Friday, April 05, 2013

blessed are the cheesemakers

Not meant to be taken literally. It, of course, refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.

Except perhaps not all cheesemakers are equal.

I've read and re-read this recent article from the New York Times regarding the artisan cheese boutiques of New York.

The writer observes that 'some of the most amusing and captivating writing in the city is being produced in the service of cheese.'

For instance see the labels below scribed by Martin Johnson, manager of Gastronomie 491, a market and cafe on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

His rock'n'roll description of Calcagno, an Italian sheep cheese is particularly fetching.

“Big and floral in the very best way possible, this firm Sardinian sheep has the cool unaffected strut of Mick in his prime, Lou in middle age or Polly Jean today.”

From the marketers point of view we should note that in a commoditised market with many similar choices then a simple way to differentiate is to simply have a better story.

Particularly if the story allows the buyer to tell themselves they have made a better choice, and gives them a reason to tell other people how smart/cool/in-the-know they are.

So the cheese buying journey is certainly another one whereby standard economic theory of the c*nsumer, armed with full information, doing cost-benefit analysis and making rational decisions in their own self-interest goes right out the window.

The psychologist Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory and social action at Swarthmore College and author of (essential reading) 'The Paradox of Choice', calls this outsourcing connoisseurship.

“Many people want the patina of connoisseurship on the cheap, so they contract out the decision-making process. [this way] you get the benefits of discernment without paying the psychological price of having to make difficult choices and distinctions. You’re happy because you’ve been told what to get and don’t know any better.”

Indeed Steve Jenkins, the cheese 'expert' at Fairway Market remarks...

'The customer has no idea what he or she wants, the customer is dying to be told what they want.”.

Perhaps that's a slightly skewed view - as with social media 'experts', cheese experts display symptoms of a somewhat subjective validation - but there can no doubt that in this instance the cheese buying process is a highly social one, and one which falls into both the copying of 'experts' bucket and also the peer-copying category.

Those who are prone to outsourcing their connoisseurship of cheese will without doubt outsource their connoisseurship in many other categories.

Schwartz also notes that '...people become paragons of taste simply by taking someone else’s advice'.

Indeed, in my record shop days we routinely employed a similar tactic, and wrote detailed descriptions of the latest US or Italian imports on stickers attached to the sleeves.

('116bpm funk guitar led balearic chunky chugger peppered with JB horns, Chas'n'Dave keys and Doobie Brothers riffs - massive Pelican Club tune! - there will be a prize for the reader who can identify that one)

As the title of the post is from Life of Brian it's seems apt to finish with another much quoted excerpt.

Brian: Look, you've got it all wrong! You don't need to follow me. You don't need to follow anybody! You've got to think for yourselves! You're all individuals!

Crowd: [in unison] Yes! We're all individuals!

Brian: You're all different!

Crowd: [in unison] Yes, we are all different!

Man in crowd: I'm not...

Crowd: Shhh!

blog comments powered by Disqus