Cheese Shop Owners Share Their Favorite Pairings | culture: the word on cheese
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Cheese Shop Owners Share Their Favorite Pairings

And dish on what it takes to be a leader in the industry

Johnston Hill Creamery

707 N Lamar Blvd., Oxford, Mississippi
Owner: Kelly Jeffus

Before Kelly Jeffus opened Johnston Hill Creamery, an artisanal cheese shop in Oxford, Mississippi, she spent several years experimenting with cheesemaking in her basement. Guided by the wisdom she absorbed from working in professional kitchens, testing techniques for wheels such as double cream Camembert didn’t frighten Jeffus.

After gaining confidence in her cheeses, she decided to share them with her community during the height of the pandemic. Jeffus opened Johnston Hill Creamery in the winter of 2020. She stocks the shop with house-made, soft-ripened varieties created in her 150-square-foot cave, and cheeses from small national producers. Jeffus shows off her culinary prowess by peppering in homemade accompaniments such as tangy mustard and vibrant jalapeño honey jam.

“The community embraced my vision, and we started selling many of our cheeses locally to restaurants, stores, and from our shop,” Jeffus says.

Earlier this year, Johnston Hill Creamery packed up and moved a few minutes down the street to Chicory Market, a grocery store focused on local, regional, and organic food. The transition marked a larger desire to work collectively with makers from the community. “We embrace a cooperative mindset and have an independent butcher, wine store, and coffee shop inside the market, along with many local vendors that sell their products in the store,” Jeffus says. The partnership signifies a milestone in the maker’s journey, allowing her to expand her vision of supplying quality, local cheese to her community.

What does it take to be an impactful leader in the cheese industry?

A great leader in cheese is someone constantly trying to learn and grow as a person and a business. I am always excited to try new cheese varieties from new creameries. I get a lot of inspiration from looking at what my fellow cheesemakers are crafting.

What’s your favorite cheese pairing right now?

My favorite pairing is a lovely creamy chèvre with our house-made pepper jelly on a lavash cracker.

Culture Cheese Shop

211 S River Ave.,
Holland, Michigan

Owner: Elizabeth Sluiter

Culture Cheese Shop is a charming boutique tucked behind a home-goods store. Founder Elizabeth Sluiter spent 20 years in dentistry before following her calling and embarking on a new career path in cheese. An avid traveler, Sluiter always dreamed of opening a community-oriented space in Michigan.

“I remember my husband telling me if you wait to have everything lined up perfectly, it’ll be too late,” she says.

Despite facing challenges such as limited resources, raising three children, and being a novice in the food industry, Sluiter was determined to make her dream a reality. “I was looking for a kitchen that would allow me to store my cheese, crackers, and jams,” she explains. The founder researched food laws and stumbled upon an incubator program at Grand Rapids Downtown Market that allowed her to develop her business skills and grow her brand. She started by selling subscription boxes filled with cheese, recipes, and pairing guides, and quickly developed a loyal clientele.

In the winter of 2023, Sluiter opened a brick-and-mortar location, expanding her business model to offer educational events and a wider range of cheeses. She wanted to cater to diverse tastes, pay homage to fan favorites, and foster a welcoming mom-and-pop energy that she’s always loved.

What does it take to be an impactful leader in the cheese industry?

I find that people who work in cheese are natural community connectors. We love the history and culture of cheese and how it brings people together. I find the best experts in the industry lead people to try and experiment with new things.

What’s your favorite cheese pairing right now?

I really love the Vat 17 World Cheddar from Deer Creek Cheese paired with strawberry jam. In the summer, I go boating and I’ll pack this as a snack, savoring its delicious, crystallized bites.

Willow’s Cheese Shop

6413 Blanco Rd.,
San Antonio, Texas

Owners: Velma Armijo and Gabby Armijo

Mother-daughter duo Velma Armijio and Gabby Armijo couldn’t help but notice the lack of cheese shops in San Antonio, Texas. Sure, grocery stores in the area stock national brands of cheeses, but they craved locally made fare.

In the scorching summer of 2023, the two opened Willow’s Cheese Shop, the first in San Antonio. Driven by championing local artisan wedges, the two knew their community would appreciate their shop’s accessibility.

The pair hosts interactive classes to help customers enhance their knowledge of different styles of cheese. “Many people in San Antonio have never been offered the opportunity to try cheese out of a case, and for them, it’s a mind-boggling experience,” says Velma.

As the shop gains attention, Gabby continues to stay one step ahead; she recently graduated from Cheese State University, a program designed by the Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin.. “It’s not the knowledge you have, but the desire to keep learning,” she explains. It’s all part of a collective vision to grow a community of cheese lovers in San Antonio.

What does it take to be an impactful leader in the cheese industry?

Gabby: If you think you’ve learned all there is to know about cheese, you have to keep expanding your knowledge in order to grow.
Velma: I come from an education background, and in this industry, it’s important to invite people in to understand all there is to know and love about cheese.

What’s your favorite cheese pairing right now?

Gabby: I’ve been obsessed with pairing Divina Sour Cherry Spread with a smear of Saint Angel Triple Creme.
Velma: I can’t get enough of Murray’s High Plains Cheddar with a handful of ripe, juicy grapes.

Ashia Aubourg

Ashia Aubourg is culture's former Assistant Digital Editor. She received her BA in Food Studies and Policy Studies from Syracuse University, where she researched components that make up equitable food systems. She previously held print and digital roles at Food & Wine, Cuisine Noir, America's Test Kitchen, and others, where her writing unearthed underrepresented narratives within food, travel, and culture. Before starting her writing career, she held food policy and social impact roles across various nonprofits and companies.

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