By Lorrie Baumann
This is a good time, and Nashville is a good place for a tiny cheese shop that operates as a cut-to-order counter inside a specialty butcher shop, says Kathleen Cotter, Owner of The Bloomy Rind.
The Bloomy Rind is tucked inside Porter Road Butcher, a whole-animal butcher shop that specializes in locally sourced pasture-raised meats. The pairing of a cheese shop and specialty butchers came about after a local farmer introduced Cotter, who was selling cheeses at local farmers markets, to business partners James Peisker and Chris Carter, who had been working together as caterers when they realized that what Nashville lacked was a good source of high-quality local meat. They were getting ready to open a butcher shop in East Nashville to meet that need, and when they met Cotter, it just seemed right that they might also team up with Cotter and her specialty cheeses. “I pitched the idea to sell cheese in their shop. At that point we didn’t know what the setup would look like,” Cotter says. “As their plans for the space crystalized, they worked a small cheese counter for The Bloomy Rind into their layout. So I was able to open up inside Porter Road instead of having to find the funds to build out my own shop.”
Cotter can’t focus on local cheeses the way Peisker and Carter focus on local meats because there just aren’t enough cheeses made locally to Nashville to meet her customers’ needs, but all three partners share a similar passion for sustainably produced foods. “Our philosophy and our passion were very much in alignment,” she says.
Part of their job is educating Nashville residents who are more accustomed to shopping for all their food needs at conventional grocery stores rather than stopping in at a variety of specialty shops, Cotter says. “It’s a change of habit to have to make an extra stop for specialty meats and cheese. But people are more and more willing to make that extra stop as the desire grows to know where their food comes from and how it was produced.”
“There’s also a population who comes in and says they grew up going to the butcher shop,” she adds. “They come back to that experience, which is cool…. We’re having a lot of people moving here from big cities, where they’re a little more used to specialty shops and come in looking for a personalized cheese experience.”
Her corner of the 1,500 square foot store houses a cheese case and a cutting table, and she shares a market area where she has some logs of chevre and a few other cheese accompaniments in a grab-and-go case. She carries 40 to 50 different cheeses in the case, all cut to order. At the moment, she has one particular favorite cheese in her case: a wheel of extra-aged St. Malachi from the Farm at Doe Run that she acquired when the farm sold extra wheels of a cheese they were entering in the American Cheese Society awards competition. “It’s sort of an aged cheddar meets aged Gouda, firm and crystally and brown-buttery,” Cotter says. “I find cheese is very much a mood thing. I don’t know if other people feel the same way. Sometimes you want a cheese that’s mild, fresh and creamy. Other times you want something with a more challenging profile and stronger flavors.”
In addition to her retail business, she operates a thriving wholesale business in which she works with about 20 restaurants in the city on a regular basis. “That helps me to move product through the case so inventory never sits fr too long and I can rotate the selection more frequently,” she says. “The combination of retail and wholesale also makes it possible to earn a living, which can be tough as an independent cheese retailer.” The wholesale business has become more integral to the shop than Cotter expected, which has been a pleasant surprise, she said. “It’s another avenue to market the cheese counter. If people order a Bloomy Rind cheese plate at a restaurant and enjoy it, then they come into the shop and want to try other things as well.”
As she’s grown her business at the shop, Cotter has also founded the Southern Artisan Cheese Festival, which started five years ago and which she has organized each year since then. “It’s been fun to watch that grow and to be a part of growing the awareness of Southern cheese,” she says. “I think Southern cheeses were under appreciated, but along with greater appreciation of Southern food in general, people are becoming more aware of it. We have people from different cities asking for Southern cheeses to be sent to them. It’s on the upswing. People are really excited about it.”
Nashville’s growing food culture makes this an exciting time to be selling specialty cheese there, Cotter says. “I happened to get into this at a good time when American cheeses are getting better and better and better. There are many great cheeses to introduce people to and chefs are more into interesting domestic cheeses,” she says. “Nashville has become the ‘It Girl’ of food and is attracting more chefs, although we already had good ones, as well as visitors who are interested in good food. It’s a fun time to be in Nashville and to be in cheese.”