There are several ways to determine what makes an iconic cheese shop worth a visit. And as with many things in food and wine, there aren’t simple answers. But, some guidelines can help you find the best cheese shop for your needs.
Cheese educator David Asher believes how a shop engages with its community is paramount. “A great cheese shop makes connections between the cheese producers and consumers, and tries to form a relationship between them,” he says.
This connection is part of a larger cultural shift to understand where and how our foods are made. “Cheese stores can act as a liaison between good farmers producing good cheese and their consumers,” he adds.
Additionally, cheese scholar Carlos Yescas says the difference between a good and a great cheese shop often comes down to what’s for sale and how it’s being sold. A retailer worth its salt will seek out products from cheesemakers that share its values. This could mean supporting independent local producers, sourcing rare international labels and hiring and training staff to become cheese experts. In doing so, these shops become community hubs of cheese exploration.
You’ll know a good cheesemonger when you meet them because they’ll be excited to talk to you about their products and to cut samples for you to taste, says Christine Clark, a writer and cheese educator.
Willingness to give samples is key, she adds. One person’s cheese preference may be different than another’s. Plus, cheese is a living product and can taste different each time you try it. “Whereas wine has vintages by year, in cheese, each day can be like a new vintage,” Clark says.