St. Kilian's Cheese Shop is a boutique-style gem within walking distance of Mondo Vino and The Denver Bread Company -- making Highland Square a convenient stop for gathering party supplies -- and it specializes in French, Spanish and Italian cheeses, with a few select Swiss and Dutch wheels, and cheddars from Ireland and the U.K.
Former shop owners Hugh and Ionah O' Neill sold the shop in November 2011 to nine-year customer and cheese enthusiast Jon Marsh and his fiancé Veronica Martinez. It was a fairly seamless changeover, and Hugh even helps out at the store from time to time.
"It's just the two of us -- we are the employees," said Marsh, hugging Martinez.
Marsh said that the O'Neills are semi-retired, and were ready to turn it over. "But it was never on the market, so it was an easy transition."
"I was in retail before," he adds. "We love the neighborhood and the other businesses here, and Veronica is still working full-time at her regular job then coming in here and working."
They appear to doing a bang-up job of it, and Marsh's knowledge of everything cheese was pretty impressive. He's the guy to see when you need to build a cheese plate, and his enthusiastic attitude would make newbie cheese buyers quite comfortable.
Marsh's advice for people new to serving cheese plates is simplicity and symmetry. "First you have to know how many people you are serving to determine how many cheeses to buy," he said. "It's good to have at least one soft, one hard, and then something funky--something creamy and sweet, and a classic sharp."
And there are many distinct advantages to buying cheese from a cheese shop rather than at the supermarket. Having an actual cheese monger to talk to is the biggest benefit, and a good one will answer all your questions, make recommendations, give you samples, and then cut fresh pieces of cheese right in front of you.
Being in the market for a tasty trio of cheeses myself, I got the full guest treatment from Marsh and Martinez.
The first cheese I sampled was Scharfe Maxx, a Swiss, raw cow's milk cheese aged six months with a hard, dry rind. The paste on this cheese was a smooth cream color, and the scent and flavor were both very sharp, with notes of anchovy and garlic. It's a perfect addition to an antipasto platter with lots of pickled peppers and olives.
I inquired about good, sharp, interesting Cheddar, and Marsh's eyes lit up. He pulled a full, uncut wheel out from the case, encased in gauzy bandages and told me all about it while he reverently unwrapped and then carefully sliced into it.
Bleu Mont Cheddar is cloth bandage-wrapped, and the aging process facilitated by washing the cheese round with spring water and old cheddar rinds. The paste texture is satiny-smooth, no holes and the flavor is very earthy, especially closer to the rind -- warm wood, toasted nuts and caramel in the inner paste, and beautiful damp earth and minerals toward the outside edges. This would be a superior choice for a cheese plate or just by itself.
The Cabricharme in the case caught my eye; this cheese had a heavy beefy aroma and a moist, sunset-colored rind. The paste was creamy and dotted with tiny, irregular holes. The flavor was salty, tangy and musky with enough barnyard straw essence to be interesting.
This is a cheese for cheese lovers, and will likely spark a conversation or two over the robust flavors.
I ended up eating this one by itself with a chilled bottle of Aspall's "Peronelle's Blush" hard cider with blackberry from Mondo Vino.
My cheese plates tend to be different ones in multiples of three, so I asked Marsh about the Charmoix -- a raw cow's milk cheese, cave-aged, with a mottled, sunny-hued rind and a sweet, yeast scent. It had an arid, chalky paste punctuated with small, uneven holes, and flavors of salted butter and tangy lemon rind.
All in all, the new owners are a class act, and we wish them a happy and prosperous New Year, supplying our fair city with fine cheeses, hopefully for many years to come.
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