Cheese people, the name by which I so lovingly refer to folks in the artisan cheese world, are my favorite. And they’re almost always generous, quirky, and fascinating conversationalists! This week, I had the great privilege of speaking with Sheri LaVigne, founder and owner of The Calf & Kid in Seattle, Washington. You might have seen Sheri in Culture Magazine or even the Layover with one of my favorite food heroes, Anthony Bourdain. And guess what else, you guys? Sheri said that SHE has been a longtime fan of Miss Cheesemonger!! I just about melted at hearing those words.
But enough fawning! I hear from a lot of folks who are interested in opening their own cheese shop one day, and thought it would be helpful to share some insight from one of the industry’s most prolific!
Like so many other successful cheese entrepreneurs, Sheri didn’t always know she was going to be a cheese rock star. She did, however, grow up on a farm outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with access to raw goat milk. That helps, but her love of cheese was cultivated in Brooklyn, at Bedford Cheese Shop. Nurtured by her neighborhood cheesemongers and local cheeses, Sheri grew her knowledge and passion for artisanal cheese. She might not have known how much until she and her husband moved to Seattle, Washington.
Seattle, Sheri soon learned, was a great food city, but not necessarily a great cheese city. There were some cheese shops and one smallish local cheese festival, but not much in the way of neighborhood cheese shops like Bedford. She was working in the animal welfare field at the time, but soon started dreaming of becoming her own boss. Thinking back to Bedford Cheese Shop, she realized this model was severely underrepresented in her new town. It took about three years for the Calf & Kid to open once she committed to the cheese shop concept, but her determination carried her through all the work. Along the way, Sheri interned at Black Sheep Creamery, dipping her fingers into the cheese making, aging, farmers markets, milking, and then some. She learned about the enormous amount of work needed to make cheese. She also learned about herself, as she saw how much she missed the constant stimulation of an urban environment. Throughout the journey, though, one tenet stayed constant to Sheri—the responsibility of representing each cheese maker’s story and products as well as possible.
Finding a shop location wasn’t easy. Sheri spent a year scouting locations before settling on her current Melrose Market location in the charming Capitol Hill neighborhood. There, Sitka & Spruce by the notable Matt Dillon was already established. Developers had worked to restore this former 1940s BMW garage, keeping its unique architectural integrity, but repurposing it to house specialty boutiques. Sheri loved that the marketplace offered customers a means to get their groceries done while sparing her from having to think of anything but cheese. Today, when you visit the market, you can find a butcher, a wine shop, and a flower shop amongst the Calf & Kid’s neighbors.
Another indicator that Sheri’s doing something incredible for her community? She was featured on The Layover with Anthony Bourdain! Yeah, Anthony Bourdain. I flipping love this guy (although, to be honest, I haven’t met many people who don’t love him). I just had to ask Sheri what that experience was like, and she said it was all a frantic, ecstatic kind of flurry after she got the initial call about the show. When Bourdain finally arrived at the shop one morning, he seemed bright-eyed and bushy tailed, thoroughly interested in cheese, and ready to taste. Sheri said they spent an hour tasting through the case. He loved the cheeses she showed him. And he loves cheese. REALLY loves it. Her appearance on the show bumped up exposure of the Seattle cheese scene about 50 notches, enough so that fans of the show still come to the shop looking for artisan cheese, years later.
As some of you know, the American Cheese Society conference is taking place in Sacramento in just a couple weeks! Sheri will be attending; hopefully, this will be my chance to meet this true cheese rock star in person! Thank you, Sheri, for sharing your story! And keep on being awesome, The Calf & Kid!
If you want to visit The Calf & Kid, their contact info is: 1531 Melrose Ave.; Seattle, WA 98101. Phone: (206) 467-5447.
And if YOU really want to join us at the Festival of Cheese, you can! You can purchase tickets on their website. It’s only $60 for the general public. Come taste 1,600 cheeses with us!
—Photograph Copyright Charity Lynne Photography (Treat yourself and visit the website. Really.)