Slipping into The Cheese Shop of Salem on a brisk and bright late winter afternoon, I spot owner and cheesemonger Peter Endicott wearing the hat that has earned him the nickname Il Capo. He is smiling, chatting, and slicing samples of cheese as customers move about the shop, which is cozy yet spacious and tremendously inviting. While both Endicott and cheese buyer Brie Hurd have a soft spot for New England, the shop is also home to a marvelous variety of cheeses from all over the world, as well as a sensorial feast of cured meats, specialty accompaniments, beer, digestifs, and aperitifs.
Molly (wine sales associate) and Peter Endicott (owner)
And then there are the wines, a splendorous selection of 350 beautifully labeled small-production global varieties focused on organic and biodynamic winemaking—wines made as naturally as possible, with integrity and care.
Staff picks are featured on the shelves adorned with witty descriptions, and there are “house wines” in rotation, quick grabs for when there isn’t time to linger. To rush in and out of this veritable festival for the palate, however, would mean missing out on what makes the shop so special, which is its passionate staff.
A crock of The Cheese Shop of Salem’s top seller, “Aussie Magic.” It’s a blend of goat and sheep’s milk, formed into soft squares, and drenched in garlic-infused olive oil, fresh herbs, and peppercorns, delivered fresh from Meredith Dairy in Australia.
Endicott opened his shop in 2015 based on a love of cheese, a philosophy of commitment to supporting artisanal producers, and the intention to create lasting relationships with both his customers and staff. Slicing me a sample of Red Witch, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Switzerland rubbed with paprika, he speaks of his team with gratitude and respect. He has given wine director Susan Ulbrich complete ownership of the wine program, believing in her vision—to support and promote winemakers with a yet-to-be-heard story to tell.
With that trust, she has been given a gift, and her gratitude is evident. “I am so lucky,” she says. “I wake up every day excited to come to work. Endicott is so supportive, he trusts me, and that means the world to me.”
With Molly Borgeson, the other half of the wine department, she strives to engage customers in conversation, hoping to demystify the notion that wine is intimidating, or accessible only to those working with wine. “To watch people’s eyes light up and have that ‘aha’ moment and feel empowered when they learn something about the vast subject of wine, well, that’s everything,” says Ulbrich. To which Borgeson adds, “We have fun, and that is important. We’ll compare wine to music or film characters. For example, if Darth Vader was personified as a wine, I’d say he would be an Amarone!”
One would be hard-pressed not to succumb to the charm of this wine team, or to that of the shop’s collection of cheesemongers, which includes Kiri Endicott, Peter’s daughter. She also writes entertaining interviews of the staff for the shop’s blog.
Many of the wines sold at the shop are small-production wines.
What really sets The Cheese Shop of Salem apart is that its staff assists and interacts with the community around shared loves. I think of my uncle, Father Robert Farrell, S.J., a Jesuit priest and a professor of English for over 30 years at Boston College, who likes to tell me, “I often say that I have never worked a day in my life, because I have enjoyed every minute of it.” Words to live by.
As the spring crocuses begin their intrepid rise, stop by the shop to learn the stories behind these unique small-production wines.
2016 Bruale Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane (Kakheti, Georgia)
+ Alex Motserelia crafts an amber wine made with indigenous varietals Rkatsiteli and Mtsvane, aged in traditional qvevri with affable tannins, a hint of ginger, and orange spice. Distributed by The Wine Trust.
2016 Casale Certosa Malvasia Puntinata ‘Convenio’ (Lazio, Italy)
+ Brothers Antonio and Fausto create a deep, tropical, savory mystery with white varietal Malvasia Puntinata. Anything but ordinary. Distributed by Mucci Imports.
2014 Domaine du Possible ‘L’eau à la Bouche’ (Languedoc-Roussillon, France)
+ Loïc Roure’s mouthful of spring, a slightly spritzed “mouthwatering” blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan. Distributed by Martignetti Wines.
2014 Bloomer Creek Vineyard Cabernet Franc (New York, USA)
+ Kim Engle and Debra Bermingham create a wine at once luscious and lithe, an amalgam of raspberries, cranberries, and thyme. Distributed by Olmstead Wines.
2016 David & Nadia Sadie Pinotage ‘Siebritskloof’ (Swartland, South Africa)
+ David and Nadia offer an elegant expression of Pinotage, a varietal cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Rustic, aromatic, and an ode to Cru Beaujolais. Distributed by The Wine Trust.