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Nacho ordinary cheese

Jennifer DavorenAspen Times Staff Writer

Ever had a “bad cheese experience?”It doesn’t sound like a common occurrence, but Michele Kiley ? or just plain Kiley, as she prefers to be called ? has heard about plenty of such experiences.Strangers constantly regale her with tales of bitter blues and stale swiss, the types of cheese that can make any connoisseur skittish about their consumption.That’s why Kiley, the proprietor of the new Cheese Shop at the Cooking School of Aspen, is always generous with her samples. She’ll assess each customer to determine their tastes before offering a hefty wedge of cheese. She’ll engage each customer with the history of each selection.She’ll pooh-pooh protests from the weight-conscious ? “It takes so little good cheese to satisfy. Everything in moderation” ? or the faint of heart who cringe at the sight of a good moldy cheese.Kiley is obviously passionate about her work and her wares. And in an epicurean-minded community like Aspen, a professional “cheesemonger” is always in demand.Kiley’s love affair with cheese began almost a decade ago, when she happened upon a job with Whole Foods, a specialty market chain. Managers put her to work in the store’s gourmet cheese department.”I worked relentlessly, and that work was rewarded with a promotion,” she said of her first few weeks on the job. “But, at the time I was promoted, I knew nothing about cheese.”Kiley put in 16- to 18-hour days, picking up tips from wholesalers and distributors. She described her Whole Foods store as having a “decentralized” management, allowing her the freedom to experiment with purchasing. The freedom allowed her to become one of Whole Foods’ top sellers during her eight years with the chain.The end of a relationship eventually led Kiley to move to Colorado, where she spent an additional year and a half with a Longmont-based cheese importer. Aspen’s array of restaurants and caterers turned out to be part of Kiley’s sales territory.”The first time I drove into Aspen with my boss, I said, ‘I love this place!'” she said.She hatched a plan to move to Aspen and serve as a cheese wholesaler.”I was very conscious of the fact that no one was really doing cheese, especially with such a [gourmet] clientele,” Kiley said.That plan was put on the backburner when Kiley switched sales territory. However, a romance born in Boulder would eventually bring her to Aspen, where she initially worked as a dispatcher with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office.Kiley was entertaining guests at a recent dinner party with her extensive knowledge of cheese when she was approached by Rob Seideman, owner of the Cooking School of Aspen. He was looking for a way to attract additional shoppers to the school’s retail aisles, and a Kiley-run cheese shop seemed to be the best option.Kiley had just three weeks to put together her merchandise list. The Cheese Shop at the Cooking School of Aspen opened to the public on Dec. 1, and is now open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.Kiley carries 150 to 200 different types of cheese in her small corner of the Cooking School. Each represent the four major cheese groups ? blue, goat, soft ripened and hard aged. No cheese fits into a single group ? blue, for instance, is versatile enough to be soft, hard or come from goat’s milk.She stocks 35 blue cheeses alone and is currently working her way up to 40. Kiley’s favorites include the French, a Fourme D’Ambert.”With blue cheese, every one is distinct and remarkable in its own way,” she said.She also sells seven Gruyre cheeses, the type used to make fondue. And her fresh cream cheeses, samplers note, are a world apart from anything you can buy prepackaged at a grocery store.Freshness is a major focus for Kiley, who disdains the plastic-wrapped hunks of brie and Parmesan at the local supermarkets. She prefers her cheese fresh from her handy 60-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano.”There’s a distinct difference in the flavor and vibrancy of the cheese,” Kiley said.She also carries a soft spot for specialty artisan cheeses, those made by small, family-owned farms and dairies throughout the world. One of her favorites, Old Chatham Shepherding Co., is made in Fort Collins by a husband-and-wife team of sheep herders.Kiley makes frequent trips to Denver to shop for products. Cheese is an expensive commodity, she said, and not a responsibility that should be left in the hands of overnight delivery services.”It keeps costs down, so I can keep retail down for the customers,” she said. “I also don’t trust freight companies to handle it.”Though cheese is Kiley’s first priority, she hopes the business will branch out in the near future. She plans to peddle a gourmet brand of olives, along with unique wares such as the peppadew, a recently discovered, cherrylike brand of fruit from South America.Kiley has also branched out into your favorite local dinner place. She has convinced a number of Aspen restaurateurs to revive the idea of an after-dinner cheese plate, an addition Kiley sees as instrumental to any good meal. Local chefs and private caterers are also incorporating Kiley’s specialty cheeses in their menus.Spreading her wares throughout the market is all a part of promoting “the cheese experience” ? the excitement her customers get from discovering a new and unique product.”I play an instrumental role in that awareness,” Kiley said.[Jennifer Davoren’s e-mail address is jenniferd@aspentimes.com]


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