A Q&A with Jeanne Carpenter

As executive director of Wisconsin Cheese Originals, this Wisconsin native promotes the best of the Dairy State

PHOTO BY NOAH WILLMAN

Jeanne Carpenter knows a thing or two about cheese

Explain your job in one sentence.
I eat, write and talk about cheese for a living.

Where’d you grow up?
I grew up on a 340-acre family farm near Belmont. I was the kind of farm kid who was always outside helping my dad. Given the choice of indoor or outdoor chores, I always chose driving a tractor or loading hay over cooking or cleaning. I still don’t know how to cook. And I still have a farmer’s tan.

What goal are you currently working on?
I’m about halfway to attaining the hours I need to qualify to become an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional. I persuaded the nice folks at Metcalfe’s Market–Hilldale to hire me part-time as a cheesemonger so I could get the two thousand retail hours I need. Then I’ll spend six months studying and doing more professional qualifications before taking the exam in 2015.

Why do you love cheese so much?
First of all, it’s yummy. Second, it allows me to work with some of the nicest, most honest, hard-working people on earth: cheesemakers.

Do you live by a motto or catchphrase?
“Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” – John Wesley

What’s your favorite pick-me-up?
A caramel latte at the Firefly Coffeehouse in Oregon, Wisconsin.

If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
At home, having dinner with my husband and daughter. She’ll be leaving for college in less than two years. I often wish I could slow down time—it all goes too fast.

What song gets the most play on your iPod?
“Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
From my father: “Learn how to manage your money, or your money will manage you.”

Worst advice?
From my father: “The pool’s not that deep. I’m sure you’ll float.”

What’s top on your bucket list?
To be in a Swiss village when the cows come down from the mountains after spending the summer on high mountain pastures. The cows wear giant bells, which clang as they are paraded through the streets.

Is there a cheese you’ve not yet tried but really want to?
I’ve read about several goat and sheep’s milk cheeses made on the island of Corsica that never leave the country. I’d like to travel there someday and try them.

How do you unwind?
Sadly, I am addicted to Candy Crush. I’m not going to even admit to what level I’m on.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?
I hate to talk on the phone. Send me an email or text or let’s meet for coffee.

On what do you scrimp and on what do you splurge?
After traveling to different parts of the world, I’ve learned to value experiences and friendships. In the end, you can’t take any of it with you except your memories.

Describe yourself in three words.
Geek. Geek. Geek.

Who do you admire most?
Jane Carter, co-founder of the Dairy Business Innovation Center and one of the smartest and most generous women I’ve ever known. She inspires me to be a better leader.

What should everyone try once?
Limburger. Its bark is worse than its bite.

What will you never do again?
Purposefully eat a cheese that I know has gone bad to confirm I know what bad cheese tastes like. Everyone already knows what bad cheese tastes like.

What’s most needed to do your job?
The ability to listen and to always learn. The day you think you know everything is the day you stop knowing anything.

The Fifth Annual Wisconsin Cheese Originals Festival takes place November 1–2 at Monona Terrace. Follow Jeanne Carpenter’s blog, Cheese Underground, at cheeseunderground.blogspot.com.

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