Food & dining

Her store looks like an apothecary and smells like the spices of the world

Baie Rose Pink Pepper at Curio Spice Co.
Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff
Baie Rose Pink Pepper at Curio Spice Co.

Step into Curio Spice Co. and be enticed by the scents in the air. You might smell rose and citrus, or a fragrance that’s pleasantly leathery and earthy. It depends on what owner Claire Cheney is blending. She toasts spices whole, then grinds and hand-packs them in vintage-style tins in a workspace in the North Cambridge shop she opened last fall. Cheney started the company two years ago, importing spices directly from farmers and producers she travels to meet, and sold them at farmers’ markets and to specialty stores. Most are organic and fair-trade. At the beginning, to blend and package the spices, she shared the kitchen with EH Chocolatier in Somerville. “It was always my vision to have my own space where I could talk to customers,” says Cheney. “It’s crucial to have customers smell the spices and talk about the minute differences.” Cheney studied perfume making, she says, “to hone her smell muscle.” The shop is uncluttered and tranquil. She designed the space to be reminiscent of an old apothecary. The pure spices that line the shelves take you on a journey of thousands of miles. Vanilla pods and pink peppercorns are from Madagascar; a rare long red pepper grows in Cambodia; turmeric and cinnamon sticks come from Sri Lanka; saffron is from the Kozani region of Northern Greece (½ gram to 1 ounce, $1.50 to $9). Cheney creates blends with salt from Greece and uses Vietnamese cocoa nibs with coffee and star anise for a rub for pork or beef that she calls Da Lat Spice. She sources New England dulse seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, and ginger to mix with other spices and herbs for her healthy umami Supeq Spice (1.5 to 2.8 ounces, $6.50 and up). The shop also carries accessories like pepper grinders, ceramic and wood mortars and pestles, and spice spoons from Thailand. Cheney calls her shop “a natural history museum for the senses.” 2265 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-945-1888, ANN TRIEGER KURLAND


Ann Trieger Kurland can be reached at