Though she’s only been on the job a few months, Cabot’s newest cheese grader, Gina Accorsi, is already hitting her stride in what she calls her “dream job.”
Cheese graders make sure Cabot cheeses reach their potential by tasting a sample from one block in every vat of cheese Cabot produces, “grading” them on flavor, texture, and other characteristics: a process that helps them determine which variety of cheese each will become. If you’re curious to learn more, check out our full blog on cheese grading.
Destined for Cheese Grading?
Gina may be new to cheese grading, but her passion for flavor is one she’s had her entire life.
It started around the dinner table. Gina remembers her boisterous family—especially her father, who made his own homemade Italian wine—would often share their thoughts and opinions about what was on their plates and in their glasses, encouraging her to smell and taste deeply. “So, there’s [already] a passion within me…for tasting things and associating it with more than just nutrition.”
After college, Gina pursued a graduate degree in mineralogy at The University of Vermont where she happened to attend a job fair at which Cabot had a booth. After a spirited discussion with a Cabot employee about different cheese varieties, Gina felt inspired to pursue a career with Cabot. After two years working in Cabot customer relations, a cheese grader job opened up, and Gina decided to take a chance and apply.
Preparing for the Cheese Grader Exam
Incoming cheese graders have to pass a rigorous test. To prepare herself, Gina made elaborate platters, so she could “blind” taste various Cabot cheeses, trying to pick out nuances in flavor, texture, and smell. “I sat there with my little headlamp, looking at the grains in the cheese and the color and the pigment. And tasting each piece. Trying to differentiate one from another. What makes them unique? What makes them different?”
Though the cheese grader test was even harder than she expected (“I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous!” she jokes), she impressed Cabot’s experienced cheese graders with her accuracy and passion.
Becoming a Member of the Team
Gina was immediately blown away by the dedication and skill of Cabot’s cheese grading team: Ted Brown, who’s been with Cabot for over twenty years, and Adam Huestis, who’s been a grader for five years, and Jeff Richards who’s been grading for 34 years. Working side by side with such passionate, skilled tasters is an experience Gina is not taking for granted. “I respect them a lot, and I’m learning every day.”
Gina grades dozens of cheeses each day, traveling with the team to Cabot’s temperature-controlled storage facilities, learning the craft and deepening her sensitivity to different cheese flavors and characteristics. She loves the work even more than she thought she would, and it’s now safe to say it—she’s a natural. “When you’re grading cheese,” she says, “you’re focusing on every detail. You can’t be distracted because you’re going to miss the really subtle things that you need to pick up on.”
Preserving and Furthering Cabot’s Legacy
Cheese grading, Gina says, ensures the highest quality for Cabot customers. “You want to be able to taste what everyone else tastes to get the most well-rounded picture of what the cheese smells like, feels like, and tastes like. I want to make sure what you taste is amazing.”
In fact, for Gina and the other Cabot cheese graders, their work all comes down to preserving and furthering the legacy that Cabot’s farmer owners have built over the past century. Cabot’s values “align so much with what I personally believe,” Gina says. “And I think the co-op is made up of a lot of people like that. We’re not just making and selling cheese. This is our lifestyle. This is who we are. And I can’t imagine doing something else.”