It's fresh, hand cut, artisanal and delicious
"Enthralled probably suits my emotion for cheese best,” says cheese merchant John Gutierrez of Santa Fe's newest specialty food market.
And he's not alone. Cheesemongers of Santa Fe, opened in fall 2014, certainly seems to have filled a niche in this food-loving city. On Saturday mornings, there’s sometimes a line out the door when his shop opens.
Just take a number and wait patiently. It’s worth it.
The shop, located on Marcy Street a few doors east of the Santa Fe Public Library, was the former home of a financial investment firm. Walk in the door, and you’ll smell the heady aroma of cheese.
Shoppers will find hand-cut, artisanal Old World and New World cheeses. Bestsellers are what Gutierrez calls “Mountain Cheeses” or “Alpine Cheeses,” known as Bergkäse in the German-speaking Alps. Cut a piece and pop it in your mouth; serve with crackers, or cook with it.
The shop, specializing in small-batch cheeses, is loaded with varietals and brands that may not be familiar to you. The extensive collection of sustainable cheeses is a who’s who of prize-winning dairies.
The seasonal Pleasant Ridge Reserve, the “most-awarded cheese in American history,” hails from the Upland Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wis. It’s only produced from May through October, when the cows can graze on fresh grass.
Sample the Lamborn Bloomers, a silky Piemontese-style robiola from Colorado’s Avalanche Dairy, or the Queso Verano from Shepherd Creamery in Vermont. Made from summer sheep milk, it’s mildly redolent of wild herbs and grasses evoking the Basque country.
European cheeses include Fourme aux Moelleux, a wine-soaked iteration of blue Vouvray and Zimbro, a “torta” cheese from Portugal.
Cheesemongers stocks a mouthwatering array of foods that go well with cheese. There’s a case filled with cured meats you probably haven’t seen before, such as the bacon-wrapped, cold smoked elk from Smoked Goose in Indianapolis; Bresaola from Larchmont Charcurerie, a stone’s throw from New York City; or La Quercia pancetta cured in Norwald Iowa.
Shoppers will also discover artisanal crackers, locally baked breads, unusual pickles, jarred and tinned delicacies and even French chocolate.
Want a bit of lunch or a snack? In winter, you can enjoy the fresh-made raclette; in warmer weather, you can feast on a fresh-cut cheese plate.
Need cheese advice? Gutierrez and his six cheesemongers are well trained in cheeses, including how they pair with foods, wines and beers and how they're best used in cooking. To make sure the staff is up to snuff, Gutierrez has periodic classes for them at the shop. He even hires a sommelier to train the staff on cheese and wine pairings.
Want to know where and how the cheese was made? Just ask. According to the shop owner, Santa Feans are adventurous in their cheese selections.
“They’ll try the really pungent washed-rind cheese, or cheeses with out-there names,” he says.
His customers, according to the cheesemonger, “do a little bit of mental traveling when they eat cheese.” He calls them the best customers of any of the cheese shops he's ever worked with.
And he should know. John Gutierrez has seven cheese stores under his belt. His fromage career began at Forwards Foods in Oklahoma City while he was working for his current business partners, Suzy Thompson and Steve “Wampus” Reynolds.
Next, he moved west to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he got a job at cheese icon Cowgirl Creamery in Point Reyes Station. He left the "City by the Bay" to open a second Oklahoma City store for Thompson and Reynolds and then returned to California.
His last job before coming to Santa Fe to open Cheesemongers was as cheese-buyer for Say Cheese, “one of San Francisco’s oldest and dearest neighborhood cheese shops.”
Cheesemongers of Santa Fe is the perfect place to buy artisanal cheese and get the fixings for an amazing antipasto, a romantic picnic or a large party. The array of tempting foods on offer is boggling to the senses.
All you have to do is head for the shop and say, “Cheese!”