Affineur

I am keen to explore diverse contexts to develop my understanding of teaching, learning and coaching. Many of my posts over the last two years have looked at the relationships between performing arts and sport.

In this post I draw upon a different context for my exploration of expertise. I do so from the wonderful world of cheese via the ABC’s Cheese Slices program from the Massive Central And The Auverge. In that program I learned about Herve Mons and the role of the affineur.

Jennifer Meier points out that:

Many French cheesemakers make cheese, then pass it along to Affineurs like Herve Mons who handle the ageing process. Affineurs guide cheese along as it matures in caves or ageing rooms, ripening the cheese to its peak flavor and texture.

Alison Brien worked with Herve Mons for a month. In her post about her experience in France, she notes that:

An affineur is a person who ripens and matures cheese; who has an intimate understanding of the production and life cycle of different cheeses and nurtures each cheese to perfection in carefully controlled environments. It is a specialised field requiring knowledge of cheese-making techniques and AOC regulations, animal health, grazing pastures, the seasons, microbiology, “cave dynamics” such as air flow and humidity, the sensory attributes of cheese and changing consumer trends.

Herve Mons, Alison reports:

has just completed work on a new maturation facility that can accommodate around 90 tonnes of cheese – and yes, it will all be turned by hand! The site is an old railway tunnel which has been transformed into a massive cheese cellar. Because the tunnel passes through a hill, it is a perfectly insulated environment for maturing cheeses. I was lucky enough to work in the tunnel for one day, turning my way through almost one tonne of cheese over 12 hours.

Alison spent a lot of her time in the other Mons facility known as “the caves”:

a series of underground rooms specially designed for maturing different cheeses. Each cave has natural earth and stone floors which are important elements in controlling the temperature and humidity. The affinage team consisted of six people, managed by Eric Meredith – an American with as much energy and passion for cheese as Herve.

She recalls that:

We would spend our days receiving young cheeses and sorting them according to their level of ripeness, then the cheeses would go into different caves depending on their needs. We would also tend to the cheeses already maturing in the caves, turning them, brushing them, patting down the mould or washing them with special solutions to encourage favourable mould growth on the surface. Each cheese receives quite a bit of personalised attention – it’s a bit like a cheese nursery.

What I found fascinating about these descriptions of the science and art of cheese maturation and finishing is how closely the skills of the affineur reflect the characteristics of coaches of young and maturing athletes.

As we move with more confidence to personal training approaches the more likely we are to see the ability to modulate training environments as a companion to affinage. Perhaps the two worlds would collide if any team decided to use the services of Alison Brien’s Cheeseboardroom … or explored the insights Liz Thorpe shares about Herve.

Photo Credits

Persille de Malzieu

The cheesemonger did not say cheese

Getting Coaching

Understanding stories, connecting messages

Introduction

On 26 July the New Scientist carried news of research by Greg Stephens, Lauren Silbert and  Uri Hasson at Princeton University. New Scientist noted that “There’s now scientific backing for the old adage that when two people “click” in conversation, they have a meeting of minds. The evidence comes from fMRI scans of 11 people’s brains as they listened to a woman recounting a story.”

Research Findings

The abstract of the research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy indicates that:

Verbal communication is a joint activity; however, speech production and comprehension have primarily been analyzed as independent processes within the boundaries of individual brains. Here, we applied fMRI to record brain activity from both speakers and listeners during natural verbal communication. We used the speaker’s spatiotemporal brain activity to model listeners’ brain activity and found that the speaker’s activity is spatially and temporally coupled with the listener’s activity. This coupling vanishes when participants fail to communicate.

The scans showed that:

  • the listeners’ brain patterns tracked those of the storyteller almost exactly…
  • though trailed 1 to 3 seconds behind. But in some listeners …
  • brain patterns even preceded those of the storyteller.

The article quoted Uri:

“We found that the participants’ brains became intimately coupled during the course of the ‘conversation’, with the responses in the listener’s brain mirroring those in the speaker’s”. Listeners with the best overlap were also judged to be the best at retelling the tale. Uri noted that “The more similar our brain patterns during a conversation, the better we understand each other”.

Take Home


The Princeton research has some fascinating insights to share with coaches and teachers. In a mixed ability group it is interesting to note how each member of the group anticipates, stays with or misses a message.

Douglas Fields in his blog post about the research notes that:

Interestingly, in part of the prefrontal cortex in the listener’s brain, the researchers found that neural activity preceded the activity that was about to occur in the speaker’s brain. This only happened when the speaker was fully comprehending the story and anticipating what the speaker would say next.

The Princeton researchers found that there was no match between the brain patterns of the storyteller and the listeners, when they heard the same story in Russian, which they could not understand. Perhaps this is the equivalent of saying “They just did not get it.”

Photo Credits

Story Time at the North Library

Getting Coaching