Ever heard of the term “cheesemonger?” This old English title for a cheese expert is rarely used in our vocabulary these days, but you might want to get more familiar with this longtime profession.
West Bloomfield native Zach Berg is a bonafide cheesemonger in our midst — and a good one, too. His love for cheese emerged in 2008, when he started working at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor.
Berg completed his education at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and then ran the cheese department for several years at a specialty grocery store in San Francisco. After immersing himself in the world of cheese, he captivated audiences with his knowledge and landed in second place at the Cheesemongers Invitational in San Francisco.
He describes being a cheesemonger as a fun combination of storytelling and food service. He credits his father, the late Richard Berg, for his natural ability to talk in front of a crowd. Richard served as a past president at Beth Shalom Synagogue in Oak Park and frequently held storytelling gigs at local synagogues and Tamarack Camps.
“I get to take the best of my father and tell stories about these wonderful food producers around the world,” Berg says.
Once he was established, he ventured back to Michigan in June 2016. He moved in with a friend in Birmingham, eager to get acquainted with the local food scene.
“The excitement and focus on food is so different than when I left,” Berg says. “I ultimately wanted to be back here.”
Since settling in back home, the still-single Berg has begun reconnecting with old friends, such as fellow Hillel Day School alum Rabbi Dan Horwitz of The Well, who recently profiled Berg as a “Nice Jewish Person” on his organization’s website. So maybe he won’t remain single too much longer.
Working On His Dream
Berg says his heart is set on opening a cheese shop in the Detroit area. He’s turned to his friends at Zingerman’s for some guidance on making a statement in the food industry.
After carefully outlining a business plan, Berg launched Berg’s Provisions LLC and began conducting market research by offering cheese pop-ups at various businesses around town. He also hosts private tasting events from time to time.
Since his very first pop-up at Gayle’s Chocolates in Royal Oak in October, Berg has generated quite the following of enthusiasts.
“From 11 to 2, the place is completely packed,” he says. “I’m usually bouncing around and full of energy.”
At his pop-ups, visitors can peruse a unique selection of cheeses, both domestic and imported. And while he can guarantee most cheese lovers will be pleased with his supply, he likes to push the boundaries by throwing in a strong bleu or stinky cheese into the mix.
To shake things up, his December pop-up included wine pairings from the experts at the House of Pure Vin in Detroit.
Berg’s Provisions recently hosted another pop-up at Gayle’s Chocolates. On this brisk Saturday morning, crowds of people stood in line to sample a flavorful pairing of Gayle’s Fit and Fruity bark, a rich dark chocolate with dehydrated fruits, with bites of Red Dragon, a mustard-based cheese hailing from England.
This was Berg’s third pop-up there, and he hopes to continue running them monthly. Plus, his pop-ups benefit Gayle’s, too. During Berg’s Provisions events, chocolate sales generally increase by 25 percent.
When he’s not filling Gayle’s shelves with 120 pounds of cheese, he keeps busy as a full-time employee there.
Berg’s passionate personality and years of experience in management led to his new title as director of operations and staff development at Gayle’s.
When he has a bit of down time, you can be sure to find him indulging in a good sheep’s milk cheese from the Pyrenees or a taste of Harbison, a soft-ripened cheese with a spruce tree bark rind from Jasper Hills Farm in Wisconsin.
On any given day, you can spot Berg immersing himself in the booming restaurant scene in Detroit, eager to provide a specialty market for local chefs. “It’d be great if restaurants that want to have a cheese tray had somewhere to go that’s not a big name,” he says.
Berg never stops dreaming big. Even with just a handful of pop-ups under his belt, he is already establishing a name for himself as the go-to cheese guy in Metro Detroit.
For the next cheese pop-up, follow Berg on Instagram @mobileberg or visit his Facebook page, “Berg’s Provisions.”