ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
It takes a lot of dedication and studying to become a CCP. That is, a certified cheese professional. Tomorrow, about 200 cheesemongers will sit for a three-hour exam in Des Moines, Iowa, hoping to become a CCP. Sales of artisan cheese in this country approach $4 billion a year, and cheese makers and sellers say that as American palates become more adventurous, they need a higher level of expertise. Iowa Public Radio's Sarah Boden reports.
SARAH BODEN, BYLINE: Mark Vergili has been studying for the Certified Cheese Professional Exam since January. He works as a cheese specialist at Whole Foods, but Vergili's still a little nervous about tomorrow's test. He says a CCP certification would make him more marketable.
MARK VERGILI: It's been very intense. And they can ask you just a wide range of things from cheese-making to milk composition to breeds of animals with cheese to, you know, cheese varieties and types. And even from importation laws to distribution. So it covers, like, the whole gamut.
BODEN: The Certified Cheese Professional Exam was first offered in 2012 at the American Cheese Society's annual conference. This year's gathering is in Des Moines. About 1,200 people will be attending. Even though the certification is only in its fifth year, it's quickly gaining acceptance.
VERGILI: It is a big deal. It is, like I said, a big feather in your cap. So in certain people's eyes it makes you more respectable, more of an authority.
(SOUNDBITE OF GOAT BLEATING)
BODEN: About an hour south of Des Moines, I meet Wendy Johnson, one of only three people in all of Iowa who has passed the CCP exam. Johnson works at a small dairy with about a dozen milking goats. The animals are kept in a sunny corral, though part of the enclosure is shaded. Riechertâs Dairy Air primarily breeds Lamancha goats because their milk is known for having a relatively high percentage of fat.
WENDY JOHNSON: Each goat is - their milk is separated and it's sent to a facility in the state. And they analyze the composition of the milk. And so a few of our goats actually have a higher butterfat than the other goats.
BODEN: Johnson hands me a hairnet and shows me around the dairy's cheese-making facility.
JOHNSON: This vat will make up to a 24-gallon batch of cheese. We actually do a pH reading to make sure that the curd is at the right pH before we cut into it.
BODEN: We discuss why American palates seem to be increasingly sophisticated. Johnson thinks it may have to do with people traveling more.
JOHNSON: We want to come back to the states; we want to find those cheeses that we had in different countries.
BODEN: Back in Des Moines, cheesemongers are already arriving and likely doing some final exam prep, reviewing questions like - why is blue cheese pierced with needles? And what's the lactation schedule for sheep? For NPR News, I'm Sarah Boden in Des Moines.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.