When you visit our carefully curated gourmet cheese department at Potash Markets, you will likely be impressed with its broad selection, but you may also wonder what happened to that cheese you bought last week.
There are several reasons why the cheese selection (with close to 100 cheeses typically in stock at any given time) changes and evolves. Some of those factors have to do with cows and cheesemakers, other contributors involve the supply chain, and our efforts to give you a nice, rotating variety of cheese that is also in tune to your eating preferences during Chicago’s two, err… four seasons. So when you come to our grab-and-go case or our full-service counter, you can expect to see something new and different with nearly every visit.
Let’s start with the cows (or goats, sheep, water buffalo), whose lives are affected by the seasons too. After all, this is where cheese starts. Decent cheese can be made from decent milk or great milk. Great cheese can only be made from great milk. For the most part, when animals are able to graze in pasture or forage in brush, they produce their best milk for making most cheeses, so some cheeses (Pleasant Ridge Reserve and gruyere alpage, to name two) are only made when the animals are in pasture. Winter milk is put to other uses, and it can be put to good use in making a different style of cheese, for instance. For farmstead cheese operations, some farming practices result in milk not being available for cheesemaking during a certain season. It may be used to feed calves or kids during part of the spring for instance. Cheese consumers may then see a shortage of young cheeses for a couple months following.
Consumer habits are affected by the seasons too. Have you ever enjoyed a caprese salad, fresh burrata with fresh basil and tomato, or a raclette melt served over roasted potatoes? The first two examples scream summer, while enjoying the unctuous raclette is ideal for fall or winter. We carry raclette year-round, because it can add some zip to a grilled cheese or a burger, but we sell less of it in summer, and we may be less likely to carry similar cheese simultaneously. Similarly, our selection of the various types of mozz (ciliegine, bocconcini, and bufala) stretches out with its shoes off when the warm winds visit Chicago, and then it shrinks with the coming of winter.
At Potash Markets, our cheese buyers work with several suppliers and buy a handful of products direct from makers. We maintain, and add to a running list of nearly 300 products, but there are actually thousands of cheeses made in the US alone and thousands more from the great cheese making countries of the old world (France, Italy, Spain and the UK, chief among them). In some cases, American Artisans have re-imagined cheeses that have been made across the Atlantic (Oma and Cabot Clothbound from the Cellars of Jasper Hill come to mind.) We want to bring all of that to you, but it would take up that whole store, and …. well, no we can’t do that. So, we might carry one cheese for a while, and then give it a rest to bring in something similar in style, to see if you like it. A microcosm of this can be found in our cheddar selection. We believe we have the best cheddar selection in Chicago, or at least as good as anywhere else.
Cheddar is not what it used to be. There are traditional clothbound cheddars from the UK available, and (only since around 2000) a growing number of American interpretations of those amazing cheeses are available. There is also a wide array of cheddars with the flavors of Wisconsin and Vermont, cheddars made from goat or sheep milk, and newfangled American cheddars that taste as if cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano had a baby. We offer 12-16 cheddars at any given time and rotate those selections from a list of about 40, with the goal of featuring at least 25 throughout the year.
Finally, and most importantly, we respond to what you want. If we receive a request (and certainly if we receive more than one customer request) for a cheese or an accoutrement product we will do our best to get it.
So, when you visit our Potash, take a minute to scan our cheese department, feel free to ask us what’s new or to ask us about a cheese you enjoyed previously (you took a picture of the label, right?), and above all, keep enjoying great cheese. It is one of life’s simple, yet amazing pleasures.