If you love food, there’s something magical about a great cheese shop.
After all, they’re filled with people who are not only passionate, but excited about sharing that passion – whether it’s sharing information on their newest finds, offering a bite of cheese for a customer to try or taking the time to assist someone in discovering their new foodie obsession.
It’s also a place where you’d be hard-pressed not to discover something new – be it a delicious new bloomy-rind cheese, an uncommonly tasty piece of charcuterie or a delicious new jar of preserves to enjoy alongside. In fact, I can’t think of anything better than strolling into the shop, grabbing a quarter-pound of cheese, a few accompaniments and a bottle of wine, and heading off to the beer garden or the park for an afternoon of nibbling.
And that’s exactly the sort of experience that’s waiting for you at The Village Cheese Shop, which opened in June at 1430 Underwood Ave. in downtown Wauwatosa.
If you haven’t yet dropped in, here’s a bit of what to expect.
Is there any other way to describe it? From its bright blue accents to its clean lines and old world furnishings, the shop is worth a visit if only to take in the surroundings.
On any given day, you’ll find an eager crew of passionate employees, including head cheesemonger Mike Hintze, who will gladly walk you through the cheese case and assist you in finding selections that you’ll enjoy.
"We’re excited about cheese and food," notes owner Sabina Magyar, "and our job is to hone in on what people might like. So, we ask a lot of questions. We want to find out where people are coming from and what they like so that we can’t point them toward something they’ll really love."
And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Cheesemongers are wildly knowledgeable and almost always happy to share. If you’re a fan of Gruyère, you might begin by asking about other cheeses with a similar flavor profile. If you’re a wine lover, you can approach things in a slightly different fashion, asking simply "What cheeses pair well with Vouvray?" Similarly, you shouldn’t be embarrassed to inquire about the best ways to store a particular cheese; they’re likely to have solutions that will prolong the life of your cheese well beyond what you’d expect.
The Village Cheese Shop’s cheese selection casts a keen eye on some of the best local and regional cheeses available, along with selections from across the U.S. and Europe. Currently, they stock just over 40 cheeses, with aspirations to grow to about 80 selections.
Among those in the cheese case, you’ll find core cheeses like cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano. But, you’ll also find new, interesting finds, including seasonal cheeses, original creations from small producers and the like.
Artful cheese boards
If you have time to linger, there’s nothing better than grabbing a seat at the cheese bar and ordering a glass of wine (available by the glass) and a few cheeses to nibble.
Take your pick from items on the boards behind the counter, which list cured meats like saucisson rouge and soprressato as well as a variety of cheeses from soft to washed rind, firm and flavored. Pricing varies from $5-12, depending on your selections, and a nice well-rounded board is likely to cost around $17 for three cheeses, a bit of charcuterie and accompaniments.
Among selections, you’ll find Little Lucy, a complex creamy brie made by cheesemaker Alise Sjostrom of Redhead Creamery in Brootan, Minnesota. The wheels are adorably petite, so they make a perfect appetizer for two or three. When it’s fresh, it’s young and grassy, but it gets creamier and a bit more pungent as it ages. It’s simply delicious baked with pistachios or balsamic vinegar.
There’s also Deneb, a young Gouda-style cheese made by cheesemaker Rama Hoffpauir of Cosmic Wheel Creamery in Clear Lake, Wisconsin. Made with grassfed organic cow’s milk, the cheese is beautifully golden thanks to the beta carotene naturally found in grass. Its flavor is milky with distinct flavors of sweet grass and clover.
Traditional offerings include burrata from Di Stephano Cheese in Pomona, California. Made by cheesemaker Mimmo Bruno, a native of Puglia Italy, it was the first burrata of its kind to be made in the U.S. It’s sweet and fresh, and if you love the contrast in textures between the creamy stracciatella and its delicate fresh mozzarella shell, it’s a cheese you’ll relish.
If you love blue cheeses, give the Smokey Blue from Rogue Creamery in Oregon a try. The first of its kind, Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue is savory, creamy nutty and almost caramelly sweet with a hint of smoke thanks to a long, gentle cold-smoking over hazelnut shells.
Cheese shops are filled with treasures – and Village Cheese Shop has one that’s a particular stunner. Sennerei Hubaner Alpenblumen is a firm, washed-rind Alpine style cheese made from raw grassfed cow’s milk. Created by cheesemaker Hans Kempf, it’s made at a 100-plus year old creamery in Austria with milk from cows that freely graze on Bregenzerwald meadows, giving the milk a distinctly sweet, herbaceous flavor. From there, the cheese is sent to Germany for affinage (aging). Its flavor is milky, sweet and herbaceous with a delicate floral flavor that’s imparted by its beautiful rind, made from edible herbs and flowers.
Magyar has also curated a lovely selection of cheeseboards, from slate boards to wooden finds made by local artisans including Felicia Wild of Our Daily Salt in Silver City. And if you’re looking for a better way to store your cheese, keeping it fresh and vibrant for longer, you’ll also find items like cheese-paper, a product which allows the cheese to breathe during storage.
In addition to cheese, you’ll encounter a wealth of delicious specialty products including olives, a nice variety of finishing salts, honey, crackers and jams.
There are local finds, like Treat Bake Shop walnuts, almonds and pecans, and pear mostarda from Quince & Apple in Madison.
But there are also delicious products from across the nation, including marmalades by Eat This in Erwinna, Pennsylvania. And, if it's in stock, their tomato jalapeno marmalade is a real find. It's earthy and complex with a touch of heat, and it's just as amazing served alongside pork or shrimp as it is alongside a wedge of brie.
More unexpected are items like imported tomatoes and pasta, which make the perfect pairing for the shop’s excellent aged Parmigiano-Reggiano ... and an easy throw-together dinner, if you're short on time.
"It all comes back to the idea that there are so many wonderful cheeses and products being made," says Magyar. "To find those and to highlight them is really what I’m excited about. My goal is to carry things that are handcrafted, things made with heart and high quality ingredients."
Among the selection, you’ll find unique items like imported tinned fish from Jose Gourmet, including exquisite sardines packed in olive oil. Each tin is decorated with quirky art and amusing stories that will make you want to linger at the shelves a bit longer. Take for instance, this story from the tin of tender stewed calamari.
"A squid wanted to be a painter," the package reads. "With eyes wide open, he would paint everything he saw. But, as soon as he was done painting, he would change color and camouflage himself with his paintings. So no one would actually see him at his exhibitions."
The shop also has a fantastic (and growing) wine selection. Currently, they stock around 60 bottles, both domestic and international, including sparkling, whites, reds and roses.
"Our wines veer toward the old world," notes Magyar. "We work with small traditional winemakers whose focus is really on the grapes … about letting the grapes and the place speak for themselves. Wine is so much like cheese. You can’t make great cheese with inferior milk."
Something new every day
Magyar says she’s only begun rounding out her selection of offerings, which will include a more in-depth menu of sandwiches and salads at the cheese bar, as well as catering options, tasting classes and in-store tastings.
"At the end of the day, the dream part of it is that I get to work with the products I love and share them with others," notes Magyar. "Community is central to this space. It’s what it’s all about."
The Village Cheese Shop is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.