Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reflections from cheese camp

It's hard to believe that just one week ago I was ensconced in the electric energy of a small gaggle of fellow cheese lovers. But now it's back to reality and a lot of re-figuring of plans.

Meeting Steve Jones was not only invaluable because he's just awesome, but it was a very honest reality check. His operation is about as small as they come; inhabiting about 300 sqft. inside a wine shop, he started it all for less than $50K and a lot of blood, sweat and tears. I realized after meeting him and hearing his story, that the other two cheese shop owners I've interviewed have had the financial latitude to make a go of it without borrowing anything. Although they both have very different shops, they make each one happen in a monetary comfort zone that I simply don't have. In short, I came the easy conclusion that I need to start out much, much smaller than I was originally intending, and I'm thanking my lucky stars I figured this out now rather than 6 months in when I still have yet to break even and I'm staring at inventory that isn't moving. Fortunately, I'm one who sets her sights high, so it was a no brainer to eliminate the wine and beer element from the shop. I've already been stressing out over the inane licensing in WA state for selling bottled alcohol yet offering it as samples for tastings. Not to mention the hike in space, therefore rent, and start up inventory it would cost me. Brush that aside and I start smaller, concentrating solely on cheese and a few accouterments to go with it. This of course changes a lot of my business plan, so I've been crunching new numbers and editing like a fiend over the past week getting it up to date.

The other essential element that never crossed my mind was interning at a local creamery. Naturally I've been thinking of shops where I might intern to work behind the counter and get a good taste for day to day operations, but I never knew that creameries/dairies hosted interns, nor did I think about how it would benefit my self-education to do more than visit one or several. So I sent out some feelers, and lo and behold, one of my local faves has been responsive, the lovely folks at Black Sheep Creamery have agreed to meet with me next week to discuss a potential internship in July.

I fell in love with sheep's milk cheese years and years ago when I tasted my first Manchego. It was a little unlike anything I'd tried before, and something about the flaky, savory texture and slightly tangy flavor just sent me soaring. Since then I've always sought out sheep's milk cheese and have become incredibly biased towards it. I swooned over Black Sheep's Tomme a few years back, and this past year their Mopsy's Best has elicited an uncontrollable physical shudder of delight every time I taste it. Of course, I could say that about a lot of cheese, but still.

So there you have it, ladies and gents. I'm currently looking down the road at early fall for opening, and in the meantime I'll be panhandling for airfare to attend the American Cheese Society Annual Conference in Austin, TX. Donations are gladly accepted.


  1. So excited for your potential internship! And it's so inspiring to see you put your Cheese Camp learnings into action... Go cheese vixen, go!


  2. Thanks Becky! Keep me up to date on your happenings as well - it was so awesome to meet you at Cheese Camp, I hope we can cross paths again via fromage :)