Every parent needs a treat. And not a Save-For-a-Lifetime kind of bonus, but a treat for making it through a week of 5:00 a.m. wake-ups and temper tantrums. For me, one of those treats has always been good cheese. And while we regularly have blocks of cheddar and mozzarella in our frig, they could always substitute for chewy cubes of plastic. So, as FoodieDaddy knows well, the way to my heart is a gift certificate to Wasik’s Cheese Shop in Wellesley.Recently, I had the fabulous opportunity to meet with Brian Wasik and he kindly offered to give me a tutorial (with samples!) on cheese. The Wasik family has a genuine passion and knowledge about cheese. Steve Wasik opened the store in 1979 and today his son, Brian, still works there with his father, his brother, Brad and mother, Carol. The store is a treasure trove for foodies, filled with specialty foods including Poilane bread flown in from Paris, dozens of chocolates, jams, crackers, sauces, spices, teas, pasta, meats and more.But the centerpiece of the store is easily the cheese counter, framed by lists of cheeses and organized regionally. I love the brief descriptions that accompany the cheeses. But the best part of the store is the willingness of the staff to share both their knowledge and tastes of cheese. Wasik’s has a Cheers-like atmosphere as the family often greets regulars by name. For the rest of us, service is still personal, almost a matchmaking designed to pair your meal with their cheeses. The Wasiks are generous with samples, making it tempting to hang out for the afternoon.They offer a fantastic range of cheeses from Europe and the United States. Typically I get the small, smelly goat cheeses and crumbly, nutty pecorino. Other than that, though, my knowledge of cheese was limited to “smelly” and “not-so-smelly.”
Brian, a natural teacher, gave me an overview of the different families of cheeses, quickly adding the word “grana” or the granular texture of hard cheeses, as well as “soft-ripened” and “washed rind” to my vocabulary. The chance to not only hear about the cheese to but taste a Swiss Gruyere next to a French one was a bit like winning, if not the lottery, at least a local raffle!My favorites? The Brie de Lyon- buttery and sweet bore no resemblance to the grocery store versions with the same name. The fresh mozzarella was somehow more delicate, lighter and creamier than any I have had before. The Crotin de Poitos was a phenomenal goat cheese with flavor that filled my mouth. The Tilsit, a Havarti-style cheese, was gentle and fruity while the Parmesan had a nuttiness that contrasted with the almost crunchy texture. The Manouri, a sheep’s milk cheese tasted like a smooth, subtle, chewy feta. And though I am not a gruyere person, the Swiss gruyere made me think of oozing gratins and grilled cheese sandwiches.Brian is also a father to young children and he steered me towards two options for trying to move my kids beyond the world of string cheese. First, his two year old loves fresh goat cheese spread on bagels (Hello, who wouldn’t love that?), as well as using the Applekocher cheddar for mac and cheese. I confess, back at home, my finicky toddler wasn’t quite as sold on it, but my 15 month old couldn’t stop gobbling it up, nor could the adults who had the privilege to try it. While they don’t often formal cheese tastings in the store, they do occasionally offer them at restaurants (such as Blue Ginger.) Brian also will prepare a tasting for 12 to 20 people in someone’s home. But even if you can’t splurge on this with 11 of your closest friends, dropping in will still ensure you a chance to alter the idea that cheese is either American or cheddar and to walk out with a gem of a product.Beyond the personal service, what makes this store special are the other extras. First, the Wasiks have a cheese cellar in the basement where they finish the cheeses, to make sure they are perfectly ripened before making their way to the front of the store. They also cut each cheese to order, ensuring the freshest cheese each time. Finally, they take the time to explain how to both serve and store it.If you aren’t a cheese person, still make sure to visit. Get their fantastic chutney, which was first created by Carol and now comes in 3 varieties. You can also buy it mixed into cheese spreads, though I confess that I have simply blended the Yankee chutney with light sour cream and eaten it as a dip. Or try their Spiked Crackers for Stinky Cheeses (created by the Wasik family), if only for the fabulous name, though with whole wheat flour, cranberries and port wine they are delicious.
No matter what, the friendliness, warmth and kindness of the Wasik family will make you feel welcome, even if you are still prefer Velvetta to chevre.
Wasik's Cheese Shop, 61 Central Street, Wellesley MA 02482. 781-237-0916.