Meet the Maker: The Cheese Shop of Portland
Located in Portland’s newest retail incubator space, The Black Box, The Cheese Shop of Portland is so much more than a place to buy fresh cheese. Owned by husband and wife team, Mary and Will Sissle have curated a one-of-a-kind cheese shopping experience offering cured meats, pastas, and accouterments, as well as the chance to get expert advice and guidance on finding the best styles and grouping of cheese.
We have been working with The Cheese Shop of Portland this year on building a cheese-based curriculum for some of the cooking classes at our Portland store, including a fondue class and an intro to the perfect cheese plate. It is with great pleasure we feature The Cheese Shop in our Meet the Maker series as not only do our values of supporting small producers and offering top-quality products closely align, but they are our trusted source for both cheese and for a deep well of cheese-based knowledge. We look forward to future collaborations!
What was the inspiration behind the Cheese Shop?
My inspiration behind opening The Cheese Shop of Portland came from many things. I have a distinct memory from a young age where I imagined opening a small business where people could congregate, learn and share. As I dove into the cheese industry around the age of 20, I quickly romanticized cheese counters and the mystique they held over me and I needed to learn more (I was very fortunate to have great mentors). I was also very lucky to work alongside my wife Mary on many occasions, and her experience with food always pushed me to learn more. Once we became set on opening up a shop, my biggest influence was creating a future that would make my young niece and nephew proud, and that's something that keeps me focused.
Where do you source your ingredients from? How are you involved at the local level?
For our shop, Mary and I source cheese, meats and pantry items from all around the world. Being a small shop, we are able to work with small importers that don't carry the volume needed for larger businesses, so we get some very unique items from Europe. Our goal is to create a shopping experience that is truly unique to our travels and showcase a selection that is different than the norm. For local products, we are just as selective as our imported goods. We work closely with a few producers in Maine, keeping a close dialogue on product quality, along with business (and life) goals.
How has the Cheese Shop changed over the year and what is your vision for the future?
Since we've opened, we've been blown away by the excitement from our customers and the support of the community. It's been great to see more and more customers trust our quality of food, and we use that as our compass to steer only towards the highest quality food we can carry. Not much has changed early on, which is fine by us. We've gotten busier, and that's allowed us to keep adjusting our choices in products and grow our selection. Our vision for the future is to continue to grow with our customer base, and work on expanding our operations in a methodical way. I have big goals for us, so I'm currently practicing being patient and living in the moment.
What do you wish more people knew about your shop?
If there is anything I wish more people knew about our shop, it would be that cheese is more than a situational food. Many people only look at cheese as being celebratory or for special occasions. I think it's a great thing that people appreciate food in that fashion, yet I hope to make cheese a little more regular in people's weekly or even daily life.
Are there any upcoming events people should be aware of?
We are working on finalizing a few events, including an evening of Raclette with Tandem Coffee and a beer and cheese pairing class with Definitive Brewing! I love these events, because it's a great way to discuss our foods in a different head space, and I love teaching and talking cheese. As for new products, I'm excited about springtime as it brings a wave of seasonal goat milk cheese. It's a great welcoming of things to come.