Monday, January 8, 2018

Say Cheese!

I learned quite a bit over the holidays. Some of the lessons were expected ones - such as, keeping a happy secret can be stressful but when it's successful can be delightful to those surprised. (To my sister Mary Carol, if she's reading this: your visit was probably the highlight of the season for Mom and Dad, but keeping it under wraps wasn't easy!) I also learned some things I didn't anticipate - like what it's like to play Minecraft in virtual reality (which you can read about on the GamingEdus website), or the ins and outs of cheese.

My sister is lucky I posted one of the few "normal" shots (here, with Dad)

Regular readers will recall that in early November 2017, my husband took a solo trip to Wisconsin. While he was there, he enjoyed what he told us was "the best cheese [he's] ever eaten". Ever since then, he's been on a quest to replicate that culinary experience. We went to a higher-end grocery store and found some five-year old cheddar, which was pleasant but not the same as the ten-year old delicacy he consumed while away. We started to investigate the location of cheese speciality shops in and around our neighbourhood. We found a store near my parents' house and made time to go while school was out. I didn't expect to pick up an education while picking up something edible.

We spent nearly an hour in Art of Cheese ( with Bill. There are so many things that I discovered thanks to Bill's expertise. It was quite fascinating. We learned about the difference between Reggiano Parmesano and "parmesan" cheese (including the icky fillers used in the generic powdery stuff found in most grocery store shelves), the notion of the third taste (the combination of the taste of one food combined with another to create a third, unique flavour), different milk providers for cheese (cow, goat, sheep, and water buffalo, as well as the different kinds of cows), cheese options for those who are lactose-intolerant, the "magic palate cleansing cheese",  and so much more. We restrained ourselves from going too crazy; that is, we only bought three kinds of cheese, even though we spent a pretty penny on it. The eight-year old farmers' cheese we purchased was gone by January 5 and I had to return to Art of Cheese to buy more. Unfortunately, the store is closed from January 1-19, so my plan to take photos for this blog post was thwarted (as well as my goal for more aged cheese).

So, why was learning about cheese so special? Here are three reasons I can determine (and they lend themselves well to teaching and learning in school too):

1) Bill is passionate about his subject matter and cares about the people he's interacting with.

If you look at the Yelp reviews for the business or the article from BlogTO,  you'll notice that the words "entertaining", "knowledgeable", and "passionate" come up often. If Bill only cared about cheese, he'd be a wise bore. If Bill only cared about people, he'd be an ineffective socializer. He knows his stuff and he makes the listener want to know more. That's the hallmark of a good teacher.

2) Visiting Art of Cheese is a hands-on (or is it mouth-on?) experience.

Bill gave us many samples of cheese to try out. Some cheeses were meant to illustrate a point. Some were meant to expand our horizons. Some were meant to appeal to what we said we liked. It wouldn't have been the same experience if Bill just talked about the cheeses without letting us taste them. I realize that the topic of "cheese" is less theoretical or esoteric than other subjects teachers must cover, but if these subjects can be presented with as much authentic, "try this" experiences, it'd be very engaging and educational.

3) It seemed like we had all the time in the world to explore cheese.

As I mentioned, we spent nearly an hour in the cheese store. Bill took his time to answer all of our questions, provide interesting background information, and allowed us to make our purchasing decisions without pressure. This is probably one of the hardest examples to implement in school, because there is a sense that we have to "cover" all that's required by a certain time. I know that when we return to school, my staff and I will have two weeks until Term One report cards are due. That sometimes means that we accidentally promote a sense of urgency in the classroom - we have to "get things done in time" instead of learning because it's fun or we're curious or other reasons.

I'm afraid that "a little learning can be a dangerous thing" - while at an Italian-ish restaurant the other day, I turned down the offer of sprinkled Parmesan because I was concerned that it wasn't "the real thing". Am I becoming a cheese snob? I guess that's evidence that learning has happened - it makes an impact on your day-to-day life. Thanks Bill for "ruining" us!

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. Cheese is one of the great joys of life in my opinion, and I am unabashedly raising cheese snobs! I really appreciate your points about how much difference time and passion make. We had a meat pie vendor at the Quebec City market who gave us a similar experience.