If you’re a cheese lover in West Michigan, you’ve likely already come across The Cheese Lady, a specialty business offered in multiple regional locations that offers a wide variety of cheeses and accoutrement from around the world.
Behind these delectable offerings is the cheese lady herself, a seasoned saleswoman with a passion for cheese who took a spontaneous turn on the path to success.
“It’s been pretty incredible actually,” says founder Kathleen Fagan Riegler.
Before tackling the cheese industry 11 years ago, Riegler shares, she led a 20-year career as a traveling saleswoman, some of which was spent selling cheese. “It gets pretty tiring after a while,” she notes of constantly being on the road.
Seeking a new opportunity, she purchased $500 in specialty cheeses from a Chicago vendor with whom she had previously worked and set up shop at the Muskegon Farmers Market in 2004. Armed with sales experience and a recent immersion in cheese from a vacation to France, she sold out in one day. After that, Riegler decided to pursue a career in cheese full time.
By 2007, The Cheese Lady had garnered enough popularity to warrant a brick and mortar store in Muskegon. Just one year later, the business had outgrown its first store and moved to its current downtown location on Terrence Street, where Riegler offers a selection of olive oils and balsamic vinegars in addition to cheeses. Ever-drawing fans with its accessible cheese tasting bar and variety of flavor sensations that range from the unexpected (capra with honey) to the familiar (Big Russ Premium Beer Cheese), The Cheese Lady expanded into franchises in Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Traverse City and Farmington.
Riegler believes she was simply just selling the right products at the right time, in the right way.
“It’s been an interesting journey to see what people would try,” she says, adding that cheese entices even the most cautious consumer to try something new. “There’s a life behind the cheeses.”
But most of all, Reigler’s passion for her products fuels business as she selects unique, quality cheeses from around the world.
“Cheese gives me much pleasure. Part of that pleasure comes from knowing a little more about it every day,” she says. “And part of the pleasure comes from providing people with a place to buy cheeses that will take them back to another place, another time. Back to sharing cheese and bread with your grandfather. Back to the beautiful markets of Provence. Back to the lovely green hills of Ireland.”
Some international fromage sensations to sample and savor include:
Valdeón Blue. Wrapped in Sycamore leaves, rich and flavorful Valdeón is made in a remote valley of northern Spain.
Midnight Moon. Made in Holland exclusively for Cypress Grove Chevre, this blushing, ivory-colored cheese is nutty and brown buttery up front with a long caramel finish.
Bucherolle. Goat cheese and Provence: It’s hard to know where to even start.
Mushroom Brie. Earthy and sweet, this spectacular brie from Germany is flavored with wild mushrooms.
Kasseri. Made from sheep and goat’s milk, in the a Thessaly and Macedonia Region of Greece.
Appenzeller. Produced in the Appenzell region of northeast Switzerland, this hard cow’s-milk cheese has a documented history of at least 700 years.
Visit thecheeselady.net to peruse other products.
— Lauren F. Carlson, Michigan BLUE Magazine