NEW HOPE, Minn. — Navigating a cheese aisle can be an intimidating experience. However, at the New Hope, Minnesota Hy-Vee, there's no need to worry because Kathy Scheer, the cheese angel is there.
"Every night I would go home and I would learn about the cheese and the next day I would sample it, cut it or try it," Scheer said.
Scheer said she started working at Hy-Vee when the New Hope location opened in 2015. She said it was a change of scenery from her previous retail job.
"The company I was working for, it was a department store," she said. "I could see the writing on the wall that it wasn't going to be around and right now it's not, it's closed."
She said she felt that she was up for a new challenge.
"I've been a retailer for a long time," she said. "I know how to run retail, I know how to buy, price, and sell, I know all that stuff. But I didn't know the product."
So she jumped right into the world of cheese. Cheese is complex, just like how wines are. Wines have sommeliers, so why wouldn't cheese?
"There are a lot of similarities," Scheer said. "Instead of milk it's the grapes. How they're fermented and made into wine and aging. It's very much like a cheese sommelier."
Scheer said she wanted to be that cheese sommelier. She started by becoming a Certified Cheese Professional, as acknowledged by the American Cheese Society. When she heard about a new certification process that started two years ago, she studied and tested for that too.
She is now just one of 45 American Cheese Society's Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluators in the world.
"It's not a multiple choice test, it's all aroma and flavor," she described. "And then being able to identify the correct appearance and textures."
She said she also had to identify and describe 12 unknown cheeses as well as smell 10 different milk "solutions" to qualify.
"It's hard but it's only in the second year," she said. "Only 16 people passed this year so next year hopefully 20 to 30 people would pass. That would be only 75 in the world which is still pretty cool."
Scheer said all the hours that she spent studying for the certification was worth it. Because if there's one thing she loves more than decadent, soft cheeses, it's the people who come to see her behind the counter.
"A customer might pick up a cheese and maybe not know what they want," she said. "I'll be like, 'that cheese has a pretty cool story do you want to hear it?' and they always say yes. So then I'll tell them the story and a lot of times they pick up the cheese or just say thank you for sharing that story. That's what I do all day. Pretty great, huh?"