For the industry to attract diverse talent, James believes the key is to create better access, and that starts with the basics. In 2019, she launched her cheese enthusiast brand Own your funkwhich offers tastings and training in Baltimore, Maryland and New York, as well as stores in New England.
James is also Professor of Curriculum Development for the Cheese Culture Coalition (CCC), a non-profit organization founded in 2020 by Roberts, a black cheesemaker whose love for cheese was sparked eight years ago while standing behind the cheese counter at Whole Foods Market. In 2017, she became a certified cheese professional, then worked on a farm in central Texas and taught cheese classes at Antonelli’s, a boutique in Austin.
During his career, Roberts, like James, was often the only person of color at his job or attending conferences. “I wanted answers about why I couldn’t find dark cheesemakers and why people who looked like me were barely represented in the industry I love. Nobody could answer any of my questions,” says Roberts. “I knew that to make a difference, I had to start by making cheese accessible to marginalized communities, so I created CCC to increase equity in cheese through education.”
The coalition’s cheese education program targets school-age school settings located in underrepresented communities. Volunteers and representatives come directly to students to teach them about cheese and deepen their understanding of the industry and how they can get involved in a way that will lead to a possible career.
“I’m glad we can bring to light racial disparities that some in cheese never thought of and people want to help, but it’s a lot of pressure that I didn’t expect,” he said. -she explains. “Especially when the onus shouldn’t be on us as Black, Indigenous and other people of color to change a system we didn’t create and in which we have little power or influence.”