Our little town has a “cheese shop.” It’s not in a very convenient location, and it took us quite a long time to figure out where it was after someone had mentioned it to us. We finally went there a few weeks ago, on the hunt for some local cheese. Though they didn’t really have what we were looking for (any kind of local cheese, but especially chevre, which we know is produced locally), it was an experience worth talking about. Turns out they sell more than cheese–lots of meat, any spread you could ask for, cheese accoutrements, gift baskets, and other ‘Kentucky Proud’ collectibles. Oh, and it’s a little soup and sandwich shop inside, too.
In addition to our general desire to support the local economy, we really like cheese and have been wanting to stop at this place for some time now. (It’s on the way home from our Big Box Home Improvement Store, now that we found out about a back way to get there.) The thing is, it always looks closed. How do they stay in business? We’ve been wondering. How much cheese can one business sell?
As we went in the front door, it was clear that this was not your normal cheese shop, even though I don’t know what a ‘normal’ one would be. It’s a big open building, kind of like a garage, with cement floors. Your first impression is that it’s a gift shop. Then you see all of the little tables and chairs and paper napkins, and you realize it’s a deli. Then you see the cheese counter over in the corner and the wall of refrigerator cheeses, and you are reassured. Yes, this is a cheese shop.
We walked in and began to poke around, exploring the various jars of jellies and spreads and cheese dips and who knows what else. Most of it claimed to have something to do with Kentucky, but whenever something says “bottled for so-and-so’s company” it seems a little less authentic to me. Not that I’m opposed to mass production. Okay, I am. I admit it.
Needless to say, we attracted the attention of an older woman who was back in the kitchen, so she came out to see if she could help us. We told her it was our first time in the place and we were just looking around, as if that would end the conversation. Wrong.
First, we learned all about the various cheeses that they sell, the most popular brands, where the recipe first came from (a relatively local place, actually, though they went out of business and it now is shipped in from Wisconsin), which are their best-selling cheeses, how folks come in around the holidays and plan gift baskets, what kind of sandwiches are the most popular in their deli, how their soup is made fresh every day, and, my favorite part, what cheeses we should avoid due to stinkiness.
You see, we really like long-aged cheddars, so we were looking at some of the ‘extra, extra’ sharp. She told us it was nasty. Even when we told her we like strong cheeses, she really didn’t want us to buy this kind. (It doesn’t seem like a good business practice to discourage your customers from purchasing an item they’re interested in buying.)
Well, we looked around for a bit longer and then decided to (a) go ahead and buy the stinky cheese and (b) stay for dinner. After all, she’d been extra friendly and, as mentioned above, we try to support the local economy. We mulled over the sandwich options for an inordinate amount of time, but I couldn’t resist their “famous” pimento cheese sandwich. (I had never had pimento cheese before coming to Kentucky, but it’s HUGE here. Lots of places claim to make it “homemade” in these parts, though when I did ask more questions at our local greasy spoon, I found out they use Velveeta as the “cheese” element of the pimento cheese spread…*sigh* Some things are better not to know.) So that’s what I ordered, with tomato, on wheatberry bread. J asked about a lot of the options on the menu, too, which is unusual for him. She brought him a slice of liverwurst to taste, but he ended up ordering Lebanon bologna on rye. And we grabbed two bourbon balls from the basket on the counter for dessert.
While we were there, we were the only sit-down customers, but a handful of folks came in and picked up take-out orders. Most had long conversations with the woman behind the counter, who–we learned–turned out to be the owner of the place, and knew these people’s stories. There were two elderly folks in the back kitchen, and we think they were her parents.
I don’t know if she’ll remember us the next time we go back in there, but I fancy she might. It’s that kind of place.
And though they don’t sell “local” cheese, and we certainly couldn’t afford to keep them in business buying all of our cheeses there, I could see us heading there for a sandwich occasionally. It’s more entertaining than, say, Subway. And Subway workers would never tell you not to order what you want. What kind of service is that?