Meet Kathleen Riegler, The Original Cheese Lady of Michigan – Marcella The Cheesemonger International Guilde des Fromagers
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Meet Kathleen Riegler, The Original Cheese Lady of Michigan

Kathleen with Parmigiano Reggiano.

Kathleen with Parmigiano Reggiano.

I have never met Kathleen. We are friends on Facebook and in 2014, I visited her Kalamazoo Franchise Cheese Shop. When I began my cheese journey, her name was one of the first I discovered on Google… as a result I feel as though I have known her my entire career.

I thank her for taking the time to answer a few questions as she transitions into her new role as The Cheese Lady. I also wish her continued success and fun…

  • Briefly tell me about yourself. How did you come to cheese? When did you realize you were a cheese geek?

In the 80’s I was introduced to “specialty foods”.  In my part of the Midwest, where there is no heavy ethnic influence, specialty foods was a special mustard or a chutney. I took a sales position with a Detroit company and traveled 4 days a week up and down West Michigan, selling to delis, meat shops, grocery stores, restaurants and liquor stores.  Over the next 20 years, I moved around in the industry but remained enamored with the people and the places that sold “specialty foods”.  My last position was with a cheese importer/distributor . . . and I was hooked. 

In 2004 I resigned my job and began selling cheese at the Muskegon Farmers Market.  As I sold,

I learned what I didn’t know about cheese and I learned.  And during my years at the market, I became passionate about the market atmosphere.  The cross-section of people who frequent a farmers market is energetic and diverse. When, in 2007, The Cheese Lady moved in to a brick and mortar store, I tried to keep the “market” feel.  It worked.

  • Where do you work and what is your job title? Describe a “typical” work day.

As of the first of the year I am no longer the owner of The Cheese Lady in Muskegon, Michigan. The original store was sold to my long time monger and manager, Shelley Lewis. As you can imagine, I’m not sure what my new life looks like, exactly. Early on I was the cheese monger, the cheese expert, the cheese orderer and the boss.  As the    business grew, cheese mongers were hired and trained to be cheese experts. And my role changed.  One constant at The Cheese Lady continues to be the customer service counter. Service and cheese knowledge are our touchstone. And the Farmers Market each summer reminds us of our roots.

Five years ago we began opening franchises or “sisterhoods” as we refer to them. 

Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids, Traverse City, Farmington, Rochester and the original Muskegon store are all woman-owned businesses in Michigan.

I plan to become more involved with the other stores, so, I imagine that is how I see my transition. Up until now major projects and shows took a backseat to my own store’s needs.

In my new life I can visit a maker, a seller and places of interest. I can commit a week to a store for a remodel/reset.  And I can go see a Saturday market out of Muskegon.  The “sisters” may just get tired of seeing both me and my husband, John! 

  • Do you have a favorite cheese or type? What would be your perfect pairing with this cheese?

I love what I refer to as “table cheeses” or “pocket cheeses”. Piave Vecchio and Mahon Curado are two of my favorites.  Piave is a nutty, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese from the Veneto in northern Italy.  I often refer to it as the table cheese version of Parmigiano Reggiano, not granular. D.O.P. Protected. Aged for twelve months, eaten at room temperature, it is perfect with either a white or red Italian blend wine.

Mahon Curado is my “go to” cheese when I want to throw a treat in my purse or pocket. Pocket cheeses get better as they warm up.  Aged four to six months on the Spanish island of Minorca, made with sea salt, Mahon is cheddary and delicious. D.O. Protected. A Spanish Rioja is perfect with this Spanish cheese.

  • Raw vs. Pasteurized? Does it matter? What difference does it make in the final product?

We are careful to mark the raw milk cheeses at The Cheese Lady but it is only to alert those who are only eating raw or avoiding raw for health reasons.  I am a huge fan of my wheels of raw Parmigiano Reggiano.  In general my feeling is that raw milk cheeses offer us cheese the way it         was intended.

  •  Should the US create a system similar the European scheme of protecting, controlling and/or regulating specific cheeses?

I’m ambivalent.

  • Aging Facility in Northern Italy

    Aging Facility in Northern Italy

    Tell me about one of your “cheese journeys”. Was it traveling for pleasure or maybe “on the hunt” for an obscure cheese you just had to taste?

It’s funny because I never pictured myself “on the hunt” but since my husband, John and I have always been in the grocery business, we have always taken “busman’s holidays”.  Seeing how and why others do something is often helpful in your own life/business. Our trips for pleasure always include the business of cheese.  I have taken trips to Wisconsin, England and France that were undisputable cheese learning trips. The latest, to Mons near Lyon, also became a life lesson of sorts.  Traveling to Paris my French-speaking brother who was to be   my guide, was called home for a family emergency upon our arrival.  I spent days in Paris and Lyon alone before I met up with the Mons group.  And at 62, I learned I could. John and I have     also visited the Roquefort Caves, a Tuscan farm and sheep’s milk creamery near  Buenconvento, and many small farms and creameries in Vermont. Watching Parmigiano Reggiano being made is probably the coolest experience I’ve had.  Over a hundred dairies In the Parma, Italy area make this famous cheese.  The copper kettle experience with a guide who could walk us through it, was incredible.  One week after we were there in 2012, the earthquake hit and damaged 150,000 Parmigiano wheels.

  •      Please share with me one fun, non-cheesy fact about you.

I can be found in a room by my distinctive laugh, so I’m told.

  •       If you could do one thing, anything, all day long, what would it be?

I often have multiple projects, probably ADD. In a day you’re likely to find me digging in the      dirt, building shelving, antiquing, making soup and trying to organize my desk, for example.

Each of The Cheese Lady Shops is on Facebook and you can like them: FarmingtonMuskegonKalamazoo, Traverse City, Rochester and Grand Rapids.

Check out Kathleen’s Bio here.

Kathleen tweets as @RealCheeseLady

My thanks to Kathleen for taking the time to participate in mu 2016 Virtual Q&A with Cheese Professionals.

Interviews with Cheese Professionals continue through 2016… sometimes, as “stand-alone” interviews and sometimes as round-table discussions with several Pros answering the same question. Those participating include Cheesemakers,ACS CCPs™,Cheesemongers and Cheese Experts who contribute to this Wonderful World we call “Cheese”.

List of all Interviews from 2013: Cheesemakers, Cheesemongers.

List of 2015-16 Cheese Professionals.

List of all Cheese Professionals Bios.

Please “Like” MarcellaTheCheesemonger Page on FaceBook.

Studying for one of the 2016 ACS CCP™ exams? Simply want to know more about cheese? Please join our Cheese Study Group at Facebook!!!

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