Mike Keuler didn’t initially plan to make cheese a career, but it caught up to him anyway.
So Damn Gouda, Keuler’s cheese and provisions shop at 2432 West 44th Avenue, offers specialty cheese plates for delivery, and this year the shop is offering small Thanksgiving charcuterie boards to add a festive note to small gatherings. Though tailored to the season, the boards reiterate a year-long philosophy of pairing flavors for customers interested in learning more about cheese. “Our cheese knowledge is a big part of what we do,” Keuler says, and every plating is created with taste in mind.
Keuler took a roundabout road to the cheese business, though he jokes that it was always in his blood. “I’m from Minnesota originally, and all of my extended family is from Wisconsin. I literally have family members who are dairy farmers today,” he says. So as a teenager, naturally, he picked a pursuit that didn't include cheese: Nordic ski jumping.
“I was an [Olympic] athlete until I was about 21,” he continues. “As a ski jumper, you’re supposed to be as light as you can — so you can fly — and cheese doesn’t really fit into that.” However, Keuler adds, he still sampled cheese varieties while traveling internationally as an athlete and then later as a coach.
He switched gears about fifteen years ago to travel less and spend more time with his growing family. He attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University and then started working at Frasca Food and Wine in Boulder. At first his goal was to become the best chef in the world, but he soon realized he wasn’t prepared to put the time in to hone those skills. Instead, he gravitated toward his passion for cheese and cured meats, and ended up managing the cheese department at a Whole Foods Market before launching So Damn Gouda in 2015.
So Damn Gouda started as an online delivery service after Keuler purchased the inventory from Mell’s Cheese as it was going out of business. In 2018, he made the move to a physical location, purchasing the former Cheese + Provisions shop in Sunnyside. The Mell's Cheese collection allowed Keuler a starting point, and the rest has been a tasting adventure. “You can read about [cheese] and you can learn about it, but until you create a memory about what it is, until you eat it, it doesn’t really register," he says. "When you’re in an industry like this, you create a catalogue of cheese by just dealing with it and trying everything.”
Keuler and his wife, Cori, often learn about new kinds of cheese from big conventions hosted by groups such as the American Cheese Society, which pointed them in the direction of small businesses, the shop owner explains. “We meet these people as we go. It’s not as big a community as you might imagine. The real nerds all know each other.”
And Keuler has ties to some cheese makers through his family because their dairy farms are based in the Midwest. America’s “best milks come from Wisconsin, California, Vermont…where it’s green and lush,” he continues, noting that the land and the climate give those grasses certain qualities and nutrients that cause the cows to create milk with specific fats and proteins that in turn build the taste profile of the cheese.
A bestseller at So Damn Gouda is one of those Midwestern cheeses: Prairie Breeze from Milton, Iowa. Keuler says it’s a riff on an American-style white cheddar that contains a bit of sweetness and nuttiness. It also has an aspect of the alpine style of Emmental cheese, a taste the Keulers love. The two specialize in alpine cheeses, “Gateway cheeses, as we call them. People say they don’t like stinky cheeses,” Keuler says, but that’s where the couple brings their self-described “nerdery” to the table to make high-end cheese more approachable. They normally include a selection of cheese to suit different palates in the hope that customers come back wanting to further experiment.
So Damn Gouda’s Thanksgiving platter is tailored toward family eating. It includes butterkäse, a semi-soft cow's milk cheese from Germany; mimolette, an orange-hued hard cow's milk cheese from Normandy; Delice Mon Sire, a mild, creamy Brie-style cow's cheese from Burgundy; and Prairie Breeze. There are also additional spread options such as French onion Emmental cheese dip and apple-pear chutney, as well as cured meats like prosciutto di Parma and jamón ibérico. All plates also include cornichons, castelvetrano olives, dried fruit, fresh grapes, Valencia almonds and housemade crostini. There are also gluten-free options.
Orders for Thanksgiving platters must be made by midnight on November 23, but the shop always has custom cheese plates, cheese and cured meats by the pound, and bottles of wine, and they’re happy to talk to customers about about the products they’re selling. Call 303-455-2221 or visit So Damn Gouda's website for hours and other details.
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