Travel the world by eating cheese in Bay City, local shop goes beyond the grocery store slice

For the last five years, Artigiano in Bay City has been working to elevate the appreciation of cheese far above the typical slice, block, or spread. Carrying over 50 varieties and rotating their stock to continue to offer new varieties, cheesemonger Kevin Parker talks to Route about the magic that happens when bacteria, mold, and milk make cheese.

Route Bay City: How did Bay City end up with its own cheesemonger?

Kevin Parker: It's been a small evolution. My parents started the company in 2008 just as a hobby, hitting farmer's markets and things. As they were getting into for fun, my wife and I would help hit extra ones around our work schedules. It was fun, and a good way to spend an evening. We slowly got more and more into it - into cheese and wine and food in general. So we got together with my parents and discussed the idea of opening a retail shop, and here we are!

With over 50 varieties of cheese, can you describe the different kinds of cheeses you offer?

We offer everything from soft, mold-ripened cheese, to bleu cheeses, to what everyone calls “stinky cheeses” which are smear-ripened cheeses. We also have hard, grating cheeses like parmesans, along with Dutch goudas. There will also be a variety of cheddars from a young, mild, approachable cheddar to something like a 10 or 12-year-old aged cheddar that will be super sharp.

Of those cheeses, are there any customer favorites?

Oh definitely. The brie styles; the soft, mold-ripened, high-fat content cheeses are very popular. They’re super good, spreadable, and great for around the holidays.

The aged goudas are also popular. A lot of people don’t know they like goudas until they try them for the first time, and then they love them.

And then the bleu cheese. Believe it or not, even though it's definitely not for everyone, fans of bleu cheese are die-hard fans.

Bleu cheese definitely seems like a divisive kind of cheese.

Oh definitely. But the people who love it come in for it regularly.

What do you love about cheese?

The biggest thing for me is the ease of the food. It's great food - with all the different styles of cheese, you get all these different flavors, textures, and things like that, but it's SUPER easy. If you work a lot, you can go home and throw together a quick plate of cheeses and meats and crackers or whatever you like, and you get a great meal but it takes literally like five minutes to put together.

And you're almost traveling when you eat cheese because we order cheese from all over the world. We don't have to go there, it can come to us.

What's the craziest cheese you sell?

I think the one people think is the most unique is Mimolette, which is a French hard cheese that's covered in cheese mites while it ages. They're mites that eat the mold and bacteria that grow on the exterior of the cheese, on the rind. We carry a 12-14 month aged version and so the surface is completely pitted out, it looks like craters on the moon where the mites remove the cheese while it's aging. It's crazy, but it's got a cool story behind it!

If someone wanted to get into the world of cheese, what cheese would you suggest?

I also encourage people to come in and try some samples at no obligation so they can figure out what they like. Most people are going to taste the difference immediately; there’s unique flavors, and a higher concentration of flavors than your typical, mass-produced cheese.

For people just starting out, I usually suggest something like a French triple cream. It's basically like Brie and butter smashed together. It's super easy to eat, everybody loves butter. It's a little salty, it's a little creamy, it's pretty subtle. We also find that people really enjoy Raclette, which is a French melting cheese - you can put it over potatoes or make a fondue.

I see you have more than cheese - what all do you offer here at Artigiano?

We do a lot of things - obviously the cheese, but also wine and beer where we focus on small producers and craft breweries. We do a little bit of premium extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars. We also stock preserves, pickled vegetables, and pasta.

We also sell locally made artisan chocolates from Artisanne, and other things that round out our cheeses if you want to be able to just do a whole meal at home. We also do events with cheese and charcuterie plates and we can do those all the way up to 200-250 people.

You can visit Artigiano at 815 Saginaw Street in Bay City.
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