The Cheese Shop of Saline opens for business at 11 a.m. Friday.
Owner John Loomis presented a delicious array of cheeses for friends, family and supporters during a small get together Friday. He admitted to some pre-opening anxiety.
“I’m terrified but just relieved and excited,” said Loomis, a man who knows fine cheese like few others.
It was hard to detect anxiety at Thursday’s soft opening.
“We’ve had nothing but encouragement from people all along but tonight there’s a physical presence to it. It means a lot,” said Loomis, who was joined by his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Samantha, at the opening.
Thursday was a preview of things to come. Loomis likes to promote cheeses that challenge his customers and he did so at his soft opening.
One of the offerings was Roquefort cheese, a sheep milk blue cheese from southern France.
“To be called Roquefort they have to be aged in the caves of France. It’s been around for 2000 years,” Loomis said. “It’s the perfect example of blue cheese because it’s so salty that it’s meant to be eaten with some kind of fruit to soften that up.”
And, of course, the Cheese Shop of Saline had a bowl of sliced fruit next to the Roquefort cheese.
Loomis also served a Cashel blue cheese from Ireland. Cashel is the Irish word for Castle. Loomis enjoyed the opportunity to make cheese with Louis and Jane Grubb, the farmhouse artisan cheese makers who founded the company.
“Louis and Jane were bonkers about cheese. It was all they talked about,” Loomis said.
That personal connection is important to Loomis.
“I like to sell cheeses that I actually know who started the cheese or who is making the cheese,” Loomis said.
It’s not always easy to find such supplier. And it’s one reason why the prices of his products are higher than one you’ll find in your typical supermarket. Most of his cheeses will run between $15 and $35 per pound. Most are under $20.
“But it’s kind of like wine. You get to a certain level and if you want something that is really off the charts, it will cost you a bit more,” Loomis said.
Loomis served his own mozzarella cheese. Another favorite was pimento cheese – a spicy spread that’s sure to be a hit at parties.
“I started making it about 15 years ago. When I first started, nobody north of the Mason-Dixon line had heard of it. It’s been in the south forever,” Loomis said. “It’s a cheese spread made from cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and roasted red peppers. It’s great for football games with bread and crackers.”
The Cheese Shop of Saline will carry a selection of fine bread and crackers, too. That’s just the start. Loomis has a selection of cured meats, like salami and prosciutto. He’ll offer a selection of quality chocolate treats. Another shelf features extra virgin olive oil. On another shelf you can find snacks like melting parmesan cheese sticks or survivalist jerky.
Thursday’s soft opening was attended by Mayor Brian Marl, City Councillor Christen Mitchell, School Board Trustee Michael McVey, officials from Saline Main Street and the Saline Area Chamber of Commerce, local business owners, employees of the Cheese Shop and friends and family members of Loomis. In honor of the occasion, Sweet Leilani’s created a cheese cake shaped like a wedge of cheese.
Saline Main Street Director Riley Hollenbaugh said the addition of the Cheese Shop of Saline is a coup for downtown Saline – especially for the 100 block of North Ann Arbor Street, which has enjoyed a revival in 2017.
“The Cheese Shop of Saline is going to be a great addition for downtown. It’s going to complement our other businesses, especially the new ones that have opened downtown,” Hollenbaugh said.
Sweet Leilani’s and McPherson Local also opened this year. Along with the Cheese Shop of Saline, the businesses are giving North Ann Arbor Street a “foodie” vibe.
“I think these new businesses will complement our restaurants, retail and service,” Hollenbaugh said.
Former Saline City Council member David Rhoads, owner of HSA Remodeling, helped bring Loomis to Saline. He had been recruiting John and Erika Aylward to town for a couple of years. The Aylwards, who vend at the Saline Farmers Market, own the highly-regarded Boulevard Market in Tecumseh. The Aylwards weren’t able to open a second location in Saline. But they met Loomis and began sharing ideas. Rhoads introduced them to the building owner and city officials and, eventually, the Cheese Shop of Saline was born.
“I love it. It’s great. I plan to shop here,” Rhoads said. “It’s the kind of business that will attract more people and create foot traffic, which will benefit the other downtown businesses.”