Gourmet cheese shops, including The French Connection Cheese Club in Golden, are the latest thing in the Kootenay region
From a personal point of view, I could easily give up chocolate before I could give up cheese. So it's gratifying to observe that there are a number of gourmet cheese shops in the Kootenays, some of them recent additions to the business scene. Among them are Crème Cheese Shop in Kimberley and Le Grand Fromage in Fernie, while the Kootenay Meadows folks out of Creston also produce artisanal farmstead cheeses.
Then there's The French Connection Cheese Club in Golden, which opened late last year and is unique in that it operates out of an unusual location—the Golden Municipal Campground.
It's good to know we don't have to make the trek to the big city to find quality cheeses. They are just as likely to be available close to home, even when you live in a small town.
Kootenay Business caught up with French Connection co-owners Michelle Nagy-Deak and Joy Guyot.
Tell us where interested customers can find your gourmet cheeses. Are you still selling out of the municipal campground, and are you open all year? Any plans for moving (downtown, for example)?
Joy: Yes, we are still open year-round and selling out of the Whistle Stop Outpost—the campground store. We have changed our focus of an RV parts store to free more room up for cheese and fine foods. Since the municipal campground is in the downtown area, we do not see ourselves moving to a different location until we are no long running the campground.
What are the main kinds of cheeses you carry? Where are they sourced from?
Joy: We carry a variety of domestic and imported cheeses. Our supplier is out of Calgary—due to shipping logistics it is hard to carry many B.C. cheeses since these cheeses would have to be federally inspected to be available through our supplier. However, we plan on doing some buying trips in B.C. when the campground slows down. We try to carry cheese that you won't find in the grocery store.
What are your personal favourite cheeses, and why?
Joy: My personal favourite cheese at this time is Shropshire Blue. It is rich orange in colour with distinctive blue veining and a golden crust. It is best accompanied by a good English brown ale, as with Stilton, or a rich fortified wine. I like it because it's amazing on its own and I love to cook with cheese—this one melts nicely in a bacon potato chowder.
Michelle: (My favourite is) the Australian Roaring Forties, a creamy blue with lots of flavour.
What, in your opinion, are the qualities that define a "gourmet" cheese? What country do you think makes the best cheeses? Any Canadian cheeses you particularly like?
Joy: For gourmet cheese it's a matter of personal taste. Personally (I think) it's the craftsmanship and dedication of the producer. Canada has some amazing cheese makers. I am very fond of cheese from the Oka region (of Quebec). Or Blackburn Cheese, a small producer of farmer-style cheese. One of our best-selling cheeses is an extra-aged white cheddar from Quebec called Tiguidou.
Do you have any business mentors, or people who inspired you?
Joy: I think my business mentors go back to when I was apprenticing as a chef. I worked under some incredible chefs and owners.
Michelle: Yes, a family I started working for as a server at 19, learning to cook and becoming the assistant manager of a business with a restaurant, 24-hour store and 50-man logging camp.
What have you found most surprising in this business venture?
Joy: We didn't realize that there was such a high demand for what we were offering. We started out cautiously (and) once people found out where we are, we got a pretty good following. We have a cheese club with over 115 members and offer 10 monthly cheese tastings. It has gotten so popular we have to have several sessions in the night and limit the number of people.
What kind of customer do you hope will walk through the door, and why?
Joy: Cheese customers are happy customers! We have a “try before you buy” concept and people love that. (We like) customers who are crazy about cheese and bring requests for cheeses we don't carry that we can bring in.
What are you No. 1 passions outside of work?
Joy: Our No. 1 passion aside from work is our family. The next is travelling—we are foodies and we love to travel and try food from all over.
What's the latest movie that you've watched in the past six months that you would recommend to others?
Joy: I watched the movie Chef and I loved it. It has inspired me to take my sons on a road trip this year from Houston to New Orleans for a crawfish festival. My kids have worked in kitchens for the past several years.
Anything else you'd like to tell us?
Joy: We are not just a cheese store. We have fine Italian olive oils, white balsamic vinegars, French mustards, truffle and fennel salami, and bulk olives. We make a pretty good in-house green olive tapenade. We are carrying more and more fine foods. We are amping up to start making baskets and cheese boards and to do catering for holiday parties.