In a room adjacent to Blue Bee Cider, with cobbled walls and industrial lights, sits Maggie Bradshaw, a woman who’s tried more than 1,000 cheeses.
She owns a personal cheese fridge at home with a revolving collection of blues, bries and white cheddar — there always has to be white cheddar. It’s the only cheese her son eats.
In her gray Truckle Cheesemongers sweatshirt, Bradshaw leans forward, lowering her voice as two customers with a cheese board and cider pairing come into the seating area.
“I’ve always wanted to open a cheese shop,” she says.
As of late October she has, in a small but manageable space on Summit Avenue. After an experienced run at farmers markets, Bradshaw can now carry soft cheeses, whip up a gourmet grilled cheese and offer charcuterie boards with a prosciutto that melts on your tongue.
Getting a meat slicer was a big step.
“Even just a little bit on a board gives so much,” she says. “Like a chorizo with a manchego just has that classic oomph.”
To break down the name, a truckle is a wheel of cheese that’s taller than it is wide, like a Stilton or big British cheddar cheese. As for cheesemonger, it’s simple: a seller of cheese.
As she mentions the four simple ingredients to the dairy product — milk, cultures, rennet and salt — a particular scene in “She’s the Man,” the modern take on William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” comes to mind. In a truly 2000s cultural moment, Viola Hastings (Amanda Bynes), disguised as Sebastian, teaches Duke Orsino (Channing Tatum) how to talk to girls, saying it can all be jump started with asking if they like cheese.
“OK… do you … like … cheese?” Orsino asks hesitantly.
“Why yes, I do, my favorite’s Gouda!” she responds.
Naturally, I ask if Bradshaw’s seen it.
Her mouth turns up.
“I have to watch this movie,” Bradshaw says before admitting she hasn’t but that it’s now on her list.
For the record, her favorite cheeses change constantly. She’s always been a fan of the blue family, a decision she quickly defends by saying they get a bad reputation. A good blue is not going to be the crumbled kind you find atop a flimsy salad at a chain restaurant, she says. No shade to chains, they know not what they do.
But when talking about the Valdeon, a Spanish blue that’s a creamy cow-goat milk combination, Bradshaw’s eyes widen.
“This is why I want to sample it out because I’m like, ‘I want everybody to eat this cheese,’” Bradshaw says. “There’s also this brie I eat probably two ounces of every single day for the last three weeks … it’s good protein.”
Growing up in small town Kentucky, nice cheeses weren’t an around-the-corner expectation. This changed when Bradshaw studied abroad in Paris, where cheese shops are as common as French baguette sandwiches offered at the boulangerie.
By then, her love cannonballed into something more: working for trade associations, part-time jobs in cheese shops and helping out on farms when nine months pregnant — the usual for a cheese enthusiast.
She works with a distributor outside of Alexandria and a Charlottesville farm that comes to town every week or so to cultivate the flavor profiles she’s after in addition to making her own beer cheese. A good counter should always have staples with varying textures and styles, Bradshaw notes.
Eventually, the dream is to have another location and cater grilled cheeses while keeping it going with an assortment of jams, jellies and olive oil pairings.
The chalkboard writing states its grilled cheese of the day includes Gruyere with a peach preserves jam made on Montana Gold Bread. It’s stationed next to a sample board of Irish brown bread crackers topped with a black currant jelly and Valdeon — Bradshaw’s current favorite blue. Its neighbor? Salami with a cumin and garlic zest.
Behind the counter an employee is organizing the cheese display as the music of the Smiths plays overhead.
When asked what her role at Truckle is, she pauses and “hmm's” briefly.
“You’re a cheesemonger!” Bradshaw says, patting her back and laughing.
“Yeah! I’m a cheesemonger.”