Have you always wanted to learn about cheese? Are you a retailer who would like a structured approach to learning about cheese? Are you a larger company who would like to know what level of knowledge future employees have before hiring? Well your prayers have been answered, the Academy of Cheese has arrived. Based loosely on the WSET model in Wine and Spirits, the Academy of Cheese is a way of learning about cheese in a structured approach which aims to set a standard for cheesemongers, makers, and enthusiasts alike.
The Academy of Cheese started out as classroom classes which allows groups to learn together, taste together and share opinions and analyses of the cheeses relevant to the level they are taking. The online version is newer and beneficial for those who have limited time to take a classroom course, for those who live far away from current training partners (those who teach the classes) and for those who already have a good understanding of and access to a range of cheeses in their employment. I come under the first and last categories – I struggle to find the time to get to a classroom owing to my work schedule and I have a good access to cheeses at my work as well as a good knowledge of cheese already. The Level 1 which I took recently is an entry level look at 25 distinct cheeses, the cheese make, maturation, preparation and storage as well as a specific vocabulary and structure for examining and classifying cheeses. The online platform is simple, easy to navigate and refer back to for as long as necessary before taking the exam. It is split into sections to make it digestible under your personal ‘Learning Road’.
The Learning Road keeps track of your progress as you study for that current level. You can dip in and out of sections as and when you please. For now, we are looking at the Academy of cheese Level 1, or ‘Associate’. Once you have clicked on this badge icon you are taken into the digestible sections to study before tasting cheese. These are topics such as ‘Milk production and Cheesemaking’, ‘Maturing, Affinage and Cheese grading’, ‘Regulation and Good Practice’. You then have separate sections on the ‘Academy of Cheese Level 1 Taste model’ and the ‘Cheese Library’. At Level 1, you are tested on 25 different cheeses, all of which have crib sheets housed in the cheese library section. The cheeses have been specifically selected to cover every category and style of cheese.
The exam itself is made up of multiple-choice questions. They cover each of the topics studied in the learning section and the cheese library also. I must stress at this point that the online course is more suitable for those who already have a basis in cheese knowledge or access to a range of cheeses. The benefit of the classroom class is that you can taste the cheeses together with your teacher and discuss them live. The online course gives you all the reading materials however it is a lot more theoretical than hands on. As mentioned, I for instance work with many of the cheeses in the course on a daily basis and have tasted thousands of cheeses so for me the course was more about adapting to the way you taste for the Academy of Cheese and using the correct models and terminology. If you are not familiar with tasting cheeses you would benefit from doing the classroom class.
Working in the cheese world can be hectic and sometimes it is hard to find time to study on the side. This is why the online course was recommended to me and why it fit my profile well. I spent half a day reading through the course material. I then left it a week and then took another half day to read through the rest of the course material before taking my exam.
Now, I am a nervous person and don’t like exams or waiting on results. So doing the exam, in test conditions in my own house as well as receiving my results instantly was excellent. No waiting around for weeks whilst results are marked!
I have learnt many things from doing this course, one of which is that I have a good practical knowledge of cheese, cheese tasting and the cheeses I have worked with, going into as much (sometimes useless ) depth as exact salt measurements used by my cheesemakers, village names and the name of the farmer’s dog. However, I need to brush up on the theory of PDOs, the historical origins of cheeses and you may think you know about the cheeses for the level you are taking, having worked with them but do not underestimate the amount of information you need to know about each individual cheese.
So in short:
Why does it exist?
It is a way of creating a foundation knowledge of cheeses in a universal platform, the same as the WSET for wine.
For current cheese professionals
It reaffirms current knowledge, irons out niggles and uncertainties which current mongers have and adds to your bank of cheese knowledge. It is a good way of filling in gaps where you are familiar but not entirely confident, for example ‘when does scalding occur in the cheese make?’ and ‘what does fermier really mean’? For those who judge at cheese competitions or would like to judge at cheese competitions, the SATC and Make/Post-Make models are great tools and foundations of knowledge which are transferrable and universal.
For cheese enthusiasts
It gives you tools to taste more accurately, understand how to taste your cheeses at home when you have purchased them and to understand how complex cheese production really is and how much work goes into producing it.
Why take the online course?
If you are short on time, far away from training partners who teach the classes and if you have a good foundation knowledge already and want to fast track.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Level 2 course content and consequently getting more in depth with the flavour, cheese science (curd nerd) and cheese profiles.