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Odd Jobs: Cabot cheese grader - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Odd Jobs: Cabot cheese grader

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CABOT, Vt. - Everyone loves a good cheese,  and when it comes to cheddar there are a lot of options. But who decides what's mild or seriously sharp?

Craig Gile is a senior grader for Cabot Creamery. It's his job to define the co-op's cheddar profiles.  "Sometimes you do have stubborn cheeses. I usually refer to my job as babysitting cheese. I do really think of them as having their own personalities," Gile said.

And he would know. Gile has a psychology degree and jokes he's somewhere between a cheddar taster and cheese shrink. He agreed to show me how it's done.

The process starts with a sample block of cheese and a tool called a trier. "Alright, so you just go straight down and right off the bat you're learning a little bit about the cheese just by the amount of the resistance," Gile said.

The more resistance -- the sharper the cheddar. It's a move that requires a little muscle. The sniff test is first. The pros are hoping to detect notes of fruitiness or yeast. The sample is inspected for slits or discoloration. Then it's time to nibble and squish.

Gile is looking for a flavor that Cabot calls its "Northeast bite." "It's like this really clean, acidic, sulfur bite," Gile said.

And it's won Cabot a bunch of awards. Gile has eight years of cheese grading under his belt but says there's nothing particularly special about his palate. "We're kind of proud to be average because the idea here is hopefully I can pick out a product that the average person is looking for," he said.

Annually Cabot produces 137 million pounds of cheese -- with the help of 1,200 farmers.  And it all needs to be graded.

Each month Gile and two other tasters hit nine warehouses checking on the cheese. They start when the cheddar is three months old and revisit it every four months to ensure it's being primed for the right profile. He admits it's a little odd. "I'm relying on my tongue and my tastebuds and detective skills to get a paycheck, so I think it's a pretty odd job," he said.

Back at the Cabot plant, Gile shares his findings with his colleagues -- like Master Cheesemaker Marcel Gravel. Together, they tweak recipes. "We may try different cultures just to see what it will do. We put it on hold and they grade it out and tell us, 'yeah it was better. It was worse,'" Gravel said.

Gravel says grading is the key to a consistent product, because a cow's diet, the changing seasons and temperatures and humidities in storage all affect the aging process. "It is quite a science. People don't realize just how much goes into making a piece of cheese," he said.

It's a science Gile has turned into a career, and despite sampling up to 200 bites per day, he shows no sign of cheese fatigue. "I haven't yet. Ask me in a few more years and see if I'm burned out yet -- but I love cheese," he said.

As the son of a dairy farmer, he's reinventing the industry -- working on creative new flavors.

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