California Haz Cheez!

I want to go to California and eat cheese. From the LA Times:

The benchmark for California cheese is higher than ever in a market that finally has caught up with a few pioneers who were way ahead of the curve. Both the flavors and types of cheeses are constantly evolving. From the highest end (an elegant triple crème made with cow’s milk crème fraîche stirred into fresh goat’s milk curds) to the more accessible (a creamy farmhouse sheep’s milk cheese drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt and cracked black pepper or a buttery, rich, handmade cheddar) — cheese-wise, probably no other state has as much to offer. California now has the most artisan cheese producers in the country, according to the recently published “Atlas of American Cheese.”

I miss the fab cheeses I used to eat when I lived in Europe…especially when I was traveling around Switzerland. Actually, Philly is a pretty good city for cheese. I just don’t go downtown to the fancy cheese shops very often, or drive over to the ritzy suburb and its fancy cheese shop very often. There’s Wegman’s, but it’s a good half hour from my house. Sigh.
Anyway, sounds like they’re having fun out there making all that cheese:

Cheese maker Pascal Destandau might have a bit of mad scientist in him. “He has endless envelopes of cultures,” says his partner, Eric Smith, referring to the lactic bacteria, yeasts and molds that are added to the curds to promote ripening, or aging.

The mad scientist of cheese.
David at The World’s Fair asked a little while ago

  1. What’s your current scientific specialty?
  2. Were you originally pursuing a different academic course? If so, what was it?
  3. Do you happen to wish you were involved in another scientific field? If so, what one?

Nearly every day there’s a new scientific specialty I think of that I wish I were involved in. Science is so tasty! Today I wish I were a mad scientist of cheese.
Other wishes on other days, in no particular order, and not necessarily comprehensive:
Mechanical engineer
Agricultural engineer
Civil Engineer
Geologist
Geographer
Philosopher of Science/Science, Technology, & Society studies
Mathematician
Forester
So, originally I started out as an environmental engineer, because I knew nothing about engineering, but I liked trees, and I vaguely thought “environmental” might have something to do with that. I was somewhat wrong. Then I switched to nuclear engineering. Then engineering science, which was listed as an honors major, but worked nicely for me since I couldn’t make up my mind, and it allowed for my “patchwork quilt” undergrad degree. The patchwork quilt, while laughed at by some of my classmates, turned out to be an excellent preparation for graduate work in NMR imaging research, which I did in a nuclear engineering department. And the NMR imaging research is what gave me, as an engineer, the itch to learn biology, biochemistry, molecular biology – all that fun stuff. Mind you I wouldn’t compare myself to someone who trained for years in those fields but I know enough to sing along. So eventually I landed, for the PhD, in biomedical engineering, but even the biomed engineers at Duke weren’t entirely happy about claiming me. Nor did the biochemists want me. There should have been a department of NMRologists, or patchworkologists where I could have happily resided, but there wasn’t. This is one of the three main reasons I am not in academia. People love to talk about interdisciplinarity but everyone wants to hire people who can firmly identify themselves as belonging to a particular discipline. (The other two reasons are gender politics crapola and general exploitative nature of lab hierarchies and grant funding system.)
Well, maybe if I’d had better mentoring and and/or more political mentors, I’d still be in research science. I had an excellent boss who taught me so much about science – he was awesome! – but he was not a political animal at all. I had one other boss who was the opposite – all politics, no science, and no time for me. A third boss had what I think was a good mix of both, and I might have flourished with him, but most sadly he died unexpectedly and far too early in his life.
What’s my current scientific specialty? Writing about gender in science. If I were healthy, I’d be working in the pharmaceutical industry, probably in medical writing. I really enjoyed that work and if you are considering a caeer outside academe, I encourage you to look into that as an option. I miss my work. Sometimes people tell me they “envy me” all my “free time”. Beyond the stupidity of envying someone who suffers from chronic migraines, I think some people just don’t realize how important work can be to you when it is work you choose, work that is satisfying and fulfilling, work that brings intrinsic as well as extrinsic rewards. I miss knowing myself as a working individual. If you enjoy your work, I’m glad for you, and I hope you will take time to appreciate it now and then. There are so many people who toil at work they hate, and others who can’t work but wish they could.

  1. Gork
    July 11, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    I moved from Appalachia to southern California for reasons unrelated to cheese, but since I’ve been here I’ve lost my taste for milk. It just doesn’t stack up to cheese. The many varieties of fresh cheese are okay, but I favor the veined cheeses and aged cheeses — the moldies and oldies. A little bit of bleu or gorgonzola turns bland veggies into an actual dish. Now that I think of it, a little tasty cheese lends depth to chicken or fish.
    I’m quitting now, I’m making myself hungry, and there is cheese in the fridge.

  2. bsci
    July 11, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Interesting comments about your past education experiences. I was “lucky” enough to fall into biomedical engineering from the beginning by checking in interest box on my undergrad applications without knowing what it was. It turns out that it’s an excuse to a great amount of interdisiplinary learning across biology and engineering fields. Still the employment thing is an issue.
    At least in academia it seems everyone wants a biomed engineer around, but no one wants to hire them as faculty (and the specialties BioE departments are so fragmented by school that few spot exist for any specific subspeciality. For those directly using the degrees that leaves industry, perpetual postdocs, or lab support positions (some of which can be very stable and intellectually stimulating). Some BioE people I know have gone into policy work and patent writing. (many undergrad BioE’s go to med school)
    There’s definitely a lack of good data on where BioE’s end up. Just earlier today I was thinking if it would be possible to take sample years from the big undergrad and grad biomedical engineering programs from 10 years ago and try to track down all the graduates to see what they ended up doing. I suspect the results would be very interesting. Right now I have no free time, but perhaps this is something that would interest you in your migraine-induced luxury vacation time.

  3. blf
    July 12, 2007 at 4:40 am

    Yea, one of things I really like about living in France is the cheese. Er, cheeses. Lots and lots of cheeses. More different cheeses, it’s said, than days in a year…
    A 30-second walk from my front door brings me to the first cheese shop (which also happens to be one of the better ones); another minute and I’ve a selection of two more at the indoor market. Then it’s a matter of deciding which way to walk–to the organic outdoor market with several cheese stalls, or to the other indoor market, or to one of the other shops, or get on my bicycle or the train and explore a nearby village, or…
    And then there’s the wine. And the gir–er, attractive people of the other sex. And now’s about time to have lunch…

  4. blf
    July 12, 2007 at 4:40 am

    Yea, one of things I really like about living in France is the cheese. Er, cheeses. Lots and lots of cheeses. More different cheeses, it’s said, than days in a year…
    A 30-second walk from my front door brings me to the first cheese shop (which also happens to be one of the better ones); another minute and I’ve a selection of two more at the indoor market. Then it’s a matter of deciding which way to walk–to the organic outdoor market with several cheese stalls, or to the other indoor market, or to one of the other shops, or get on my bicycle or the train and explore a nearby village, or…
    And then there’s the wine. And the gir–er, attractive people of the other sex. And now’s about time to have lunch…

  5. July 12, 2007 at 5:30 pm

    Here’s an interesting First Person piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education, by a woman in the biological sciences who purposely set out to give her self as much breadth as depth in her graduate education…and now is experiencing regrets as it comes job search time in the last year of her postdoc.

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