I’m reading The Cheese and I by Matt Feroze. It’s the story of a young graduate who develops a love of cheese and moves to France to pursue his dream to be a master cheesemonger …successfully as it turns out. He writes as if this was his real destiny and his passion is obvious. He took risks and was rewarded. At no point did he expect to make his fortune out of it but he knew it would make him deeply satisfied and would give him the lifestyle he dreamt about.
When I started this blog I wanted my credentials to be clear. I’m no expert on food and I’m not a gifted chef. I’m not even a particularly successful cook. I’m interested in food and I feel it has an immense value and influence that we have lost track of in Britain. I’m not passionate about it – I don’t march or protest and I certainly don’t take risks over it. I do admire and respect people who do commit in that way though.
Feroze went and lived in France with a goats’ cheese maker on a remote farm and then emigrated with his girlfriend to be close to the cheese culture.
So what separates Matt Feroze, and hundreds like him, from the rest of us? It begins with a love and this can come from anywhere. I grew up with people who have religion and music in their lives. I believe they could never imagine being without either of them – they as natural as breathing. While I had piano lessons and went to church neither of them touched me in a way that it clearly touched them. This isn’t about talent (that is a separate but important component). Without talent the people who are musical or religious enjoy them in their own way without ever aspiring to being a concert performer or entering the religious ‘profession’.
Talent is important. When I was younger I was good at art – I could draw and paint pretty well to the extent that I could represent what was set out in front of me reasonably accurately on paper – I had a very draughtsmanlike approach. I also played a lot of football at school and, while being competent, I marveled at just how good some of my peers were at a very young age. Of course there are millions of people with talent. There are Chinese factories tipping out Old Masters by the dozen and parks throughout Europe, beaches in South America and wasteland in Africa are heaving with people kicking balls. I would probably have enjoyed taking my talent a further step but I didn’t have the courage of my convictions – it didn’t matter enough to me. Matt Feroze never hinted at a lifelong ‘cheese ability’ however.
Effort is vital. Arnold Palmer dismissed people suggesting he was lucky with the legendary “the more I practise, the luckier I get”. The England footballer Alan Ball told how he would spend hours trying to chip a football onto a chair and head one against a wall until his forehead bled. In the food world the amateur gets glimpses of what hard work a kitchen can be when Masterchef puts contestants on trial. The hours, the intensity, the heat and the noise are not for the faint-hearted. I can’t imagine thriving on that environment and wanting to spend the rest of my working life there. But many do. Feroze put up with lots of discomfort – smelling of goats, struggling to develop his French in an unforgiving environment and endlessly turning and washing cheeses. He bought and tasted hundreds of examples and scoured local shops and markets. He put in the hard yards to earn the right to be successful.
I am fully aware I am a coward. This is a hobby for me and the nearest I am likely to get to the food industry. I am a fan of all who make, care about, experiment and value good quality food. Matt Feroze may make more money from his book than he makes from his cheese but he is clearly a very happy man. And he deserves to be.
Oh, and I’d really recommend the book which is well written, hugely informative, conveys his passion and is full of self-deprecating warmth.