Cheese monger Peter Lovis has been behind the counter at the old-fashioned Concord Cheese Shop for more than a decade, but his love of cheeses goes back to the 1970s.
He has seen the preferences of American taste buds change from a handful of standards like Jarlsberg and cheddar to today’s mind-boggling artisanal selections. Lovis, 51, began his career at 15, working at a mom-and-pop store in New Jersey. He advanced to a gourmet shop, then an import company, and finally a distributor before buying the shop in Concord.
“I’ve worked through the entire supply chain,” Lovis said.
Are cheese sales seasonal?
I make 30 percent of my gross sales during December. That’s when more people are entertaining, serving quality cheese, making hors d’oeuvres, and enjoying comfort foods. That’s when we also host a parade and roll out the red carpet for a 400-pound wheel of Crucolo cheese from northern Italy.
What should someone look for when tasting a cheese?
First and foremost, do you like it? Does it taste good and bring you pleasure? One thing I look for is complexity of flavor — it should evolve as you taste it. Perhaps it is creamy and smooth and then develops a bite; or starts off stinky, then has a creamy richness.
Your head cheese buyer’s name is Brie. That’s very serendipitous.
Brie Hurd was a college student who started working here and has been with us ever since. There’s a new energy and excitement among many young people who don’t see this as a job but a cool new profession.
How do you decide what sorts of cheese to carry?
We have between 150 and 200 types of cheese at any time, and over a thousand different cheeses over the course of a year. Our inventory changes all the time, depending on availability, season, and demand.
The Concord Cheese Shop is one of the oldest continuous cheese shops, established in the 1860s. How did you come to buy the cheese shop?
I was in the wholesale cheese business and I called on this store. A good friend of mine was general manager here, and said to me, “You should put on an apron and get back in the retail cheese business.” A few years later, in 2001, I was told the store was for sale, and I was so excited, I raced home and got two speeding tickets. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Have you ever purchased from a chain grocery store with their plastic-looking cheese?
My wife and I were on vacation and we ran out of cheese. I went to the supermarket and I picked out what I thought was a nice Gruyere. I brought it home and it was dead, well past its prime. She still teases me about it today, but it proves my rule: Don’t buy cheese unless you can taste it first.
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.