For truly dedicated cheese lovers, a great cheese store is more like a museum than a shop. There’s nothing perfunctory about the experience: Every last nook in every last case is an adventure in flavor profiles, preferred textures, the family history of its makers, and long conversations about which wines, chutneys, olives, crackers, nuts, fruits, and assorted other accoutrements would be most wise to serve with it. And then, of course, there’s the matter of understanding exactly which animals the cheese came from, where they were raised, what they ate, whether they were free-range, and which languages they were taught on the farm.
If that all sounds a little sarcastic, you’ll have to take it from me, a longtime food writer and cheese advocate: We may take our cheeses seriously, but not always ourselves. One of the first people from whom I learned this was cheese industry veteran Peter Lovis, founder of The Concord Cheese Shop. Under him, the enterprise thrived and won over legions of previously cheese-agnostic folk; his wit and wonder about all things cheese (from Vermont goat milk cheese made at small family farms to annual street-wide parades in Concord featuring the arrival of a 400-pound wheel of Crucolo made in Scurelle, Italy) has for years taught people that cheese is both a way of life and a reason to celebrate.
Now two of the people he taught that lesson to have opened up their own outpost: The Cheese Shop of Salem. After working for Lovis for years, Peter Endicott and Brie Hurd (Yes, that was her birth name. And no, oddly, her parents didn’t give it to her originally hoping that one day she’d be a cheese buyer.) are well on their way to spreading the gospel of great cheese on the North Shore.
Hurd’s cheese-centric resume alone is impressive: She’s been awarded the John Crompton Memorial Scholarship, and the cheese cart she developed at AKA Bistro in Lincoln has been featured in Cheese Connoisseur magazine. She’s also a three-time competitor in the Cheesemonger Invitational, and is a new member of the American Cheese Society Education Committee. Other staff additions like Susan Ulbrich round out the expertise; A graduate of Boston University’s Wine Studies Program who shifted to wine retail after working with the wine program at Belly restaurant in Cambridge, she directs the entire wine and beer lineup at the Salem shop.
The staff not only teaches customers more about their wares, but they also take on learning about them themselves as often as possible. In-store, all-staff classes about gruyere (from their local, national, and international purveyors) are not at all unusual. To get the community involved, there are regular events like the beer tastings with brewmasters, who work with the shop’s staff to pair suds as perfectly as possible with farm cheddars and two-year-old goudas.
Not confined to just cheese and its expected beverage and platter bedfellows, the shop also sells the kinds of things you want to eat for lunch after a few bites of superlative cheese—grilled chicken and corn chowder, an exceptional Italian sub, or the “Moo-tiful” sandwich, with roast beef, tomatoes, lettuce, and artichoke Parmesan.
But ultimately, the point is still cheese—eating and savoring it, celebrating it, and learning about it. “There is a story behind the people working hard in the vineyard or on the farm,” say Endicott and Hurd. They are “choosing careful and time-consuming methods over convenient shorcuts to produce truly extraordinary products.”
The duo’s goal? To employ that same approach in helping us to slow down, learn more, and appreciate all the effort and craftsmanship that went into that perfect piece of gorgeous cheese.