Hy-Vee’s newest Cheese Master is Karen Lange from the West Circle Rochester Hy-Vee. Lange is only the 34th Hy-Vee employee to complete the program.
The Level 300 Cheese Certification Class is a two-day class, including lectures and cheese tasting. Participants must take a proctored online exam consisting of 90 questions and receive a grade of at least 80 percent. Once they pass the exam, they must complete three assignments at their home store, receiving at least a 90 percent to pass. The assignments include building a geography-based cheese board, planning and hosting a cheese-tasting event and presenting their strategy for creating the best customer experience possible in their cheese shop. Once these steps have been successfully completed, they are awarded the designation of Hy-Vee Cheese Master.
What inspired Lange to pursue the title of Cheese Master?
“In May 2009, I joined 30 other delicatessen managers from Hy-Vee on a tour sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. We visited multiple cheese-making facilities. This was the week that would change my whole world,” Lange said. “Every time we would go into a new facility and that warm sweet smell hit my senses, my love of cheese continued to get stronger. In just four days, I went from being someone who never thought I could cut or sell cheese from wheels, to wanting to know more about how it is made and respecting the efforts and hard work it takes to make amazing cheese. By the time the trip was over, my heart was filled with my newly found love: cheese.”
Two years ago, Lange joined the West Circle Rochester team as a cheese specialist when the brand new store opened.
“I strive every day to have the best cheese counter. I want to have the best selection, the best quality, and the best service. I love what I do and my customers can see my passion and commitment I have to my cheese,” Lange said. “My favorite part of my job, other than getting to try new cheeses, is when my customers come back and tell me how much they enjoyed the cheeses I selected for them.”
Lange attended three Institute du Formage Classes and completed her requirements in September. She continues her training every chance she gets.
“Every time I attend a training session, it just makes me want to learn as much as I can about the wonderful world of cheese,” Lange said. “I have quite a library of books about cheese and cheese pairings. I am 100 percent invested in becoming a Certified Cheese Professional.”
She plans to continue her education in cheese and attend the American Cheese Society Conference & Competition which will be held in Pittsburgh at the end of July 2018. There she will take the National Certified Cheese Professional exam, which takes three hours and covers everything from animal husbandry to the aging of the cheese.
Until then, she’ll keep sharing her love of cheese – and her experience – with Rochester customers.
“I find it easier to tell a story about a cheese when you can experience it firsthand. Take Sartori cheese, for instance: Before my trip, I thought it was a high-priced item I was forced to sell,” Lange said. “But we visited Jim Sartori at Sartori Cheese back in 2009. We were greeted with a room full of cheese samples and beverages and the next room was filled with food made using their cheese. When I returned from that trip, I was not afraid to sell Sartori cheese again. I brought back the story and shared my own experiences with my customers and it soon became one of the easiest cheeses to sell in the case. That 20-pound wheel I thought could never sell is gone in a week.”