Garett Palecek's love affair with cheese began by happenstance: After a stint working in purchasing and warehouse management for Aramark at Coors Field, he landed a job at Cheese Importers, a Longmont outfit that maintains a shop and supplies specialty grocers and restaurants all over the Front Range. He'd been hired for his accounting skills, not his cheese knowledge, which was a good thing, because he was a total novice. "I walked in thinking I liked cheddar cheese and what I thought was Brie," he recalls. "The owner encouraged me to try every cheese. By two or three months in, I was completely engulfed. I was reading magazines, publications and books after hours — I drank the Kool-Aid and caught the bug."
Through his tasting and study, Palecek realized how complex cheese was, and he soon found himself expounding on what he'd learned about bloomy rinds or semi-firm blue cheeses at parties, realizing that many people didn't have a firm grasp of the differences in dairy. By the time he went home for Christmas in 2010, the year he started working in the industry, he'd plotted an in-transit stop at Murray's Cheese, a prominent New York purveyor. "I'd read the Cheese Bible, and I thought, I just need to check out this shop," he says. "My eyes just popped out of my head. I thought, this is what I want to do. I started setting up goals."
It took five more years to pull together his own shop, but late last year, he opened Curds Cheese at 2449 West Main Street in Littleton using the proceeds from selling his condo in RiNo. His goal, he explains, is to help curious cheese seekers feel more comfortable with cheese, and to expand beyond the generic varieties on most grocery store shelves. "There’s still a big gap in understanding cheese in America," he says. "The idea here is like skiing: Let’s work on the bunny slope and work up to a green and a blue. Some people feel happy on blue groomers, and others want to be on black diamonds." To that end, he stocked his case with dozens of kinds of cheeses, culling his stock from local purveyors like MouCo, plus top-notch producers from around the globe. He's put some emphasis on small outfits — his Parmigiano-Reggiano, for instance, comes from the Bonati brothers, who make three wheels per day — but because he wanted to keep the standards in his shop at a reasonable price, he's working with some large cheesemakers, too.
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Palecek says he always has something open in his shop, and on weekends, sometimes you can sample as many as six cheeses. And he plans to roll out cheese classes, beginning with Cheese 101 in late May, to help people ramp up their knowledge. That first class will cover the basic types of cheeses — fresh, bloomy rind, washed rind, semi-firm, firm and blue — with stories about the purveyors Curds carries and plenty of samples so people can discover what they like.
In addition to cheese, the monger has tried to notch into what he sees as a hole in grab-and-go offerings in downtown Littleton, putting out sandwiches built on Trompeau bread with cured meat from Salumeria Biellese, cheese, and a little extra-virgin olive oil or mustard. You can buy those condiments or meats, plus a wide array of crackers and cheese accoutrements, in his shop, too.
Ultimately, he'd just like to see people's interest in cheese grow. "I love sampling people and educating them," he says. "I love seeing that eye roll — there's nothing better than giving someone something and seeing them sort of wake up, like, oh my gosh, I just tasted food for the first time."
Curds is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.