By Christine Hyatt
Small cheese shops, popping up across the state, offer unique opportunities to explore the personal palates of some of the most passionate cheese lovers you’ll meet.
Andrea McEvoy is one of those cheesemongers whose vast knowledge and appreciation of cheese helps her carefully curate her small shop, Abbie & Oliver’s. Inside Anthony Dell Cellars’ tasting room in downtown McMinnville, she has been serving a distinct array of cheese for nearly five years.
McEvoy first became interested in cheese as a consumer. But after one of her favorite cheese suppliers, iGourmet.com, invited customers to become private sellers — hosting cheese parties in their homes — she soon realized her passion for cheese might be a budding business venture.
Opening a cheese shop presented challenges. McEvoy says one of the biggest obstacles was convincing her pragmatic husband it was a fiscally sound proposition — which she never quite managed to accomplish. Determined to make it work, she created a business plan and attended small business workshops. But in the end, it wasn’t her growing business savvy that opened the doors; instead, it was kismet.
Says McEvoy, “Some friends were opening a wine shop in downtown McMinnville and wanted to have cheese. They called me to see if I’d be interested in bringing in a cheese store — a store within a store. I just ran with it.”
Needing a name, McEvoy fondly remembered her travels in England and a cheese shop named Paxton & Whitfield, Britain’s leading cheesemonger for more than 200 years. Since she didn’t have any names on her family tree that made sense, McEvoy looked through British names until she found two she liked. She put them together and, voilà: Abbie and Oliver were born, so to speak.
While maintaining a full-time job in an entirely different sector, McEvoy has been able to successfully run Abbie & Oliver’s in what has turned out to be a fantastic location. Until her shop opened, McMinnville, located in the heart of Oregon’s wine country, lacked a dedicated specialty cheese shop.
Being near so many wineries has been ideal. She believes strongly that wine and cheese should not only be enjoyed in conjunction, but also sampled at the same time. When pairing a Grana Padano with an Oregon Pinot Noir, McEvoy says the fruit flavors in the wine “pop and complement the cheese perfectly.”
McEvoy revels in the exploration of flavors and pairings. With a particular fondness for the gooey and stinky, she’s discovered a recent favorite in Harbison from Jasper Hill, which she would put “front and center” on her ideal cheese board.
Being the proprietor of a cheese shop isn’t solely about the cheese; it’s also about the people and interactions. While she loves exploring new cheeses, she also enjoys talking with customers and learning their preferences and impressions on the different selections.
To those who say they don’t even like cheese, McEvoy likes to reply “It’s just milk in solid form!” She says for every adult who turns up his nose at the notion of sheep’s milk cheese, there’s a 5-year-old who devours even the strongest blue. “Their palates are so sensitive at that age,” she says. “I’m always surprised at how they love it.”
No matter the age of customer — or the cheese — Abbie & Oliver’s offers something for every palate.
The success of her little shop just proves no matter what your passion, there is a way to incorporate it into your everyday life ... especially if it means eating more cheese.
ABBIE & OLIVER'S ARTISAN CHEESE
Address: 250 N.E. Third St., McMinnville
Hours: Wed.–Thurs., noon to 5 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., noon to 6 p.m.; Sun., noon to 5 p.m.