Culture Magazine is proud to be a part of the artisan cheese community. This tight-knit, supportive group of individuals are a constant source of inspiration to us. During the recent natural disasters, we were struck by stories from those in our community coming together to help each other.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing some of these stories. This one comes from Louise Kennedy Converse of Artisan Cheese Company in Sarasota, Florida.
I’m in Sarasota, Florida, and I own Artisan Cheese Company, an indie cheese shop a stone’s throw from the Bay Front where we’ve been for five and a half years. The Friday before Irma, a category 4 or 5 storm was headed for Florida and we were expecting a direct hit. So my cheesemongers and I sold off as much as we could in a fire sale to those who hadn’t already evacuated, which was about 70% of my customers. By mid-day, I was frantically trying to find someplace who would take in our remaining inventory, and in doing so I reached out to a friend at our local Whole Foods, who ultimately took in six styrofoam boxes of our cheese. The Whole Foods specialty team didn’t even flinch, and when the girls arrived at their doorstep at 4 pm on Friday, two of their employees were waiting with a dolly and said: “we got this.”
My shop is in Zone A which was under a mandatory evacuation. At one point, 12 hours before Irma made her way to Florida, the hurricane tracked directly through Sarasota, and we were warned to expect 15-foot storm surges. We were prepared to lose our inventory, and likely our shop.
But that didn’t happen. The track shifted east 20 miles. I put the shop back together last week and reset the case with what they’d taken in. I had zero bloomy rinds, goats, or washed rinds, as we tried to sell off or give away cheeses that were more fragile. And by the middle of the week we were waking up to the realization that the West Coast of Florida suffered colossal power losses, and we might not get a delivery from our distributors until the following week as their distribution routes sustained damage.
One independent cheese shop owner from New York offered his Fed Ex account so that I could order cheese. Another cheese community friend from Nashville tried to let me piggyback on a shipment from her distributor so she could overnight a few cheeses from Tennessee.
Half of Sarasota, including my own home, remained without power or water six to eight days after the storm passed. So even though we did not lose the shop (for which I’m so grateful), the economic impact will be mighty. I’ve been held up by the cheese community people who wrote on our Facebook group and who emailed me. Their support, whilst overwhelming, really helped.