It's not very often we get a chance to live out our dreams. For Steve White, his dream throughout high school was to become a chef and own a restaurant. His dream took him to culinary school, the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, where he earned his degree. But his career path led him into the health care industry where he spent twenty years working as a food service director for several local nursing and convalescent homes.
His opportunity came knocking when a small space opened in a local shopping center. Steve, 42, and his wife Barb, 48, jumped at the chance to start their own business, opening the Seaside Cheese Company in West Cape May.
"We saw a niche for a gourmet cheese shop," White said, "and that's what we became." The business doubled in size when the Whites took over an adjoining space and added things such as olives, pates, crackers, olive oils and other gourmet items to their list of 200 different cheeses. They also stock frozen pasta from a local Italian restaurant and carry a selection of local wines.
White enjoys fielding questions about cheese. One of the most often asked is "Can I eat the rind?" It's not a simple yes or no answer, he said.
"Some can be eaten like the rind of the Brie while others have a bitter taste, like Saint Albray and Tallegio. Rinds to stay away from include 'wash rind' cheeses, where a bacteria on the outside promotes aging and anything with a wax seal outside," he said.
Another frequently asked question is from the customer looking at a 5- or 10-year-old cheese, who will ask, "Is it fresh?" White takes it all in stride.
Along with answering questions, White hands out plenty of cheese advice.
For novice cheese lovers, White will suggest a mild cheese like Fromager d'Affinois, a French double cream, Brie-style cheese. Other mild choices include a Spanish cheese called Campo de Montelban, made from goat, sheep and cow's milk and Trugole, an Italian cow's milk cheese available in spring and summer. For the cheese aficionado with a more informed palate, White recommends cheeses such as Pecorino al Tartufo, an Italian sheep's milk cheese aged for 40 days, and containing chips of fresh black truffles. White's personal favorites include Point Reyes Blue a farmstead, cow's milk blue cheese from California and Delice de Bourgogne, from Burgundy, France, a rich and creamy cow's milk cheese.
Presenting several cheeses on a platter is a great way to sample different cheeses, and White is happy to suggest three, four or five cheeses to contrast and compare. Of course, cooking with cheese is another aspect to consider. White recommends his Raclette cheese to mix in with homemade mashed potatoes; Red Dragon cheese from Wales as a great topping for burgers; and a goat cheese Gorganzola to top a filet mignon.
For storing great cheeses, White said it is best to re wrap them every other day in fresh plastic wrap since this will allow the cheese to breathe and keep mold from growing. A green mold can be scraped off the cheese, but if the cheese appears pink and smells like ammonia, it's time to toss it.
The bottom line for learning about cheese is to keep tasting different ones. White allows tasting at the store because he doesn't want you to find out you don't really care for the taste after you have already taken it home.
Former French president Charles De Gaulle was famous for declaring "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?" Probably, one more reason why White said he never gets tired of cheese. He is in constant contact with his purveyors, always searching for something new and different like his two latest "finds" Ubriacone, an Italian cheese soaked in red wine to develops red veins and Saint Angle, a French triple cream Brie. Seaside also carries some local-made cheeses from Cherry Grove Farms near Trenton.
White loves traveling to Philadelphia, visiting the cheese shops there. He also loves when out-of-towners seek his shop out, with many customers from New York and Pennsylvania, along with one customer from Oregon who visits once a year to purchase Caerphilly cheese, a cow's milk cheese from Wales.
This year for vacation, White and Barb will spend their time relaxing in Ireland. That doesn't mean part of their time spent there won't be scheduled around cheese tastings at the Cahill and Dubliner cheese producers.
Regular customers come in once or twice a week for cheese, then stop at the local baker for bread and the butcher shop for their meat, a practice that reminds White of the old days before one stop shopping became the norm.
Sue Lotozo, a nearby business owner, is a cheese loving regular at Seaside who thinks that White is super cheesy, in a good way. Sue likes the quirky cheese store and the great specialty products. "Seaside brings the selection of the Reading Terminal Market to West Cape May."
Seaside Cheeses are available at the Ocean City and Stone Harbor Farmer's Markets during the summer.
Cutting a half pound piece of cheese is not an exact science, yielding a piece that is slightly over or under. Regulars know how to order cheese by the finger, one or two.
Since many of the cheeses come from Europe, prices are based on the Euro or the Pound. Prices fluctuate accordingly and White has to adjust his prices weekly.
Making a living by selling cheese is fun but not easy. White is thankful that his wife's full time job allows him to make people happy with his cheeses.
The message on Seaside Cheese Company's answering machine? "Thank you and have a gouda day!"
Seaside Cheese Company
600 Park Blvd.
West Cape May