Behind every cheese, there’s a good story waiting to be told. You just have to ask the right people. In this blog series, Amanda will be interviewing cheesemongers from around the country and relaying their most fantastic tales of international travel, in-shop aging, and curious customers. Last week, we hung out with with Jordan Edwards of Pastoral Artisan. This week we get to know Perry Soulos of Arlington, VA’s Arrowine and Cheese. Read on, and you’ll have a chance to win a copy of our Cheese+ ultimate pairings issue!
It’s just a few weeks before the January 2014 Cheesemonger Invitational, and Perry Soulos is rolling balls of goat cheese around in various toppings, hoping to stumble upon a fortuitous combination of flavors to serve at the competition as his “perfect bite.”
“I decided on chèvre because you can do a million things with it,” Perry recalled. “You only have an hour and change to make 100 bites, so I needed something easy but with an element of surprise. It had to be colorful and vibrant, and in the end, it had to taste good.”
Perry experimented with espresso powder, paprika, wasabi paste, caramelized walnuts, pecans, and many more pulverized coatings. Not all of them rubbed him the right way.
“Blueberry with espresso… that was a weird one. And the wasabi paste just made it look like a green blob.
Perry thought he might be onto something when he finally tried candied ginger. “The straight ginger was really good, but it didn’t have the sex appeal.”
The sexy solution? Crunchy, fruity cereal. “I wanted something fun that I grew up with,” he explained.
His final recipe, a grape-stuffed sphere of Redwood Hill Farm Fresh Chèvre rolled in Burstin’ Berry Poppin’ Pebbles cereal and finely-chopped candied ginger, earned him first place at the Invitational. He dubbed his concoction “The Perpetual Goatstopper,” alluding to the creation of another beloved, albeit fictional, confectionary genius.
Luckily, you don’t need a Golden Ticket to access Perry’s own cheese factory. Since the Invitational, business has been booming at Arrowine and Cheese, where Perry mans the cheese counter.
“[Arrowine is] doing great,” said Perry. “We’re selling more cheese than ever, our customer base has grown, and we’re doing more special events. It used to be that no one wanted to come down to the Mid-Atlantic – it’s not quite Boston or New York in terms of the food scene.” That may have been true in the past, but Perry has seen the store evolve for over a decade.
“Ten years ago, we only held 75 or 80 cheeses, and they were all more traditional stuff. Now we rotate over 600 cheeses,” he explained. “Though I still think you should learn the traditional [ones] first because you learn more respect for the new things.”
Perry began working behind the cheese counter as a high school student in 2001, and he’s donned many hats in the merchandising process.
“I used to do all the beer ordering, and groceries, and I felt kind of burnt out,” he said. Now, Perry primarily sticks to sourcing and selling cheese and charcuterie. And boy, does he know his meat and cheese pairings.
“I love Mortadella. I just shove it into bread with any kind of cheese,” he said, beginning to slip into a litany of mouthwatering recommendations. “Speck with pecorino is also good. And then there’s Fra’ Mani Toscano, which works with many different kinds of cheese from Alpine to Pyrenees sheep’s milk to simple Manchego. Tamworth La Quercia Prosciutto is great with hard sheep’s milk cheeses.”
You’d do well to take any of these suggestions, or you could follow Owen Wilson’s lead, and stock up on Truffle Tremor from Cypress Grove.
“We get our fair share of celebrities,” said Perry. “It was weird with Owen Wilson. He tasted, like, ten cheeses but didn’t actually buy any. But then the next day he sent his brother in to buy some.”
Aside from the occasional chèvre-craving movie star, Arrowine is the cheese shop of choice for certain big names in Washington that, as Perry put it, “you might not realize are famous.”
“The Head of Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she comes in. We get White House correspondents… then there’s that Greek guy on Good Morning America… George Stephanopoulos.”
Arrowine also provides a large number of diplomats with cheeses from their home countries. But, when it comes down to it, the cheese shop depends on the regulars. “We’re not a huge metropolitan city where we can survive on new faces everyday. Most regulars come early. Every Saturday morning they line up all ready to go. We really listen to our regular customers. It’s invaluable information, hearing directly from them.”
But the information exchange goes both ways. Perry has some wisdom of his own for cheese shop regulars looking to learn a thing or two.
“You definitely have to eat. You can learn as much as possible from a book, but you should be trying cheese at least four times a year to taste seasonality changes. You may like Grayson in June, but it might not rock your socks in January.”
And it’s not just cheese you should be eating. According to Perry’s worldview, all food can be experienced as potential descriptors of the flavors present in cheese. “You can train your nose and palate to pick up more flavors in cheese if you pay attention while you’re eating other things,” he said. “You don’t want to just describe a cheese as nutty—you want to think of what kind of nut it tastes like. Small, intimate descriptions can paint picture of what you’re actually eating.”
Whether you’re eating cashews, cherries, mushrooms, or spoonfuls of your morning breakfast cereal, perhaps it’s a good idea to take a cue from the creator of the Award-winning Goatstopper himself, and begin thinking how those flavors might find their counterpart in cheese.Photo Credit: All photos courtesy of Perry Soulos
If you could curate your own “perfect bite,” what would you put in it? Tell us in the comments section, and you could win a copy of our Cheese+ pairing issue! Comments must be posted by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Monday, August 25, 2014 to be eligible to win. Good luck!