click to enlarge
After running Paxton & Whitfield, a 200-year-old cheese shop in London, Richard and Danielle Sutton decided to move their passion for cheese to New Orleans, where they knew there was a niche to fill. They'd met at Tulane University, and in 2006, they opened St. James Cheese Company (5004 Prytania St., 899-4737; www.stjamescheese.com) to provide "a meticulously selected and diverse assortment of ... artisan cheeses, charcuterie and gourmet grocery items," Danielle says.
St. James also is a restaurant that offers sandwiches and salads, all featuring the shop's cheeses. "We wanted to fill the hole between po-boys and white tablecloth restaurants and offer casual, creative lunch choices modeled on the sandwich bars and cafes we encountered in London and Europe," she says.
The uncluttered shop is painted in cool blue and milky colors (to better showcase the cheeses) and there is a welcoming family atmosphere. "We have a lot of fun together," Danielle says. "Richard and I are always in the shop and our kids are usually running around (here) in the afternoons."
Employees are friendly, passionate and knowledgeable about the shop's extensive selection. "We stock cheese from most of the better-known cheese-producing nations: the U.S., France, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland," Richard says. "Styles run from hard to soft and everything in between, from very fresh to very aged." Two things continue to feed Richard's passion for the cheese business. "Primarily it is my customers," he says. "Offering people something that they get as excited about as I do is a great feeling. Also, watching new cheesemakers grow and evolve in their trade is fun, particularly when they really start to get good."
The couple's experience in London gave them the knowledge and connections with producers and suppliers needed to run their business. "Ultimately we base our buying decisions on quality," Richard says. "We start the process by finding cheeses that we like and then we evaluate the source. If it all looks good, we try it in the store and see how our customers react."
St. James offers catering services with cheese and baguette sandwich platters, and hosts classes about cheese, usually with wine pairings, for budding epicureans. The shop's website lists all its suppliers and products and makes it easy to search by texture, milk type and flavor.
However, the best part of St. James Cheese Company is the experience of visiting the shop. "You're encouraged to taste and ask questions and come away feeling like you have learned something about artisan cheeses," Danielle says.