BUSINESS & COMMUNITY
By Fraser Sherman
Selling cheese is like matchmaking, cheesemongers Michelle and Stevie Lee Webb say.
The Webbs have been helping Triangle residents meet the right cheese for them since 2022, when they opened The Cheese Shop as an 80-square-foot store inside Carrboro’s Glasshalfull restaurant. Come next summer, they’ll be doing it in an 1,800-square-foot store of their own, inside the Carolina Car Wash Building at 100B Brewer Lane.
“We love telling the stories of cheese, pairing them with our customers’ taste and palate,” the Webbs said in an email to The Local Reporter. “Much like wine, almost every cheese has an incredible story, history, origin and maker. Some cheeses, such as Cheddar, go back centuries, Others are made in remote areas of the world, like Wilde Weide Gouda, and some are only made by one or two people, like Monte Enebro.”
The couple said that opening their first standalone store means “we can harness all of the things we’ve tested and learned over the past year, the partnerships we’ve nurtured, the talented staff we’ve cultivated.” In addition to selling cheese, the new shop will offer a menu of cheese plates, sandwiches, soups, salads, wines and beer, plus a 15-seat cheese bar for special meals, events, classes and tastings. The Cheese Shop will also stay open in Glasshalfull until the fall of 2024.
“The Cheese Shop combines our mutual passion for cheese-mongering and entrepreneurship,” a press release announcing the new store says. “Our goal is to create a bustling gathering place to indulge in the best cheeses from producers in our own backyard and around the world, to engage in educational and thoughtful conversations with our resident cheesemongers about the art, science and making of cheese, and opening people’s minds and palettes to new flavors and favorites.”
Stevie is the head cheesemonger and head of sales, responsible for curating the cheese case and developing the menus. Michelle is head of operations, overseeing financial and marketing matters and exercising her event-planning expertise.
Stevie Webb was born in London but has been a US resident for about 16 years, he said. Starting his life in America in Washington DC, he spent 10 years in emergency medicine before meeting and marrying Michelle, a native New Yorker. They relocated to Brooklyn where Steve worked the cheese counter at The Greene Grape in the Fort Greene neighborhood part-time for a year. Michelle had family located throughout the Triangle and the Webbs relocated to Carrboro in 2020.
After their arrival, they said, they saw the local food scene growing increasingly sophisticated but they also “saw a major gap in the specialty food market for cut-to-order cheese.” They opened in Glasshalfull because the restaurant’s wine list made it a natural fit: “wine and cheese are an obvious choice.”
Even chain supermarkets have a wider variety of high-quality cheese than they used to but the Webbs says the Cheese Shop has advantages other stores don’t:
- All their cheese is cut to order from cheese wheels rather than being pre-cut. It’s fresh, hasn’t been wrapped in plastic for days, and you can try before you buy.
- The Webbs monitor inventory closely to make sure they’re moving through the cheeses on hand quickly, not letting anything sit on the shelf too long.
- Because of their connections with distributors and importers, they also offer seasonal cheeses and specialties exclusive to the Cheese Shop.
At time of writing, The Cheese Shop’s specialty cheeses include Rush Creek Reserve by Uplands Cheese Company in Wisconsin and Vacherin Mont D’Or: “Both are small, round wheels that are perfect at room temperature, but very well known for being baked in the oven with some white wine and herbs. An ooey, gooey fondue-like result that tastes great on a piece of crispy baguette. For a third, we love Alisios, a cheese made in the Canary Islands that is rubbed in paprika – wonderful to snack on with a little bit of smoke.”
The Webbs said they also offer familiar cheeses such as Cheddar and Gouda, but prioritize buying them from high-quality, small-batch artisanal producers, both American and international. For example, “only 2 percent of Feta cheese in the U.S. is from Greece. It usually comes from France or Bulgaria. We carry a very special Greek Feta that will make you rethink buying Feta in the box.”
They added that another reason to drop in on the Cheese Shop is that “we know a lot about cheese. We know how the cheese is made, who makes it, where it comes from, ingredients, science and taste profiles. We help you understand cheese and help you navigate the case based on what you like and what you’re looking for – snacking cheese, burger cheese, macaroni-and-cheese cheese. We are your go-to cheese guides!”
Along with independents like The Cheese Shop, Raising Cane, a popular Baton Rouge-based chain known for its chicken fingers, opened on East Franklin Street early in November. Snooze, a breakfast/brunch restaurant, also opened this fall. The Colorado franchise offers inventive pancakes and twists on morning cocktails such as the Bloody Mary.
Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.