a taste from a place without buying a plane ticket. Plus, I'll let you try a bite before you buy it. 

    Favorite Cheese Right Now: Spring Brook Farm's Reading Raclette. Vermont's answer to Swiss, this raw milk cheese is a wonderful melter with just a tiny bit of funk. Plus, they help support the non-profit City Kids to Farms.

    Why Hy-Vee? When my family relocated to the Midwest, working for Hy-Vee allowed me to stay connected to the world of cheese. I'm passionate about cheese and strive to educate more people about the connection between good cheese, the farms, and the cheesemakers.

    Best Lesson to Share: Eating real cheese helps keep people connected to their food and to the people who make and grow it.