Most Of The World's Cheese Professionals Start At Whole Foods

If you're looking for cheese recommendations for your next charcuterie or cheese board, Whole Foods Market is a great place to start. The supermarket chain has over 500 stores across the U.S., and is renowned for its cheese selection. For example, each store location typically boasts hundreds of different cheese options, including popular ones like hand-cracked Parmigiano Reggiano.

However, it's not just the selection that's impressive. Whole Foods Market employs a surprisingly large percentage of the world's Certified Cheese Professionals. This title, administered by the American Cheese Society (ACS), requires candidates to complete a training program and pass an exam attesting to their extensive knowledge of all things fermented dairy. Since the program's inception in 2012, the ACS has certified over 1,000 cheese professionals globally, with about 30% working for Whole Foods Market.

For instance, Whole Foods announced that it had 32 new cheese professionals certified during the latest testing cycle, bringing expertise to 29 of its stores across 18 states. Now, over 300 cheese professionals are certified for Whole Foods worldwide.

What it means to be a Certified Cheese Professional at Whole Foods

The Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) is akin to a sommelier in the wine world. It's a title that signifies an extensive range of training and knowledge. Before even reaching the exam stage, where candidates must demonstrate mastery of cheese-related topics such as cheesemaking, history, and pairings, there is a six-month training program and about 4,000 hours of study. For example, one year's training period included an educational trip to Wisconsin dairy farms, in addition to weekly webinars and classes.

It should be noted, however, that Whole Foods' dominance in the world of cheese experts isn't what it once was. For example, back in 2014, the company employed 58% of worldwide CCPs. However, it still boasts more than 30% of all certified experts in its stores, and their expertise is showcased daily. Customers can request cheese samples or have cheese cut to any desired size. Seasonal cheese boards are also a specialty.

Other food specialty certifications promoted by Whole Foods

While Whole Foods is justifiably famous for its abundance of Certified Cheese Professionals, the company also promotes expertise in other areas, including butchery and bakery decoration apprenticeship programs. Whole Foods reportedly also aims to add more apprenticeship programs in the future, with career paths like pizza-making, produce specialists, and fishmongers expected to join the list.

This emphasis on personal development is one of the ways the company helps its employees acquire expertise through on-the-job training. For example, the butchery apprentice program features a year-long curriculum divided into two distinct phases. Meanwhile, the soon-to-be-offered pizzaiola program will involve experience with proprietary pizza dough common to Whole Foods stores across the country.

Whole Foods is also home to a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers. Devon Broglie achieved this rare status (only 273 have ever done so) in 2011, and has since become the Global Beverage Buyer for the brand.