Susan Phipps was in an Atlanta cheese shop a year ago when she became inspired. "Cheese was stacked from floor to ceiling. My jaw dropped. I couldn't speak for several minutes."
Phipps decided to open her own place. Cheese Culture will have a soft opening this weekend. It will offer cheeses (duh), charcuterie, fancy olive oils, honey, wine,
and specialty food items. Those looking for a meal rather than a graze
can order paninis, cold sandwiches, salads, eventually coffee, and brunch
geared toward gastronomes.
So how do you prepare to open a cheese shop?
Aside from quitting her day job as an event planner for Marine Max and
cashing in her 401K to invest in the place, Phipps trekked to The Cheese School of San Francisco for boot camp. She also sent an email to Steve Jenkins, aka "The King of Cheese" and architect for the cheese section in New York's Fairway Market, who hooked her up with David Grotenstein, a cheese consultant who sits on the board of the American Cheese Society.
Grotenstein rounded out Phipps knowledge and guided her on how much
cheese to carry, what things cost, accompanying items, hours, and
He also directed her toward a trend. "American artisanal cheeses are the
hottest selling specialty items right now," said Brooklyn-based
Grotenstein, who was in-house during Clean Plate Charlie's visit. Among
those for sale at Cheese Culture is bandage-wrapped cheddar, which allows
cheese to dry and breathe, creating a cheddar with the texture of a
Parmigiano- Reggiano that's earthier and nuttier than traditional vacuum packed
cheddar. The technique, says Grotenstein, is so new The American Cheese
Society had to create a category for it.
"American cheese makers had been imitating European icons," he said.
"Over the last five or ten years, American cheese makers are pioneering.
There are brand new cheeses on the market with brand new names."
Though California and Wisconsin are at the forefront of US cheese
making, it's a trend across the country. Even in Florida. Phipps said
she will carry goat cheese from a farmer south of Miami as well as
mozzarella made locally.
If you want to get all fancy, the most expensive cheeses in the shop are not French. It's Rogue River Blue-
a raw milk seasonal cheese from Oregon that's wrapped in grape leaves
macerated in pear brandy that won the "Best in Show" category at the
2011 American Cheese Society judging.
The damage? 45 bucks a pound.
Aside from curds and whey, food nerds will relish four kinds of
mustards, a half dozen olive oils, jams, and meat: prosciutto,
mortadella, pancetta, salami, speck, and coppa to name a few. Put it all
together and you've got paninis ($10) such as The Italian, layered with
speck, Genoa salami, aged provolone, Black Forest ham, and olive
tepanade on Gran Forno crusty bread. Among cold sandwiches ($9) is the
Napa Valley Picnic, made with burrata (yum), tomato, sundried pesto, and
basil on cibatta. For lighter fare (kind of) there's a slew of salads,
like the Great Pear, made with baby greens, Point Reyes blue cheese,
pear, Granny Smith slices, and caramelized walnuts ($9).
Phipps is in the process of culling a boutique wine collection from old
and new world vineyards. She's also planning a selection of classes such as cheese 101, and pairings with wine or beer. She'll launch with one a month and eventually offer several a week.
Susan Phipps' Cheese Culture will be open seven days a week from 11 a.m.
to 9 p.m. weekdays, 11 p.m. weekends. The official debut is next
week, but cheeseheads are encouraged to drop in over the weekend.