New Times San Luis Obispo

Cheese, ready for takeoff: Get your 'passport' stamped at Fromagerie Sophie

Hayley Thomas Cain Nov 16, 2017 4:00 AM

Ladies and gentlemen, cheese-mongers and lactose lovers, this is your flight attendant speaking. On behalf of Good Cheese from Around the World, we thank you for flying with Fromagerie Sophie today.

Photo Courtesy Of Fromagerie Sophie
LIFE IS SHORT, EAT GOOD CHEESE Be a really gracious host and break out the big guns for holiday gatherings. Festive world cheeses abound at downtown SLO's Parisian-inspired cheese shop, Fromagerie Sophie. Plus, you can now take an international journey with a handy cheese passport this winter, perfect for getting better acquainted with the bold, the moldy, and the beautiful.

Please, throw all processed cheese crap into the garbage and fasten your seat belts, as we will be preparing for takeoff shortly. Make sure to have your passports handy.

OK, so I only wish I was as put together as a seasoned flight attendant, and downtown SLO cheese shop Fromagerie Sophie is far from a Boeing 747, ready to whisk you off to England or France.

But can we at least agree to suspend disbelief for the purpose of this article?

I mean, what are the holidays if not the ultimate excuse to indulge in "the good cheese" or the "fancy" wine? Festive pâté, bread, charcuterie, stuffed olives, and mounds of moldy rinds are the stuff of winter dreams, at least in my mind. It's the reason for the season.

So, what's keeping you from delving into double cream bliss? What's keeping you from putting together the kind of killer international cheese plate that your loved ones will be raving about for friendsgivings to come?

I am pretty sure I know what it is.

Even I—a professed cheese lover of all textures, smells, and flavors—can be intimidated by the vast world of sophisticated and sumptuous offerings out there. There's just so much information to take in.

A three-week trip to Spain, France, England, and Germany this past spring left me swooning over the stinky, gooey, and sharp ... but could I really tell you, right now, exactly what exactly I ate, what kind of milk that particular cheese came from, or how that cheese might stand up to other flavor profiles from around the world? Do I feel like I have a real handle on any of it?

Nope. Not at all. I admit that I, too, nibble blindly and forget to take notes.

This is where Fromagerie Sophie's new passport program comes in. Think of it as proactive cheese tasting. Whether you're a total newbie, a wannabe cheese snob like myself, a well-versed chef, or a stay-at-home mom, you can now travel the world of cheese with ease.

You may now walk about the cabin.

Grab a passport while supplies last, and Fromagerie Sophie and their totally unprotentious cheesemongers will keep it under the counter for you, and they will stamp it each time you take a trip outside of your comfort zone. Note: There is a minimum purchase of a quarter pound of individually packed cheese per passport stamp, to ensure you have enough to savor.

As owners Paul Doering and Sophie Boban-Doering will tell you, it's about consciously expanding your palate, because—well—eating good cheese is joyful.

Still, you must be willing to take your own journey.

A message in the front of each passport reminds travelers: "Your personal notes will help you remember which ones stole your heart."

These cute little booklets—which totally resemble your real passport, minus the haggard photo—are here to help educate and stimulate your cheese-seeking senses. Once your passport is full, expect a cheese related gift from Fromagerie Sophie. You'll also be invited to the shop's next cheese club pickup party (plus, bring two friends).

"People love bragging rights, diplomas, and awards," Paul said. "So many people walk into the store and say that they feel they know nothing about cheese. No one walks into a winery and despairs that they know nothing about wine. We want to help people find what they like and take some home, while earning a diploma, even if it's a little silly."

Yes, even so-called "fancy" cheeses can, and should be, a source of laughter and amusement.

Added Sophie, "I hate to say 'force,' but it's about allowing people to try things they never may have thought to try on their own. It's exciting, because each country offers so many different experiences."

Photo Courtesy Of Fromagerie Sophie

These experiences include everything from a strong, veiny blue from Bavaria to a sheep-cow's milk hybrid coated in whiskey-soaked barley sourced from the Piemonte region of Italy.

Ramble over to Switzerland's pastoral Wassen municipality or trek to England, Holland, and Spain for more magnificent molds. Domestics from Oregon, California, Washington, and Tennessee are also on the map. Understandably, France boasts two pages of offerings—everything from a crumbly aged Rhone-Alps goat's milk cheese to a young soft traditional cow's milk Burgundian.

Each cheese is as diverse in flavor as it is in upbringing. Depending on the cheese, you will discover the results of a shorter or longer aging process, aging location (natural caves are great places to age cheese), rind-treatments galore, and more pungent smells than you ever knew were possible.

Whether you prefer hard and crystalline, semi-soft for spreading on a baguette, or the kind of indulgence that basically melts at room temperature, I encourage you to be bold. In other words: Life is short. Eat the damn cheese.

"When it comes to cheese, there's layers of learning," said Fromagerie Sophie cheese-monger Faeth Anderson. "You learn the flavor profiles, then the milks. I always ask first if a customer prefers a soft or hard cheese, which guides them to the right case. From there, we can decide whether you're wanting a more robust or mild flavor profile."

Anderson admitted that working at a cheese shop has not put her off cheese one bit. In fact, it's only heightened the obsession (at any given time, 60 to 80 cheeses are at her nimble fingertips).

Once she gets her fill of fine cheeses, she might momentarily turn to some of the other delicacies under the glass counter, including sardines from Italy, popular "lamb ham," salty charcuterie, or rich pâté.

Sophie recommends hosts and hostesses go big or go home. Although any of the aforementioned delicacies will probably wow your friends and fam, cheese is always the center of attention. And a really good cheese may even have a way of bringing even the least likeminded people together in peace and harmony.

"This is a French triple cream cheese topped with raisins soaked in rum," she said, making my mouth water instantly. "This cheese always just feels like the holidays to me." Δ

Hayley Thomas Cain is working on creating a cheese-a-day calendar, because she believes really damn good cheese should be eaten all year long. She can be reached at