To know me is to know of my love for cheese. Whether cow, goat, sheep, or water buffalo, I think of cheese as the epitome of culinary pleasure. Not all cheeses, of course—those industrial blocks found in the dairy sections of supermarkets next to the sour cream and flavored Greek yogurts, while technically cheese, don’t exactly send me. They don’t inspire me, intrigue me, float my dairy boat. Cracker Barrel may have its place, but it’s not at my table. No, dear readers, it’s the truly crafted cheeses, often farmstead or artisanal with recipes honed by the years, that sway me—the French Comté, the Midwestern Maytag Blue, the Spanish Drunken Goat, the British Stilton. Depending where you live, it may be difficult to source these cheeses. For the more obscure and lesser known cheeses–your Bucherons, your Valdeons, your Pleasant Ridge Reserves–it may be damn near impossible. That said, I do have pretty good luck at Whole Foods and, to a lesser extent, Earth Fare. Still, the best place to buy cheese is a place where the staff is not only knowledgeable, but enthusiastic about the product. I am talking about a dedicated cheese shop.
On a recent road trip, I made an excursion to Madison, Wisconsin, with one of my stops being an expedition (really, a pilgrimage) to Fromagination, one of the premier cheese shops in the United States. Located along Capitol Square1, a step into Fromagination practically made me weep. The cheese scents, the wheels and wedges, the accoutrements—how glad I was to be there and how sad to live so far away. Granted, that may be a good thing, since a residence in proximity to Fromagination would probably add ten pounds a year to my frame.
Fromagination isn’t just an ordinary cheese shop—it’s a vital part of the vibrancy that is downtown Madison. Since its opening in 2007, the store has become a mecca for the cheese-minded, heralded both locally and nationally (I learned about it in a national magazine). And, conscious of its location, Fromagination does an esteemed job of promoting Wisconsin products! Truly a noble outlet and clearly a good neighbor (even being named a Local Hero by Edible Madison magazine).
I was so impressed by the way the staff treated me, even when I told them I couldn’t buy cheese (just started my road trip). It didn’t matter. They were soooo helpful and delightful, answering my questions about the store. I did get some wonderful nonperishable (and Wisconsin-produced!) souvenirs: a Fromagination picnic/tote bag, made by a semi-local fabric artist (Sue Hedin2 of Stillwater, MN); some Gail Ambrosius chocolates; and locally made shallot confit with red wine from Quince and Apple.
Any cheese lover living in the Midwest may wish to consider a trip to Fromagination. Indeed, I look forward to a return trip during cooler weather, armed with a cooler to take my delicious wares home. Because the Cheese Stands Alone.
1In case you forgot this from your elementary school days, Madison is the capital of Wisconsin.
2I was told she wasn’t making the bags anymore and that once the stock was sold, there would be no more. Good thing I got one!