‘Mr. Fromage’ spurs local cheese boom

Michel Valiquette’s passion is served at Ferraro Foods

There’s a story behind every piece of cheese, just ask Rossland’s Michel Valiquette.

The cheesemonger’s passion has certainly helped along Ferraro Foods’ success, which continues to take shape now in Rossland where the grocer expanded its cheese section this month.

The sommelier started with food sampling at this store when he first moved to the area from Vancouver three years ago. The product was moving but when he tried his hand at cheese, customers lined up to taste what he was pushing.

“We have a Portuguese cheese here from 900 kilometres off the coast of Portugal on São  Miguel Island in the Azores, where the cows graze right along the ocean and you can almost taste an iodine flavour,” he would explain São Jorge. “It goes super well with Sauvignon Blanc because it’s a crisp wine.”

Educating customers on what they were buying fed into the belly of the beast.

Rossland’s potluck community took note and began trusting his word. He’d sell one whiskey cheddar and the next day there would be nine customers looking for the same and the store would sell out of a product over night.

“I don’t know if it’s because they’re mountain people or what but it’s a real passion,” he said. “In Rossland, we like cheese and chocolate like I’ve never seen it before.”

The wheel started turning in Trail when the grocer got rid of its pharmacy and expanded the deli section, making cheese the star of displays. Valiquette began working the counter and business was booming.

“We always had cheese, but we just expanded it because it was selling so good,” said the store’s Danny Ferraro. “Outside of Granville Island, we probably have one of the best selections.”

There are still those conservative shoppers who like their cheddar, or in Trail it’s Friulano, but then there are more adventurous palettes that are after the truffle Brie.

Customers like Paul Gregory are as happy as a bird with a French fry. The Trail resident shops the cheese section daily. “I love all of it,” he laughs, admitting that his problem is growing.

“I get customers like him,”  said Valiquette. “But then I get an older Italian customer, and she wants three kilos of provolone, two kilos of parmessiano and then I don’t see her for two months,” he said.

His favourite customer, he argues, could quite possibly be the children he can spot from afar waving their arms and yelling “Mr. Fromage” as they jet toward him.

Standing out in a crowd, getting, “Hello cheese guy from the chairlift,” is very strange for Valiquette, who was anonymous working in the service industry in Vancouver. The wine guy helped open Gotham Steakhouse and spent many years romancing flavours table side.

The Montreal native knows his wine, can read the French/Spanish labels, but the cheese was new territory. When the opportunity presented itself, though, he researched and realized it wasn’t far off from vino.

Like wine, cheese carries notes of flavour that is attributed to where it’s made. The environment plays well into this right down to how the cattle are raised.

“You travel through cheese, so it’s fun to sell to people,” he said. “People’s eyes roll into their head, so that’s a good sign that the job is not very difficult.”

Comté, one of his favourites, is said to carry 83 flavours that linger on the palate, with the main being a balance of brown-butter and roasted-nut aromas. It’s a story like this one that has customers salivating at the counter, wanting more and then before leaving asking which wine to pair it with.

The grocer sees the natural marriage of cheese and wine and now has a pairing wheel to further educate shoppers on their purchase.

“When we choose what we do in the store, it’s all over what the customer wants,” said Ferraro. “They want a good quality cheese, and Michel is a perfect fit for us.

“He knows his stuff, he researches it,” he added. “You can ask him a question about something and he’ll get the answer for you without baloney.”

That passion for fine flavour and celebration of food is shared by the Ferraros and has been brought centre stage through the family grocery chain for over 50 years.

Just be sure you’re not too hungry when you visit next because chances are Valiquette will take you on a flavourful journey, with a story to back the punch of flavour delivered.