Gordonzola - The Cheese Nun

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July 5th, 2006


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08:02 pm - The Cheese Nun
For the last few months, customers have occasionally asked if that was me they saw in the Cheese Nun movie. I had no idea really. Sister Noella and I have exchanged a few words, mostly involving her asking what I wanted from the bar at the SF Cheese Conference Festival of Cheese, but none memorable enough to be captured on film for a PBS documentary. I do truly appreciate her work as a cheese bio chemist and resource to traditional cheesemakers.

No one asked me what I thought though, so I knew if I was there it would be in a non-speaking, background role. I rented the movie last night and sure enough, there I am. About five minutes before the end, during the filming of the Festival of Cheese in Louisville Kentucky, they focus on some woman eating cheese. She backs up and there I am taking notes on the cheese I’m eating. I’m in my blue bowling shirt that Gary Fembot bought for me at a thrift store because "Gordon" is stitched on the front. Full frame baby!

It was a bittersweet couple of minutes because, of course, I know lots of the people in those scenes. The reason it was bittersweet is because, just before my cameo, the cheesemakers they show looking at their cheese through Sister Noella’s microscope a very sweet couple who went out of business last year. They made a great cheese that won best in its category the first year they entered it. They were wide-eyed and sweet when I first met them, avoiding all the pretentiousness that the cheese conference can bring out.

Unfortunately, the combination of a recall and a national retail chain contract put them out of business. The recall was for listeria. A test on a cheese came back positive and they had to recall and destroy everything in their aging rooms despite the fact that even though they did many, many more tests they never found another cheese that tested positive or the "source" of the contamination. A bad test? Compromised at the lab? An incredibly localized problem? No one knows. Certainly there were no reported ill effects.

As for the contract, I don’t know the specifics. But those contracts have brought many cheesemakers to the brink of bankruptcy. Basically, what can happen is this: a place like Costco or TJ’s makes an offer on someone’s cheese at a certain price. Many cheesemakers have a problem with quantity of scale so the increased production is a godsend even if they are selling some of that product cheaper. The problem comes in when dairies expand their facilities to meet that increased demand. A year later, with the dairies now carrying a much bigger load of debt on their larger production facilities, the chain comes back with an offer that is less per pound and it’s take it or leave it. Especially in these years of rapidly increased utility and transportation costs, neither option is sustainable for long if they’ve overextended themselves..

One or the other they probably could have survived, but both things in the same year put them under.

In the movie, however, they are just so excited to be checking out the microscopic activity in their product. It’s, pardon the not-actually-a-pun, infectious. It’s no wonder the film maker used that image in the film because watching Sister Noella show them their own cheese in a brand new way was exciting. It really brought home both the value of someone like Sister Noella and the hunger there is among small-scale cheesemakers for the knowledge to make their cheese better and better.

It was fun to see that cheese couple still so idealistic and excited, before the business bit them in the butt.
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Comments:


From:knowyermonkey
Date:July 6th, 2006 03:12 am (UTC)
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i have never heard of this Cheese Nun Movie
is it a good rental or will it make me feel bloated?
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 6th, 2006 05:17 am (UTC)
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it's a PBS documentary. The nun stuff dragged a bit for me. but I geeked out on the cheese mold.
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From:sarahshevett
Date:July 6th, 2006 04:02 am (UTC)

from the wilderness...

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Damn blockbuster doesn't carry it.
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 6th, 2006 05:18 am (UTC)

Re: from the wilderness...

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I got it from netflix.
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From:nationofsheep
Date:July 6th, 2006 06:52 am (UTC)
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That's so fascinating. My brother has a business and they spent years trying to get into Wal-Mart and finally did. But the problem they were having getting their products into Wal-Mart was that Wal-Mart makes an estimate about how many of whatever it is you have that they want, and if that number is greater than a certain percentage of your overall business, they won't order from you. This is a public relations thing apparently and they may have stopped caring in recent years because their public relations suck anyway. But the idea was that they wouldn't be seen as putting a company out of business if they cancelled the contract or low balled the next year's line.
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 6th, 2006 04:26 pm (UTC)
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Like I said, I don't know all the details. Hopefully there will be a presentation about this at next March's local cheese conference (even though these are not local cheesemakers) which is about sustainablity and growth. And while this contributed, without the other stuff they could have survived. (And it wasn't WalMart in this case)
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From:rednfiery
Date:July 6th, 2006 06:54 am (UTC)
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aw, feeling sympathy for the cheese couple who were dropped from a great height by a foul combination of bad luck and good ol' american big business....
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 6th, 2006 04:27 pm (UTC)
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I miss them already!
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From:chitinous
Date:July 6th, 2006 09:05 am (UTC)

Autograph, mayhap?

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Please remember the little people now that you're all famous and everything.
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 6th, 2006 04:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Autograph, mayhap?

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yes, my 5 second, uncredited, non-speaking appearance may make me forget all the little people.

Who are you again?
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From:defenestr8r
Date:July 6th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
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i think this is the best description yet of why you don't like places like TJ's.

but now that i (we?) are all broken hearted about the sweet cheese couple, can you send one of your cheese minions out to see if there is a happy ending and they are making cheese for someone else or something? i feel all... attached.

all praise the cheese nun!
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From:tyrsalvia
Date:July 7th, 2006 05:43 am (UTC)
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Hey, this reminds me of you!
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From:nunofthat
Date:July 7th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the cheese nun scoop!

And ohmygod! This just in! Today I was encouraged to become an apprentice to a local cheesemaking family! And it is so so so tempting. So we'll see. If I ever become a cheese nun, you will totally get more than 5 minutes in my movie.
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 7th, 2006 06:58 pm (UTC)
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ha. which family?

and to be clear, I didn't have five minutes, I was in the movie about 5 minutes before the end. I had about 5-10 seconds.
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From:aanor
Date:July 7th, 2006 08:50 pm (UTC)
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Hello. I posted in SFBayArea asking for resources/advice about communal business ownership options. Someone referred me to you, since you work in a co-op business. Sorry to post this semi-randomly as a "response" since it isn't really a response to your entry. Below is the text of my original post. I'd apreciate your input.

resources/guidence for communal business ownership?
My parents own a small business, and they are now starting to think about retirement. They are interested in giving back to thier employees by setting up some type of communal ownership system, be it profit sharing, a co-op, or something in between, they don't really know. They have no formal business training, and just have no idea how to go about this or what their options are. I figure there have to be some good resources out there in the Bay Area of all places, whether its some type of consultant or a usefull guide book. Any suggestions are greatly apreciated.
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 7th, 2006 09:26 pm (UTC)
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call me and we can discuss specifics. This is actually one of my jobs here.

415 863-0620 x324
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From:aanor
Date:July 7th, 2006 09:38 pm (UTC)
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Thanks so much. Can I actually give this # to my parents to call and talk to you? I should mention they live in Hawaii. There just aren't a lot of resources for alternative business models like this where they live, and since I live here in Berkeley where there are a lot of co-ops and the like, I am trying to help them out by getting them some information.
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From:gordonzola
Date:July 8th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
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you know what? send me your e-mail. I assumed their business was here, and there's a better person to talk to if its not. He's a co-op lawyer, but I'm sure he will give 'em some basics for free.

Besides being a good thing, one of the big benefits to selling to the workers of a business is that there is no capital gains tax. I don't know however, how corporations are classified in hawaii so it may make a difference as to how the new business is organized. We're a California Corporation incorporated as a Worker-Owned Cooperative but I do not know if that category exists there, for example.

my e-mail is gordonzola at livejournal.com
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From:daisygrl
Date:August 12th, 2009 04:33 am (UTC)
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Heh! Hey, I am watching The Cheese Nun right now and was looking for a link for it and found your LJ in the google search. 6 degrees...well, really just a couple. Cool, I will look for you at the end.

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