When signing up for a club in college, no one expects their decision to be life-changing. For Sarah Starace, president of the Binghamton University Cheese Club and a senior majoring in biology, becoming a member of the Cheese Club meant opening new doors to her future. Through the Cheese Club, Starace was introduced to careers in the food industry and learned that her passion for science could take many forms.
Starace’s love for food began early in her life. She grew up in an Italian household where food was integral to her cultural upbringing, giving her access to recipes. Additionally, Starace’s family often encouraged her to take part in the preparation of meals.
“I’m from an Italian family, so cooking is kind of important to my family structure,” Starace said. “I’ve just always cooked. My earliest memories are helping my mom chop something or put a salad together.”
Though Starace had an ongoing interest in cooking, she never considered a career in the food industry. When she first came to BU, her aspiration was to become a doctor. But in Starace’s sophomore year her plans shifted. In spring 2018, the BU Cheese Club was founded and Starace became one of its first members. That same year, Starace became a “cheese-tern,” an intern for the Cheese Club, and in fall 2018 she was elected as the events coordinator.
“During that time I did a lot of research into cheese and I looked into how cheese is made … And I ended up stumbling into the world of professional cheese,” Starace said. “It didn’t even occur to me that people were doing this … I had enjoyed and eaten and had cheese. I just didn’t think about all the background to it.”
By becoming an active member of the Cheese Club, Starace learned of the possible careers in cheese making and dairy science. She explained how food and science are interconnected and described the complex process of aging cheese.
“I am a biology major, but it is more applicable to food than people realize,” she said. “Cheese is really scientific … A lot of aged cheeses are done in facilities that are monitored, the humidity, the temperature, the ‘how many people went in there that day,’ exactly what the microflora and fauna of the room are.”
Starace became president of the Cheese Club in fall 2019. She said the club provides students with access to information on careers in food with a focus on cheese.
“Cheese club talks all the time about how to go into cheese making and cheese-mongering,” she said. “As a school on the whole, I personally would like to see more information about careers in food, especially dairy … especially considering it is one of the largest exports of our state, and we are a state school.”
Starace explored the world of food-making outside of the Cheese Club as she made products like ricotta, pasta and bread from scratch. Her family and friends encouraged her to share her cooking creations through social media outlets.
“My mom, actually, for over a year now was like … ‘You eat such nice food on a college budget and it doesn’t make sense that you’re not sharing this with more people,’” Starace said.
Starace hesitated to create a cooking account because she doubted others would be interested in her posts. But during her senior year, she realized she did not need validation from others and decided to create an Instagram account, @addgarlictotaste, for herself.
“I didn’t care if anyone cared about it,” Starace said. “It was just such a nice way for me to interact with my own cooking and actually take note of the stuff I’m doing,”
On March 1, Starace made her first post introducing her food journey to the public and posted a recipe for making carnitas. As her follower count grew, she began posting more frequently. She provided recipes for numerous meals and snacks, including tagliatelle pasta from scratch with rosemary chicken thighs, pear and pecan muffins, white bean and cauliflower soup and kaiser rolls. Her followers sent messages of thanks along with pictures of the meals they created after following her recipes.
Starace said posting recipes became her way of acknowledging her accomplishments while doing what she loved.
“I am so much more confident in other aspects of my life now because I instilled the confidence in myself in the kitchen,” she said. “The ability to make something out of what someone would call nothing.”
Cooking has also helped Starace learn valuable skills like time management. She found that cooking gave her stamina and helped her manage long hours of studying.
“It’s nice to be able to be like, ‘I have 30 minutes to work on this paper, but then at the end of those 30 minutes I get to get up and fold the dough over,’” Starace said. “It gives me a break to not be so consumed by my schoolwork.”
Starace acknowledged the challenges she faced when learning to cook. With experience and practice, she realized that cooking was not a strict process and recipes could be shaped to one’s preferences.
“People have this misconception that there are a lot of rules in cooking and a lot of right and wrong,” she said. “But once you realize that recipes are guidelines and not formulas … You really open yourself up to be more confident and comfortable in your own decision-making and your own life.”
After college, Starace plans to become a dairy scientist and make her impact on the agricultural world. She also hopes to expand her presence on social media through the use of new platforms.
“I’d really like to work on a small farm to make ethical and delicious cheese more available to more of the country and other countries so we can become more of a larger name in cheese,” she said. “In the future I’d like to work on a website or some sort of other platform where people can interact with the content.”