Big Cheese


Sara Arbabian, who for the past five years has owned and operated the popular cheese-focused bar The Rind in midtown, was named a certified cheese professional after passing the American Cheese Society’s rigorous exam in Denver last July. We sat down with the cheesemonger to talk about how she studied for the exam, what the certification means to her and how it will affect the way she runs her business.

Why the exam is a big deal
“It’s the only certification that’s not a college degree that is recognized and built by American Cheese Society, which is a North American organization representing all things cheese. It was designed to be as comprehensive as possible, much like a sommelier certification, covering everything from the cheesemaking process to sanitation to biology to the freight and distribution as well as the culture and history of cheese.”

How she prepped
“I did not think that I had studied enough. They give you some guidance on the study process, but there is no actual material that you can purchase and read aside from the 15 or so different books that they advise you read. I was super fortunate to be exposed to cheese for the last five years at The Rind. I delved as deep as I could into all those details in the last few months before the exam.”

How she felt on the big day
“I was so nervous going in. I so badly wanted to pass. It was very important to me to have something to reflect all the hard work I had done in my professional experience with cheese. I wanted to be able to say this is where I stand, this is where I can continue to grow.”

What was on the exam
“The questions ranged from topics like what type of mold is used for a particular type of cheese to how many months should a Comté be aged. There was one question that stumped me, and to this day I don’t know the answer to it: How much air is supposed to be in a cheese cave in ratio to the amount of solid cheese in the cave? I had no idea, so I just guessed based on visits I had made to cheese caves in the past.”

Why the certification is important to her
“I feel a sense of comfort in knowing I have a body of knowledge that’s comprehensive enough to stand on as I continue to teach my employees. It is encouraging me to pull together a little more formal curriculum for my employees and dedicate some of my enthusiasm to creating something for them, paralleling what places like Nugget and Whole Foods have for their employees. To actually have a comprehensive body of knowledge that’s accepted by the American Cheese Association, I can say I do know cheese; it’s not just my addiction.”