Svetlana Kukharchuk, owner of The Cheese Lady shop at 3 Court Street in Haddington, has written The Cheese Connoisseur's Handbook. “The book was really a labour of love and came from my passion for cheese and a desire to share with people what I've learned about it so far, after over 15 years in the fine cheese industry”. The below extract covers her journey to becoming a cheese lover.
£12.99, Rethink Press
“I grew up in Russia, in a culture where most women, desperate to look thin, were caught up in a desperate cycle of bingeing and starving. Not surprisingly, I believed that any ounce of weight on my bones was unattractive and that you had to be slim to be beautiful. This outlook was ingrained into me and stayed with me for the majority of my teenage years. It resulted in an eating disorder and obsession with my looks and weight until I was given a stark wake-up call in my early twenties by an honest doctor who told me that I would die prematurely if I carried on the same way. This started my transformation and evolution to where I am today.
I immersed myself in studying nutrition. The newly gained knowledge gave me the power to make educated and better decisions. The main learning points were that food had to be natural, unadulterated and ideally not processed and had to be enjoyed in balance - not too much but not too little. This opened my eyes and made food choices much easier. Today I choose real natural foods, whereas anything marketed by McDonald’s or similar businesses has no appeal to me. I have about as much desire to consume anything from the Golden Arches as I do to eat my own shoe.
A few years after I started my nutritional transformation, I found myself living and working in one of the greatest cities in the world - New York City. Fresh out of university in Pennsylvania, I moved to New York to look for a ‘proper job’, which I thought was going to be in something to do with international relations (my major at university), but instead I fell in love with cheese.
This vibrant and continuously buzzing city seduced me with the outstanding quality of its food choices. Fresh hand-stretched mozzarella? You got it! Crunchy artisan baguettes? No problem! Hand-crafted perfectly balanced chocolates? Bien sur! Myriads of scrumptious farmhouse cheese? Absolutely. Needless to say, New York was the best place to be a foodie and go deep on any food my heart desired.
My first job was as a chocolate cafe deputy manager at the Saks Fifth Avenue department store. One day my boss thought I should learn more about chocolate at the Fancy Food Show, the biggest food show in the United States, and that’s where I discovered fine cheese. Not cheese as I knew it from my childhood or even supermarkets in Pennsylvania - rubbery and bland - but colourful, aromatic and lingering. I could not believe the variety of flavours, textures and aromas that came from something as simple as milk. I immediately wanted to know more”.