Justin Trosclair recently took home top honors from the Cheesemonger Invitational, an annual competition held in New York that pits more than 50 American cheesemongers against each other in categories ranging from cheese knowledge to pairings to salesmanship. A Marrero native, Trosclair got his start in the business in the cheese department at a local Whole Foods Market. After Hurricane Katrina, he worked at a small goat dairy in Colorado before returning home. He later landed a job at St. James Cheese Company. (5004 Prytania St.,
504-899-4737; www.stjamescheese.com), where he's now the manager.
Is there another job in the food and drink world you would compare to cheesemongering?
Trosclair: It's comparable to a sommelier in that you're taking suggestions from people about what they like and using the knowledge you've amassed to figure out what they want. I'm from the old school of service, I'm not going to dictate what you'll be tasting or spend a lot of time on the back story about this farm with three goats, or whatever. But it does help to have a vocabulary for cheese. It can spark the imagination of the customer, and to do that you have to reach beyond just creamy or pungent.
Where should people who want to learn about cheese begin?
T: I think cheese is the final frontier of specialty foods. It can be daunting, even for chefs. But if you go to a good, responsible cheese shop, they should treat you with respect and help you figure out what you like. From our perspective, as a monger, this is great. People come in and want to taste something good and are looking to you to provide that. We have a responsibility to not be jerks about it.
What are you most excited about for the future?
T: I'm really happy to be part of the American artisan cheese movement. We've had the boom, and now we're in the part to refine and educate. Our customers don't always know what they want, it's not like France or Italy where people walk in and order what they've always ordered there. But that's where good mongering comes in. I'm excited for cheese to become a normal part of everyday life, and that's only just now starting to happen in the South. — IAN MCNULTY