I never imagined I’d spend my first summer out of college as a cheese girl. What is a cheese girl, you ask. It means I have watched YouTube videos about how to properly crack an 80 lb wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and have blisters on my hands from doing this myself. It means I’ll help you figure out which hard cheese you should try to change up your pesto, or which goat cheese would best accompany your salad. It means my browser history is full of information about molds and rennet, my cheese drawer is full of Délice de Bourgogne, and my thumbs are scarred with cuts. And it’s what I’m good-naturedly called by my friends twenty feet away in the deli. My first full-time job, having just earned bachelor’s degrees in English, French, and Linguistics, is in the cheese department of a nice grocery store. And to be honest, I kind of love it.
I am in an environment where my geeking out about food is not only tolerated, but celebrated and encouraged. I suspected I’d like this job when I saw the application, which inquired after my favorite dessert, the last thing I’d cooked, the last book I’d read, and where I would spend my time volunteering if location/money was no object. This store truly cares about people, from what I can tell. Customers and employees. Passion, integrity, and community are the company’s stated values, and it doesn’t just sound nice. Rather, I see evidence of these things constantly.
I once spent an awkward few months working at a name-brand clothing store. I tried to manufacture excitement for customer outfits I didn’t actually like and worried most of the time about my facial expressions. While some of it was definitely a confidence issue, I am just finding it a hell of a lot more natural for me to speak with enthusiasm about matters of (literal) taste. I’m really into fashion and style, too, but that’s more of a personal thing. But food…that’s something I love to share. I love having friends over for tacos or brunch, making people birthday cakes, cooking a romantic dinner for two or a Christmas dinner for six. For me, it’s one of the most natural (and fun) ways to care for people. We all need to eat. So why not make it joyful.
I find it really enjoyable, how this passion I have extends a bit into my job.
I’ll sneak bits of what I’m cutting over to friends in the deli, who in return run me an extra piece of hot pizza or give me a sample of whatever they’re making. We’ll then talk about ideas for new pizzas, or what this or that cheese would pair well with.
On my first day, one of the janitors wanted to buy me lunch.
When I cut my finger and swooned on the floor, first thing in the morning, one of the cooks told me to take as much time as I needed, made me feel like I shouldn’t be embarrassed, and brought me orange juice.
I let a new friend, Aaron, try my kombucha the other day and when I came back to “cheese island” this evening, there was a fresh cold bottle waiting for me.
I feel taken care of here, valued and appreciated. And since I’m so at ease, it makes it much easier to relate to customers.
I realized really quickly that I could either do enough to get by: just complete the tasks on my list and call it good, or I could do more, and use this quirky little job to brighten someone’s day as often as I can. It’s like how I was treated when I got here: I wasn’t tolerated, but warmly welcomed. And that made all the difference. So I try to acknowledge everyone I see, remembering that sometimes all someone needs is a genuine smile and a bit of kindness, even just from a cheese girl.
Honestly, it’s humbling to be seen mopping the floor and taking out the trash while many of my peers are now off in new cities, starting internships and careers. If all goes well, I’ll get my turn soon enough. But for now, I am relishing the opportunity to work hard here. It’s exhausting. Challenging. It’s good for me. Work hard? I want to prove that I want to. That I can. I want these other hardworking people to respect me, and I know I need to earn that. I don’t want to be a princess (except in terms of grace and class).
I believe in loving what you do, even if what you’re doing is not what you expected, even if it’s a surprising detour. And more important than that (as this job is teaching me) is loving other people. I want to want that more than I want my own (conventionally-defined) success. To paraphrase a little from the book of 1 Corinthians: if I have not love, I am nothing.
So here’s to lessons learned in surprising places, like thoughts about hard work, love, and purpose from the cheese department.