Melodie Picard inside The Oregon Cheese Cave, Phoenix, Oregon. While COVID and the fires slowed business, the passionate proprietor continues her mission to share hand-picked gourmet cheeses, meats, wines and more with her Southern Oregon community and tourists, too. ##Photo by Jean-Francois Durand

Let Them Eat Cheese

Normandy native creates tasty shop in Phoenix

By Christine Hyatt

At a certain point, when one has written a few compelling chapters, it sometimes happens that a satisfying arc emerges. For Mélodie Picard, owner of The Oregon Cheese Cave, who shares fine cheese and accompaniments with guests in the tiny Oregon town of Phoenix, that circuitous journey might seem random but surely includes a rewarding trajectory.

Born and raised in the port town of Le Havre on France’s Normandy coast, Picard’s family has made the region their home for generations. The connection to cheese runs deep in this second largest port in France, where cheeses and other specialty goods, shipped from Paris via the Seine, take passage to markets like New York.

“The origin of my love for the U.S. is my grandfather,” Picard explained. “When he was a teenager, American GIs were rebuilding Le Havre in the years after WWII.  He traded fresh vegetables for cigarettes and chewing gum. After this, he became interested in American movies and, later, TV,” she said. He shared this interest with his children and grandchildren.

Picard herself developed a passion for screen acting at age 12, setting her sights on moving to America.

After graduation, she lived in San Francisco as an au pair, working several years with a family and studying in Marin County, where she met her husband. After graduation and their wedding, the couple set out for L.A. While acting didn’t transpire as planned, her passion blossomed for fine food in the culinary epicenter.

“My friend from the French community in L.A. was importing fine French wines and started Los Angeles Wine Tasting,” explained Picard. “I began preparing the accompaniment board and serving; it was really cool.” She also helped educate people about fine cheese at swank L.A. galleries and rooftops, learning how to pair cheese and wine along the way. “I started to discover a calling into specialty foods during this time.”

“Growing up in France, cheese is almost taken for granted,” she noted. “It’s awesome, and it’s part of life. All the different styles and flavors, you put it in food or on a plate. It’s just part of every day. Here, it’s not. People want to know more about it and feel all warm and fuzzy.”

Over the next few years, Picard continued perfecting her cheese skills at the Santa Monica Co-op and, later, at Market of Choice Ashland.  “I discovered I really like to cut and sell cheese, and wrap it, like a little present for people. Help them pick out the right cheese and learn a bit more about it,” she said.

After the birth of their second child, the couple relocated to Ashland, which offered the exact combination of culture and quality of life, affordability and opportunity for their growing family.

“We were drawn to the area and the wine country,” she said. “That first summer, I worked at EdenVale Enoteca on the plaza and got to discover the wine country along with the tourists. They would come in and ask a question, and I’d have to say ‘I don’t know, either!’ so I got to work finding out more, discovering the wines and the countryside with my family.”

After several years behind someone else’s cheese counter, Picard was eager to strike out on her own. “The best way for me to bring cheese to the people was to have a place,” she explained. The challenge was finding the right space, with affordable rent and in an optimum location.

In October 2018, she opened the doors to her boutique shop, The Oregon Cheese Cave, in downtown Phoenix. When she began, the town was more of a pit stop outside Medford, but over the years, she witnessed a momentum toward the town’s own food community.

Her quirky business reflects her personality, including many nods to movies and culture. She displays some cheeses in colorful themed vintage phone booths — a blue TARDIS, the time machine on ”Dr. Who,” and a “Bill and Ted’s” phone booth for out-of-this-world cheeses.

Other personal decor includes a picture of the most famous Picard of all: Capitan Jean Luc Picard. She’s quick to point out: “Picard is the fifth most common name in France. When people ask, I tell them he is my relative from 300 years in the future.”

Her hand-curated selection of fine cheeses remains popular with both residents and visitors. “I pair according to my customers’ favorite wines, or sell cheese selections and recommend wineries to visit to accompany the cheese,” she added. “It works both ways.”

Before the pandemic, when people tasted and toured the Rogue Valley with no limitations, her shop welcomed a steady stream of guests. “I was doing a lot of pairings. My specialty is pairing cheese.

“But this year was different.”

The ensuing economic downturn took its toll, followed by the Alameda Fire, which raced through the community in September, causing widespread destruction of homes and businesses. Picard personally knows 20 people who lost homes and one-third of her son’s first grade classmates lost everything.

Though her business and home were spared, the hard-hit communities have been holding on through a tough fall and winter. The bakery that provided the small-batch batter for her fan favorite “Waffle with Cheese” shuttered from smoke damage and relocated; she’s hopeful the dish will be revived when the bakery reopens this spring.

When speaking about her hopes for the future, she’s clear where her joy lies. “Between motherhood, small business ownership, the economy, I’m not going to plan for much of anything. My goal is to bring cheese to the people. That’s what I do. I try to stay cheerful in my shop, but at the same time, calmer would be nice.”

Cheese and charcuterie plate. ##Photo by Christine Hyatt

The Plate

One of Mélodie Picard’s favorite topics is charcuterie — the word is derived from the French terms for flesh (chair) and cooked (cuit). As a proud French woman, she is less enthusiastic about the cuteness of “jar-cuterie” — cured meat and cheese in jars, of course — not to mention “hot chocolate charcuterie” boards, and especially “vegan charcuterie” — it doesn’t make sense. Picard relishes discussing the finer points of meats for the cheese board and is quick to point out the stellar pairing potential.

From the top, clockwise: 1. Pork rillettes paired with Delice de Bourgogne, a triple cream from France. Enjoy with sparkling wine. 2. Prosciutto di Parma Legato served with chunks of 36-month Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy with a robust, fruit-forward red. 3. Finocchiona salami with Rogue Creamery Crater Lake Blue pairs well with a white wine with a touch of sweetness, balancing the herbal and blue flavors. 4. Mild coppa (left of olives) is versatile with all the cheeses, particularly the orange-hued Brebirousse d’Argental. Stunning with an earthy Pinot Noir.

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