Q&A by Rachel Hoskins
Photos by Brittany Schenk
Occupation :Cheesemonger + Owner of Flora Artisanal Cheese
Residence: Charlottesville, Virginia
Tell us about Flora Artisanal Cheese:
We are a full service, cut to order cheese shop located inside Milli Joe Coffee [& Gelato]. We stock about 60 specialty cheeses from all over the world with a strong focus on American artisanal cheeses made on a small scale by famers and cheese makers who I have a personal relationship with. I spent three years as a cheese monger at Whole Foods both here in Charlottesville as well as Portland, Oregon. I have worked with dairy animals as well as cheese makers on both coasts.
What is your role at Flora?
As the owner and proprietor of Flora I source and order every item that we stock. In addition to cheese, we carry a small assortment of charcuterie as well as crackers, chutneys, honey and jam. Everything you need to build a gorgeous cheese plate at home.
While I always had an interest in fine food and beverage, it wasn't until I started working behind a cheese counter that I really fell in love with cheese. I read every book on cheese that I could get my hands on, I did research online, and eventually began traveling to cheese shops in Portland, Boulder, D.C., Philly and New York to learn what I could. Every step I took and everything I learned led to more and more questions, which I found exhilarating. Cheese was this mysterious thing that very few people knew a lot about and I wanted to be that person.
The main reason my shop is cut to order (meaning nothing is pre-cut and pre-wrapped) is because that is the only way to properly sell cheese so that it maintains its integrity. BUT the reason I love it is because every transaction involves a conversation with the customer. I can talk about where the cheese is from, who makes it, how it is made, what it goes well with and the why behind all of the answers. That is what I love about cheese.
Why did you decide to open a cheese shop in Charlottesville?
Charlottesville is an incredibly food savvy town. People love to eat and love to know the story behind what they are eating. We have more restaurants per capita than almost every city in the U.S. and a thriving local food movement with enthusiastic and committed farmers and producers. Because of all this it seemed crazy that there wasn't a shop focusing on cheese. The few options in town were counters full of cheese wrapped and suffocating in plastic. I saw this as a community that would respond well to a counter where their questions could be answered and where the cheese was taken care of to showcase its quality.
Farmers, cheese makers, and even the animals go through so much to produce the finished product of artisanal cheese, and it costs the consumer so much to purchase it, that it is nothing less than a travesty to shortchange either side. I wanted Charlottesville [residents] to have an option where they could know that they were getting nothing but the best.
For you personally, why Charlottesville?
I moved back here after [spending] eight years in Oregon ... but it didn't take long for me to fall back in love with the city. It is a small town where I can't walk into any business and not recognize half the people, but has many amenities of a big city: We have a ballet, an orchestra, great theatres, fantastic galleries—any day or night of the week there is something going on.
Do you have any favorite spots around town?
All of my favorite places have to do with food and drink. My favorite restaurants are MAS, tavola, Maya [and] Commonwealth. We have an incredible craft beer and cider industry in the area: Hunter Smith at Champion Brewery is blowing me away on a weekly basis with his brews. Potter's Craft [Cider] and Albemarle Ciderworks are putting Virginia cider on the map.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I don't have a lot of free time since I have opened up. I have been at the shop every day since we opened at the end of August. My free time usually consists of going out to dinner and then going home to watch sports or TV before falling asleep.
If money were not an obstacle, what would you do?
I would absolutely hop the next plane to Europe and start visiting cheese makers. I have received open-ended invitations from makers and affineurs in England, Belgium, France, Switzerland and Germany—I would start at one end and travel to the other. After I finished I would turn around and head back eating my way across the continent.
Do you have a favorite food?
My favorite food entirely depends on the season and my mood. Most days though it would consist of a hunk of bread, some salami and a piece of cheese. There isn't a whole lot more that I would want.
To learn more about Nadjeeb Chouaf and Flora Artisanal Cheese, visit here.