Chattanooga will gain its first dedicated artisan cheese shop with Bleu Fox Cheese, set to open its doors Saturday, Dec. 2 during the Southside's annual 24-hour MAINx24 block party.
The shop is hosting an event from noon to 3 p.m., when it will dole out "cheese plate kebabs," which are basically cheese plates on sticks, said Jesse Watlington, a Signal Mountain resident who co-owns the store with his wife Brittany, who handles marketing for the business.
Jesse Watlington cut his cheesemongering teeth in the Specialty Department of Greenlife Grocery, continuing there when the store was bought by Whole Foods and later taking his expertise to Pruett's Signal Mountain Market. Back in 2012, he was among the graduates of the first class of the American Cheese Society's Certified Cheese Professional program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Fellow Bleu Fox cheesemonger Sam Weathers also received the certification, which involves learning the entire process of cheese-making, including the different types of bacteria and mold that make certain cheeses taste the way they do.
The required 4,000 hours of experience in the cheese-making process gives Certified Cheese Professionals the in-depth knowledge necessary to understand cheese and the products that go with it, and the ability to answer any questions customers may have, said Watlington.
When he was recently given the opportunity to fulfill his longtime dream of owning a specialty cheese shop, it was a chance he and Brittany couldn't pass up.
Going by the middle names of their two children, Amelia Bleu and Henry Fox, Bleu Fox Cheese Shop will offer artisan cheeses from the region and all over the world, he said. The store will also carry charcuterie from Main Street Meats, cured meats and other items that complement cheese, such as soda crackers, jams, honey, olives and nuts, as well as cutting boards and knives.
"We'll have everything you'd need to put together a great cheese plate," said Jesse Watlington, who defines artisan cheese as cheese that has been produced with thought and care throughout the entire process.
He plans to cater cheese plates in a variety of sizes, but the store's main focus will be on selling cut-to-order artisan cheese. Most people who want to buy artisan cheese have to sift through pre-cut selections at the store to find a piece that most closely fits the amount they need, he said, but Bleu Fox customers will be able to get the exact amount they want. They'll also be able to try the cheese before they buy — important since artisan products can be pricey, said Watlington.
Customers will be able to special order cheese platters to pick up, and the store will also have prepared mini-platters people can pick up for lunch or a quick snack.
Watlington said the shop seems like a perfect fit for Main Street, which he sees as the city's specialized food hub. Neighboring establishments such as Niedlov's Breadworks and Main Street Meats are similarly devoted to offering products in which care is put into every aspect of production, he said.
One of Watlington's favorite cheeses he'll carry is Dancing Fern, a soft-ripened cheese from local Sequatchie Cove Creamery. The farmstead cheese — meaning it's made from milk from the farm's own cows and produced there as well — is made with raw milk, as using pasteurized milk kills microbes that develop flavor as cheese ages, Watlington explained.
"We'll give people a chance to try cheeses I'm almost positive they've never tried before, and hopefully broaden their cheese and specialized food horizons," said Watlington.
Bleu Fox Cheese Shop is at 330 E. Main St. and can be reached at 498-1977 or email@example.com. Visit bleufoxcheeseshop.com for more information.