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Monday, January 29, 2007

Freelance Cheese

In July of 2006 I stopped working for anyone as a regular employee and embarked upon a career as a freelance cheesemonger. Currently, my biggest client is Zabar's Cheese Department, and I am very happy about that. I started working for them as a regular, full-time employee last January.

In half-a-year, I accomplished a lot.
  • I created a database of all their cheeses; each cheese has such information as country of origin, cheesemaker, type of milk used, whether it's kosher or organic, and a full description of the cheese, for use on point-of-sale signs or on the Website. I also made a database and catalogued all of the olives for the department's olive bar.
  • I taught a series of cheese classes to the public, and constantly received excellent feedback.
  • I worked with the very talented manager, Olga Dominguez, to create useful marketing materials and some new cheese collections for the Website and catalog.
  • I started developing a training program for the department's supervisors.
  • When new cheeses (or cheeses brought by vendors for consideration) arrived, Olga would have me try them and give my opinion on whether we should carry them, or continue carrying them.
  • I redesigned and standardized the point-of-sale signs for the cheese counter, the (self-serve) cheese cases, and the olive bar.
I got hired at this job to only write descriptions of cheeses for the Website, and I think the hiring team thought it would take me a long enough time to do that to justify long-term full-time employment, but I finished that project in a matter of weeks! So I had to figure out ways to keep my job, and that involved taking a look at the department and seeing where I could make improvements, whether that meant redoing something or adding something new.

It was a challenge for me, but I was having a lot of fun with it. Olga was (and is) very receptive to my ideas. While she didn't go for every single one of them, she always listened and respectfully offered feedback. She's been running this department for the better part of thirty years, so her feedback means a lot to me.

Anyway, although I was having fun, I started getting a little, um... edgy. As much as I am enthusiastic, energetic and passionate about cheese, and I am always looking for more work to give myself (crazy, I know), I am not the best employee. I don't like regular schedules and I set standards for myself and others that usually really piss other people off, especially the standards I set for them. I'm not saying I'm right or I am proud of my pig-headedness, but I know myself well enough to know how much of a fascist I can be. And the schedule thing really bugs me. Really.

I wanted to see if I couldn't take my act on the road a bit. But I didn't want to lose my relationship with Olga and Zabar's. I'd already enjoyed the opportunity to work with such an esteemed and established place, and to stretch the boundaries of my professional experience and expertise, and I knew there was way more potential there.

But I fretted over the right way to introduce this topic to Olga.

Well, she did it for me. One day she sat me down and asked me what I thought about my future with Zabar's. Turns out she was not sure she could justify keeping me full-time, because even though I had contributed a lot to the department, my pay rate was pretty high to keep me full-time. She didn't want to let me go completely because she appreciates my knowledge and passion for cheese.


I told her what I had been thinking and we agreed I would continue working with her, but on a regular, yet freelance basis.

I will have my freedom but still enjoy the benefits of working with Zabar's.

So that was last July, and so far it's working out well.