Fairfield Cheese Company: Cheese 101

Stephanie Webster

Have you ever walked into a cheese shop, and been utterly confused by the array of choices in front of you? For those of you who just nodded your heads, let me introduce you to Fairfield Cheese Company. Their bright beautiful retail space, right next door to Harry's Wine and Liquors, serves as a canvas for carefully chosen specialty foods and an impeccable selection of artisinal and locally produced farmstead cheeses. When Laura Downey and Christopher Palumbo opened their doors in May of 2009, they did so with a purposeful dedication to demystifying the daunting process of buying cheese and introducing their customers to the range and craftsmanship of artisan cheeses. "Cheese stores can be intimidating. We wanted to take away the mystique….It's not rocket science" says Laura. 

Their mission is evident as you watch this team in action. Christopher and Laura are naturals behind the counter. They are both personable and approachable and they will devote as much time as necessary to assist you in uncovering the type of cheese that complements both your taste buds and your cheese platter. Unlike many shops, FCC does not require you to purchase a certain quantity. They are happy to sell you small pieces to foster trial and exploration. They also encourage shoppers to sample their cheese as you make your final selection such that you can decide if you prefer,  "Bloomy," "Washed," or "Fresh."  Furrowing your brow in confusion? You're not alone. These terms were not part of my daily lexicon either (or their meaning had nothing to do with cheese). But then I stepped foot into Fairfield Cheese Company and all was revealed. 

While education begins with the purchase process, it certainly doesn't end there.  Designed with a dedicated classroom space in the back of this beautiful shop, Fairfield Cheese Company offers a range of hands on classes geared towards beer and cheese parings, tastings with a regional focus, and my favorite….Cheese 101

We were lucky enough to be invited to one of their Cheese 101 session a few months ago, and I have eagerly awaited their 2010 schedule as I felt I could use some additional schooling on this subject. This class is designed to help beginners understand the differences between the 7 "styles" of cheese through education, and then the best part…trial. Laura and Christopher will help a novice find their palate, and give you a vocabulary with which to work. One might think all this education is a formal affair, but not at FCC. Their proximity to Harry's Wine Shop is no accident, and events include carefully selected wine pairings to enhance the food experience. Christopher and Laura also bring more than just great wine and exceptional cheese to the table. These two owners are unexpectedly entertaining, and the learning experience is peppered with funny anecdotes that keep you laughing throughout. 

Seated at a long table with a plate of Fresh, Bloomy, Semi-soft, Washed, Firm, Hard, and Blue cheese arranged clockwise on elegant white plates, the students, (a mix of men and women) are already chatting with each other before class is called to order. When Christopher and Laura stand up, the group quiets, and nobody gets their hands slapped for not paying attention. We proceed to learn about the history of cheese from the factories to the farm, the cheese making process, and the birth of artisinal cheese (this occurs when farms buy their milk  but make their cheese vs farmstead cheese where it is produced full circle from the farm's cows to the end product).  It is surprisingly fascinating, and when it is time to delve into the varieties of cheeses in front of us, we come at the tasting with a new sense of appreciation for what we are about to eat, and an understanding of the craft of cheese making

Downey who studied at Murray's Cheese University in Manhattan (one of my favorite cheese shops in NYC) knows her stuff, and Palumbo, (chef and caterer) brings to the table well rounded culinary expertise and a developed palate. Fairfield Cheese Company is more than just great artisinal cheese. They have a wonderful selection of cured meats, spreads, salts, and gourmet food goodies that pair well with any party. They will happily create a beautifully labeled cheese or charcuterie platter for any size event, and you can even bring your own platter.  Then go next door, and ask Harry's to complement your selections with the perfect wine. It is one-stop party shopping. 

This team is a welcome addition to Fairfield County and I strongly encourage anyone with a penchant for cheese and a desire to learn more, to attend one of their wonderful classes. 

Fairfield Cheese Company's Class Schedule is available on their web site, but we have included the Cheese 101 dates below. The cost of these 2 hour classes is $45, and you can call 203.292.8194 or email info@fairfieldcheese.com for reservations. 


Cheese 101

Tuesday, January 12th 7-9pm

Tuesday, February 2nd  7-9 pm

Tuesday, March 2nd, 7-9pm


Fairfield Cheese Company 2090 Post Road (next to Harry's Wine and Liquor). Fairfield. 203.292.8194