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Cheesemongers, cheesemakers and cheese mavens will meet Wednesday to pursue a fresh title: certified cheese whiz.
The 29th annual convention of the American Cheese Society—a trade group for the artisan, farmstead and specialty cheese industry—is the place to be this week for cheeseheads. There, for the first time, the ACS will offer for 150 people the Certified Cheese Professional Exam, a test in expertise that has been ripening for seven years. "It's kind of like a sommelier," said the ACS executive director Nora Weiser, "but for cheese."
Who are these cheese fans? The first bunch of test-takers varies in experience and age: 20 people have worked with cheese for more than 10 years and 75 for fewer than five years, according to ACS data. Aspiring cheese professionals needed 4,000 hours of work experience and formal education just to be eligible for the exam. Most come from the U.S., though one person is flying from Australia. Since the test won't be scored on a curve, cheese specialists say cramming has been more collaborative than competitive.
Some test-takers, like Mr. Saad and Ms. Santogade, have met since early spring for study groups in each other's apartments. At these gatherings, each person was assigned to teach a different section of the ACS's body of knowledge, a comprehensive guide to cheese that covers cheese types, cheese handling, cheese distribution, cheese marketing and cheese nutrition. Their study guide was eventually as thick as a block of Cheddar.
The newly minted professionals also win lapel pins, jacket patches and actual certificates. "I don't know if there are letters you can add after your title, like a lawyer would," Mr. Saad said. But before then, the test-takers have to actually take the test, which ends at 4 p.m. on Wednesday. Immediately afterward, the crackerjacks of cheese will celebrate in the cheesiest of ways: a wine-and-cheese reception.