There comes a time in many people’s careers when they crave something new. A change. Daring to deviate from what they know in order to experience something new and exciting. That’s what happened to Chris Kohtz. After working at American Public Media, rather than continue to build a career in the broadcast industry, he left the station to follow his passion. He opened a cheese shop in downtown Stillwater.
At The Wedge & Wheel, customers receive expert advice while browsing the shop’s impressive cheese offerings. To take their experience even further, The Wedge & Wheel also offers regular classes and tastings to help expand customer knowledge.
Kohtz’s interest in cheese began long before his departure from radio; it was rooted in his love of locally grown food and the Twin Cities’ gourmet food scene. “I was on the River Co-Op board of directors for many years and had friends who owned restaurants,” Kohtz says. “I was tuned in to the scene in the [St. Croix] River valley. I wanted to do my own business, small and local, and bring this to Stillwater.”
Kohtz’s passion for cheese grew during his recent travels, particularly while visiting London, where he visited great cheese shops and became inspired to learn more about artisan cheese, making connections and gaining sources and knowledge along the way.
He describes The Wedge & Wheel as a “cut-to-order” shop. “Customers can try things and buy just a little,” he says. “I wanted classroom space and places to hold wine-and-cheese pairings.” That meant there had to be sacrifices; at just 800 square feet, his shop didn’t have much extra room.
“I had to give up non-cheese products to get the seating I needed,” he notes, and then laughs. “Now we’re a cheese bar,” adding they do feature a menu of sandwiches and salads. However, the trade-off comes in the frequent tasting and pairing sessions he can offer (both public and private), as well as classes such as Cheese 101, which offered on Thursday nights during the colder months (check the website for details).
Customers have come to appreciate the store’s approach. “It’s a great gateway for people to try new things. We like to have smaller-batch, handmade farmstead cheese,” Kohtz says. “At first, I thought about going all local and keeping it close to home, but I began to get requests for some of the finer European cheeses, so we have a mix.”
He’s still committed to the local purveyors. “We’re a business gateway for new artisans to get into the market,” Kohtz says. “[For example], we were an early adopter of Redhead Creamery’s cheddar, and the first to work with the Lone Grazer Creamery.”
When it comes to pairing cheeses with wine, are there any pairings that are guaranteed hits? According to Kohtz, that’s difficult to say because everyone has different tastes. But he does have one suggestion: “Sauvignon blanc along with fresh goat cheese in the spring? That [pairing] is almost foolproof.”
CREATING A HOLIDAY CHEESE PLATE
If you’re interested in trying something new for the upcoming holiday season, Kohtz offers some recommendations:
- If you’re uncertain or want new ideas, build a good relationship with your cheesemonger. Tell them what works for you and what doesn’t. They can help you refine your menu.
- Don’t select your cheese plate based too heavily on your own taste. Know your crowd and plan for things that are broadly appealing. Be adventurous.
- Think about pairing cheese not just with wine, but with beer. He notes that there are many cheeses that pair beautifully with locally brews, including beverages from Lift Bridge Brewing of Stillwater.
- Be careful when putting your favorite wines and cheeses together; while they may taste great alone, they don’t always work in pairings. The best outcome is when both the wine and the cheese, when paired, taste better together than they do alone.
Goat Cheese, Honey, Date and Pistachio “Truffles”
Recipe by the Wedge and Wheel
10 oz. soft plain goat cheese
½ cup finely chopped pistachios (preferably salted)
5 whole Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. honey (light and floral; Basswood is perfect.)
Combine the honey, goat cheese and chopped dates by hand until evenly distributed. Using a small spoon, scoop about 1 tablespoon of the mixture and roll into a ball in your palms. Lightly roll each “truffle” in the chopped pistachios in your hands. Chill until ready to serve.