By Lance Henderson
Gubbeen, Carles Roquefort and Le Demon Du Midi may not be what you think of when you think of cheese, but perhaps it’s time for that to change. Instead of serving cubed Velveeta and ham chunks at your next gathering, your guests might prefer a tasty Fiore Sardo paired with a Salumi cured meat.
While it may be easy to assume that an artisan cheese shop would only attract those of the upper crust, Rachel Riggs, owner of Quel Fromage Artisan Cheese & Accoutrements, said in her shop she has worked to create a sophisticated environment that is still accessible to someone who knows nothing about cheese.
“We have the pronunciation of cheeses, so people don’t feel silly,” Riggs said. “And we don’t over-pronounce things here. We all butcher it. You butcher it. I butcher it. What it ultimately comes down to is, do you think it is yummy?”
Riggs said the store has a diverse clientele from all different economic backgrounds ranging from WWU students with $5 and a love of cheese to a couple looking for a specific artisan goat cheese from the Loire Valley in France.
“We have people who have traveled abroad and want to recreate that experience and we have people who don’t know anything about cheese, but are curious,” Riggs said. “I think we offer something for everyone.”
In order to get something for everyone, Riggs said she has developed relationships with cheese makers in the United States and abroad, as well as performed exhaustive Internet searches in the hunt for her newest decadent delight.
“I am obsessed with the obscure. So the harder it is for me to get, the more trouble it is, the more I like it,” she said.
To educate herself about cheese, Riggs did an internship at Venissimo Cheese, an artisan cheese shop with four locations in Southern California. She also attended the master’s course at Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro & Wine Bar in New York. With all her industry contacts and knowledge, Riggs is able to have cheese flown in from all over the world.
“I fly things into the Bellingham Airport at least once a week. They (the cheese) fly standby, so sometimes I get my cheese in the morning and sometimes I am back here at midnight unloading my cheese,” Riggs said. “They always call to say, ‘Your stinky cheese is here. It stunk up our entire cargo hold.'”
Riggs will sometimes get timid customers who are unsure about what they like, but someone with no cheese knowledge should not be intimidated because she will help to define their preferences.
“We’ll give you a taste of almost anything in the whole shop and it only matters if you think it is tasty,” she said.
Quel Fromage doesn’t just offer cheese, however. The shelves are filled with anchovies, olives, pâté, along with every kind of cheese condiment and cracker imaginable. She also offers a wide variety of chocolates and $10 wines.
“We love giving the gift of food. It’s a nice, inexpensive luxury to pass on to a friend,” Riggs said.