The Cheesemonger’s Reference Interview: Taylor’s Five Filters

“What cheese would go good with bread?”
“I had this cheese at a party that I really liked and I think it was yellow.  Do you have it?”
“I wanted to put together a cheese plate with three different cheeses?”

How is a cheesemonger like a librarian?  When it comes to the reference interview.  In both vocations (or avocations if you’re that sort), people often approach the professional with an undefined need.  At the cheese counter, they are searching for appropriate deliciousness. 

Determination of Subject
In the three questions above, the first step is for the cheesemonger to narrow down the subject.  Asking “What cheese would go good with bread?” is kind of like asking the librarian “Do you have any good books here?”  And yet we must resist the temptation to shout “Open your eyes you fool!”  Each person’s notion of what is good, or appropriate, is subjective.  For the cheesemonger it is useful to narrow the options by classifying the customer’s need.  Is he or she looking for bloomy rind, fresh, soft, semi-soft, firm, or blue?  Sheep, goat, cow, or other?  Pasteurized or raw?  Organic or conventional?  Is there a preference for country of origin?  Mild or stinky?  At this point rather than overwhelming the customer with choice, it may be useful to find a starting point by asking “What is your favorite cheese?”  This will give the cheesemonger an initial frame of reference.  From a library standpoint, the monger could also employ neutral questioning techniques and entice the customer to “tell me more about what you are looking for in such a cheese.”

Objective and Motivation
The customer who wants to put together a cheese plate with three different cheeses (please note the cheeses should be different, rather than a plate of three wedges of the exact same cheese) may have additional requirements based on the projected use of the cheese.  One customer may be planning to serve a formal cheese plate at the end of a three course meal for the boss of his or her partner.  Another customer may want to put out snacks during a superbowl party.  A third customer may be looking to seduce a date at the end of a home cooked meal.  Each scenario requires a different style of cheese from sophistication to more-ishness to decadent luxury. 

Personal Characteristics of the Inquirer
Somewhat related to narrowing the subject field, the determination of an individual’s tastes is integral to the cheesemonger’s reference interview.  Presenting a challenging stinker such as Grayson to a cheese novice can sour a person’s taste buds for the rest of their visit and perhaps their future cheese forays.  As with any food there are additional considerations which may have health implications.  Is the customer allergic to cow’s milk?  Is she pregnant and avoiding unpasteurized foods?  There are also practical considerations such as budget to be taken into account.

Relationship of the Inquiry Description to the File Organization
In the case of the customer who is looking for “that yellow cheese” he or she had at a party, the ideal scenario for the cheesemonger is that questioning and tasting can discover the exact same cheese.  Of course, reality is often much murkier.  The customer may taste a cheese that “could be it” or it may be determined that the shop does not carry the cheese in question.  In which case, the cheese in question can be translated to a cheese that is present.  The cheesemonger may produce a cheese from the same region with similar characteristics, or she may introduce a cheese which matches the qualities the customer found so intriguing in the mystical “yellow cheese.”

Anticipated or Acceptable Answers
In the final negotiation, hopefully informed by the other four filters, customer and cheesemonger must determine the form (and price) of the cheese to be purchased.  Often customers have no idea what a quarter pound looks like or how much cheese is needed to feed six people.  Here is where the savvy cheesemonger can interject helpfully by showing the relationship of a smaller weight to a large hunk of cheese or by memorizing recommended serving quantities.  The customer may also have preconceived notions for appearance, for example thinking that white cheddar is sharper or requiring small self-contained rounds of cheese rather than wedges from a larger wheel.

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3 responses

  1. I am reposting–or rather, linking to–this on facebook and maybe on livejournal because i love it! it's a great way to explain what the monger is there for (and for that matter what your friendly local librarian is there for). thanks for sharing!

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