While studying business entrepreneurship at Chicago’s Columbia College, Petoskey native Katie Potts took a job behind the cheese case at Pastoral, and it changed her life. Captivated by the narrativea behind artisan cheeses, Potts used a six-month study in Ireland to travel around Europe and visit cheese shrines like London’s Neal’s Yard Dairy before returning home to graduate and launch a cheese shop, Petoskey Cheese, of her own.

We caught up with Katie to talk bloomy rinds, get the scoop on raw milk and learn to build a better cheese board.

Featured in the April 2016 issue of Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.

petoskey cheeseStep beneath the hammered copper placard of barn-yard silhouettes at Petoskey Cheese and do a double take. The small, gleaming white tile space is artfully merchandised with tantalizing jars of confiture and sleeves of specialty crackers. A marble-topped olive bar hosts buttery green Castelvetranos, bright red peppadews and slender cornichons bobbing in brine. Colorful slate boards promoting cheese features and date night hampers are everywhere. This could be Brooklyn, San Francisco or Chicago’s Lincoln Square.

All smiles behind her shop’s impeccably polished case, 22-year-old cheese diva Katie Potts is ready to start your fromage awakening with a shard of Keen’s raw milk cheddar or a taste of creamy goat brie. Opened in October of 2015, Petoskey Cheese stocks over 60 domestic and international cheeses, which owner Potts seasonally curates through relentless travel and research. Expect to find Alpine tommes, buttery La Tur from Piedmont, coveted Colton Bassett Stilton and gooey bloomy rind creations from Vermont luminaries like Jasper Hill Farm.

You’re big on seasonal cheese eating. What does that mean for spring?

“Come springtime, bloomy rinds start to take over the cheese case. They’re young, soft cheeses with rinds made from a white mold called penicillium cambium. Think classic French cheeses like brie or La Tur from Piedmont. The animals are eating young grass this time of year, and that sweetness really comes through in the cheese. It’s what I call an ooey, gooey, you need this in your life kind of scenario.”

Now I’m hungry. Are we supposed to eat the (bloomy) rind?

“I get that question a lot. You’re absolutely supposed to eat the rind. The rind gives the cheese an acidic bite that offsets the milk fat. Pairing these cheeses with a smear of honey or jam is a great way to dress them up.”

Raw milk vs. pasteurized: what’s deal?

“Raw milk means that the milk comes straight from the animal, and this style of cheese is traditionally known for carrying more characteristics of the animal’s diet. If the cow was eating dandelions or green onions or hay you can taste it in the cheese. Pasteurization kills a lot of these nuances. In the U.S. any cheese made with raw milk has to be aged a minimum of 60 days, so unfortunately we can’t get our hands on soft raw milk cheeses.”

How to build a great cheese board. Go.

“Ok. I always go by three basic rules: texture, milk and color. You want some variety on your cheese plate, so be sure to include something soft, something blue, something firm and something crumbly. It sounds like we’re getting married here. Likewise mix up the animal milks; get some sheep, goat, cow and maybe even buffalo in there. Balance colors so the plate looks appetizing, if everything’s on the white spectrum add some charcuterie, mustard or olives to liven things up. I always like to include peppadews and cornichons as well as some dried fruit and nuts. Sneak a little bit of dark chocolate in there too.”

Katie walks us through how to build a cheese board at home.

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Photo(s) by David Weidner