Trust Your Cheesemonger

by Matt Hart in Cheese

Matt Hart

My name is Matt Hart and I’ll be your new Cheesemonger here at Southern Season (if you’ll have me of course). First off, I’d like to apologize for taking so long to introduce myself. I’ve been changing a lot of things at the counter and within the cheese culture (pun intended) here at Southern Season and change, as you all know, takes a great deal of effort, energy, patience and time. Lots & lots of time! Well, I finally carved out a slice of that time in order to shout out a proper H E L L O to y’all via the blog-o-sphere. That’s what this here message is: a hello!!! If we haven’t met yet, I look forward to it! I encourage you to come by for a taste and introduce yourself.

I hail from San Francisco’s East Bay, which is where I lived during my mostly misspent youth. My specialty foods background began at the Pasta Shop in Oakland, CA. I worked there full time while attending the California College of Arts & Crafts (now called CCA) on a printmaking scholarship in the late 1990s. During my stint at the Shop, I fell in love with the finely made fresh foods we offered and rediscovered the Bay Area via the vibrant, local, lovable artisan cuisine scene. I soon found (and grew quite fond of) the Cheese Board in Berkeley. This counter is where I can safely say I fell hard for my first handmade cheeses. Before my first few encounters at the Cheese Board counter, I had no clue that milk could be so expressive! Having recently graduated from art school, I embarked on a journey few dared to tread, actually using the art degree I’d earned. Ha! I worked as an artist and printmaker quite successfully for several years, but eventually grew weary of the rat race that is the Bay Area and relocated my printing business to Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2004 through poster-making ties here. Within a year or so of relocating my business, the economy tanked and I soon found myself scrambling for something familiar that might help pay the bills. Thank goodness for specialty foods, am I right? I was hired to join the knowledgeable staff at Whole Foods Market (Wellspring to the devout) in Chapel Hill where I first held post as the specialty team receiver (in charge of the handling and quality control of all perishable specialty foods inventory). After a couple years in receiving, I became the coffee buyer (Southern Season was built on coffee mind you and as we all know we have an extremely versed caffeine community here in Chapel Hill). Eventually, I obtained and championed the position of cheese buyer for the highest grossing counter in the South. Of all the jobs I’ve had, spanning my many work-filled years, the cheese buyer gig was by far my favorite. Discovering new cheeses for the public, tasting them regularly & getting paid for it? I’d struck gold!!! It just so happened to come in the form of artfully preserved milk (no whey!). After a couple years as their cheese buyer, I knew that I’d found something special. Something that made sense to me, career-wise.

So, yeah… here I am. And trust me, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. The Southern Season cheese counter has a lot to offer our community and I’m extremely honored to run it. Speaking of trust, I’m of the opinion that a good relationship with one’s Cheesemonger is based primarily upon trust. It is your job to come to the counter in search of cheeses. Sometimes you know what you want, sometimes not. It’s our responsibility to not only get to know you and your palette specifically, but to eventually read your mind and select cheeses for you as we see you approach the counter. After we’ve established this relationship, it’s our civic duty as mongers to help you exercise your palette regularly! We’ll please and challenge you and keep your palette honest and above all, truly content! And, if you’re too afraid to ask us what’s tasting good, we are useless unless we offer you a sample of whatever cheeses we happen to be cutting at that moment. We can steer you towards a cheese that not only meets your expectations, but a cheese that’s showing particularly well at that moment and might change your mind about cheese forever. My personal role as the head Cheesemonger is to find the most delightful cheeses (be they local or from halfway round the world), bring them to our beloved counter, make sure they’re fresh while in our care & share these findings with you! My team and I take our jobs seriously. We taste every cheese we cut into. We know when a cheese is not quite ready or when it’s nearing or past it’s prime and we all know what it’s like to pick up a cheese upon recommendation, take it home, taste it and toss it into the compost bin. I guarantee you’ll never do that once you’ve developed that relationship of trust with one, or all, of our Cheesemongers.

Thanks so much and please do come by for a taste!