AUSTIN, TEXAS (OCT. 10, 2023) – After months of training and educational trips, 32 Whole Foods Market team members joined the retailer’s team of Certified Cheese Professionals (CCPs). To date, Whole Foods Market has supported the development of more than 300 team member CCPs out of more than 1,000 worldwide, making it the largest employer of CCPs globally.
The retailer’s newest CCPs, who completed the American Cheese Society’s July exam in Des Moines, Iowa, represent two countries, 18 U.S. states and 29 stores. The ACS’ final exam tests cheesemongers on elements of cheese production, from inception to consumption. Topic areas include storage and handling, nutrition, distribution, raw materials, the ripening and making processes, and cheese varieties.
“We are incredibly proud to welcome 32 new CCPs to our growing ranks at Whole Foods Market as we continue to champion and celebrate this program as well as all our amazing apprentice programs,” said Cathy Strange, Whole Foods Market’s new Ambassador of Food Culture and advisor for the retailer’s expanding collection of apprentice programs, including CCPs, Butcher Apprentice Program and the recently added Bakery Decorator Apprentice Program. “The American Cheese Society’s CCP designation is the crème de la crème for cheese professionals, and it’s an incredible asset not only for our team but also for our customers, who trust Whole Foods Market to offer the highest quality products and serve as a resource in specialty categories from cheese to wine and beyond.”
Prior to taking the CCP exam, Whole Foods Market applicants participate in a comprehensive six-month training and mentorship program. In addition to hundreds of hours of self-guided studies, the preparation process includes weekly webinars and educational trips led by the retailer’s specialty team and other cheese industry experts. This year, the team traveled to Wisconsin and worked closely with the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research to participate in hands-on training experience which included in-the-field visits to farms and supplier facilities, as well as classroom-style lectures.
“Congratulations to our passionate cheesemongers on this incredible accomplishment,” said Kim Dunn, Whole Foods Market’s Senior Category Merchant over Specialty Cheese and CCP program lead. “As a CCP myself, I can attest to the level of commitment it takes to pass this exam and am thrilled with the results of our dedicated team members.”
The American Cheese Society’s CCP program began in 2012, and since then, Whole Foods Market has supported hundreds of team members’ certification. The certification is often described as a test akin to a sommelier certification, with all recipients truly being curd connoisseurs. In 2018, the ACS began offering a Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator® Exam; seven Whole Foods Market team members passed that exam this year as well.
“Whole Foods Market’s core value of promoting team member growth and happiness aligns perfectly with ACS’s mission,” said Mike Koch, Board Chair of the American Cheese Society. “The team at Whole Foods Market has been a loyal partner of ours from the beginning, and we love that the ACS Certified Cheese Professional exam remains valuable to both their team members and customers year after year.”
In addition to the growing number of CCPs in the specialty department, Whole Foods Market recently launched a Bakery Decorator Apprentice Program where team members can learn the art of cake decorating under skilled instructors. Additionally, Whole Foods Market has enhanced its Butcher Apprentice Program to support all store team members interested in learning the art of butchery and continue to honor an age-old profession.
At Whole Foods Market, cheese experts ensure that stores offer a diverse selection of the highest quality cheeses, all of which are free of rBST, artificial flavors, colors and preservatives. Each store offers hundreds of different types of cheese sourced from artisan cheesemakers around the world as well as several varieties from the store’s local community.