Gourmet Retailer Names Top Cheese Shops
In these days where everyone is increasingly buying more and more online, The Gourmet Retailer is honoring some of the top cheese shops in the U.S. market. Let’s face it, there’s no substitute for a reliable cheesemonger who can present the perfect cheese, at its prime, and suggest a pairing or two that will wow the taste buds. Below is our list of favorite independent cheese retailers who continue to innovate. They serve their customers stellar cheeses with a smile, provide a top-notch selection and offer an inviting atmosphere and educational events.
Antonelli’s Cheese Shop
Back in 2010, John and Kendall Antonelli followed their passion for cheese and opened Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Austin, Texas.
These days, the husband- and-wife team, along with their knowledgeable staff, find themselves at the heart of Austin’s food scene, running a thriving retail and wholesale business out of a 700-square-foot retail store and 1,400-square-foot Cheese House for classes and private events.
The Cheese Board Collective
The Cheese Board opened as a small cheese store in 1967. Two years later, the two original owners sold their business to their employees and created a 100 percent worker-owned business of which they remained a part. The transition to a worker-owned and -operated cooperative relied upon a shared work ethic, high standards and the strong emotional connections among the group.
Over time, the collective has grown in size and in scope, but cheese has always remained a focus. The cheese store and bakery now sells more than 300 different cheeses and an extensive selection of freshly baked breads and pastries. A few doors down from the cheese store and bakery is the pizzeria where pies are crafted from scratch with the best ingredients.
Di Bruno Bros.
Family-owned and -operated Di Bruno Bros. has established itself as the culinary pioneer of Philadelphia. The original flagship store on 9th Street in the heart of the Italian Market still maintains the charm and character it did when Joe and Danny Di Bruno opened the store in 1939. Today, Di Bruno Bros. is run by the third generation, along with a committed staff of food enthusiasts. Remaining true to its Philly roots, the fam-ily now runs five stores, a full-service catering operation, a state-of-the-art web site, as well as an importing and wholesale division.
The Chestnut Street location is a two-story, 9,000-square-foot store that features a 300-square foot cheese cave filled with hundreds of cheeses, both American and imported artisan and specialty cheeses.
This specialty food shop specializes in artisan cheeses, cured meats and local produce — and is known for giving shoppers an extraordinary experience. Kate Collier and Eric Gertner, the husband-and-wife team behind Feast, first opened their store, then 720 square feet, in 2002. Over the years, the specialty food store and café has expanded to 5,000 square feet. Since opening, Feast has been lauded for its retail concept and atmosphere. It was even named a “shop that pops” in the book Shopping: Why We Love It and How Retailers Can Create the Ultimate Customer Experience by luxury market analyst Pam Danzinger. Like many of the independent retailers featured in this article, Feast is a unique concept and has what Danzinger describes as a “contagious, electric quality.”
Working alongside their well-trained staff, owners Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal now have three locations: the flagship in Cambridge, Mass.; South End Formaggio in Boston’s South End neighborhood and Formaggio Essex in New York City’s Essex Street Market. (And they have a stunning e-commerce site to boot.) During its 38 years in business, Formaggio Kitchen has built its reputation on sourcing unique, handmade cheeses as well as charcuterie, condiments, olive oils, vinegars and preserves from small producers in the United States and beyond. The stores offer a variety of classes, and Ihsan is a frequent instructor (on cheese, of course) at Boston University. Recent classes at the store’s Cambridge annex include Gin Cocktails and Spring Cheese, Sour Beer and Cheese Pairings, and for Raw Milk Cheese Appreciation Week, a special class on raw milk cheese. A testament to its lasting impact on the gourmet retail industry, Formaggio Kitchen has been the training ground for many entrepreneurs who have gone on to open their own cheese shops. Formaggio Kitchen’s alumni list is a who’s who in specialty retail, including Jeremy Kirkpatrick, Grand Trunk, Newburyport, Mass.; Vince Maniaci, The Cheese Iron, Scarborough, Maine; Matt Rubiner, Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers, Great Barrington, Mass.; and Jason Sobocinski, Caseus, New Haven, Conn.
This cut-to-order shop is celebrating its 10th year in business. Owner and General Manager Ken Monteleone believes that Wisconsin cheese, the state’s cheesemaking heritage, and its growing artisan food movement all deserve a showcase. Fromagination encourages customers to fully experience their food: See, smell and taste the cheese, and learn about how and where it is made. A proper visit to Fromagination should not only leave guests with a good taste in their mouths, but also with an appreciation for delicious Midwestern foods, and the people who produce them.
After seven decades as an independent, Murray’s Cheese, including its Greenwich Village flagship, was acquired by Kroger Co. in February. Since 1940, Murray’s Cheese has been offering the finest selection of cheese, meat and specialty food items to New Yorkers, chefs and cheese lovers nationwide. Murray’s Cheese flourished under the ownership of Rob Kaufelt, and it was under his leadership that Murray’s formed a unique partnership with Kroger in 2008, developing a store-within-a-store concept for the grocery giant. These locations replicate the same experience customers enjoy at its Greenwich Village flagship store; each shop carries hundreds of cheeses, charcuterie, olives, crackers and specialty food items from all over the world. Murray’s Cheese has been deeply involved with product selection, staff training and development, merchandising and promotions. Today, more than 350 Murray’s Cheese shops operate inside Kroger stores. Murray’s Cheese staff has trained thousands of cheesemongers and Certified Cheese Professionals through its relationship with Kroger.
Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
www.pastoralartisan.com Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine has established itself as Chicago’s preeminent destination for artisan and farmstead cheeses that are cut to order, charcuterie, wine, sandwiches and other gourmet staples. Partners Greg O’Neill and Ken Miller wanted to create a true specialty shop and took inspiration from specialty shops in the United States and in Europe. Since 2004, the business has expanded from one location to four, and two restaurants, Bar Pastoral and Appelation.
This award-winning cut-to-order cheese shop is committed to purveying the best domestic artisanal cheeses, which account for 50 percent of what’s in store. The cheese case is stocked with Texan, domestic and European cheeses. Scardello holds two to three cheese classes a week. Big D magazine has given Scardello its Best Cheese Class Award. Cheese 101 is offered every month and a wine and cheese pairing class is offered four or five times a year. Many of the classes are seasonal, such as a blue cheese class in January, a fresh cheese class in spring and a mountain cheese class in fall. Several classes are geared to holidays, such as Chocolate, Cheese and Bubbles at Valentine’s Day and Holiday Decadence, which focuses on charcuterie and cheese, for the winter festivities. Most cost $40. An array of “extra credit” classes, costing $20, are offered in the Dallas Farmers Market location. Star Provisions Atlanta www.starprovisions.com After 20 years in the spot where it all began, Star Provisions relocated to a new storefront at 1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd. in Atlanta in April. The revered gourmet retail store owned by Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison boasts what they say is the largest selection of Southern cheeses in the country. Quatrano won the 2003 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southeast award for her work at Bacchanalia and was recently named one of the best female chefs in the country by Gayot.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
The small university town of Ann Arbor, Mich., may seem like an odd place to find one of the country’s most renowned cheese selections. Founders Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw met while working in the same restaurant, became friends and eventually opened Zingerman’s in 1982 as a classic Jewish delicatessen, serving chicken soup with matzo balls, chopped liver, smoked fish, cured meats, cheese, pastry and what has become one of their signature items: a range of delicious sandwiches, all made with top-quality ingredients. Gradually, their selection grew to include cut-to-order cheeses, estate olive oils, artisanal vinegars, the finest hams and other delicacies from here and abroad. Today, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is a family of food-related companies in the Ann Arbor area and include Zingerman’s Mail Order, Creamery and more. “One of the most comprehensive mail-order selections of cheeses in the country,” said Better Homes & Gardens. Food & Wine named it one of the 25 World’s Best Food Markets. All the praise is well deserved.
And this list goes on...
More outstanding cheese shops on TGR’s Top Cheese Shop list include: Andrews Cheese Shop, Santa Monica, Calif.; Aperitivo & Art of the Table, Grand Rapids, Mich.; Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, Seattle; Caseus, New Haven, Conn.; Cured, Boulder, Colo.; Delaurenti, Seattle; DiPalo’s, New York; Goose the Market, Indianapolis; Larry’s Market, Deer Creek, Wis; Marché, Glen Elynn, Ill; Righteous Cheese, Washington, D.C.; Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers, Great Barrington, Mass.; St. James Cheese Co., New Orleans; The Cheese Iron, Scarborough, Maine; The Better Cheddar, Kansas City, Mo.; The Cheese Cave, Claremont, Calif.; The Cheese Lady, Texas Township, Mich.; The Pasta Shop, Oakland, Calif.; Venissimo Cheese, San Diego; Valley Cheese & Wine, Hendersonville, Nev., to name a few.
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Editor's Note: This article has been corrected since its original printing.
Ken Miller is the co-owner of Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine.
Ivan Gurdal is no longer involved with Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Mass.