With three cheese shops opening in a matter of months, Tana Fryer is becoming a local maestro in the cheese world. Here, the proprietor of Blu, A Wine & Cheese Stop, talks food and community, artisanal shoes, and why nobody should have a lactose problem. By Joan Calcagno.
Early bird or night owl? “Early bird – totally. I’ve always been like that. I like getting up before everyone else. I like the quiet with a cup of coffee. There’s just something about the morning. That’s where my energy is.”
Favorite accessory? “It would have to be shoes or earrings. I love the creativity of a funky pair of shoes. Something handmade, artisanal. I love CYDWOQs. They’re handmade shoes from California. They’re hard to find but not ridiculously expensive. They change everything. They make jeans and a tee-shirt look totally cool.”
Favorite faux pas? “My favorites are things that [might be a faux pas but] can be carried off anyway. Like mismatched patterns or unexpected colors – color combinations that should be off but aren’t. I see these things and think ‘l would love to do that.’ But I’d look ridiculous.”
Who is your dream customer? “Anyone planning a party or who wants to try something for the first time. It’s like being on a journey with people. When I help someone … I’m introducing them to more than the cheeses. I’m introducing them to the people and the animals that produced them. It’s a very personal, intimate thing.
“I introduce them to a process and the result of a lot of love and care, and that is a lot of fun. Like with the quantrello di bufala. People haven’t often experienced water-buffalo mozzarella cheese but they can make a connection between the traditional mozzarella to something totally new and different. And it can be paired with an olive oil and vinegar to create something amazing.”
If I weren’t a cheese shop owner I would… “I would figure out another way to work with food and the community. Before I got into this, I was helping nonprofits in crisis to reimagine themselves and reclaim what they are about when facing new realities. I just needed a sabbatical from that. I had done a lot of food and retail and decided to go back to the food industry. I got a job at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread and Wine in Chicago and went to all the American cheese Society events. I read every book I could get my hands on. It was a real intensive learning process.
“My wife and I were here in 2010, moved to Chicago in 2011, and then moved back here in 2012. When I got back, I was looking for cheeses and other things I missed and was thinking of opening a cheese shop. Through [contacts] I did an event at the Fox and the dream unfolded into the reality. In four weeks I had the certifications and commercial space and the first catering job”.
If I could change one thing I would… “No one would be lactose intolerant. Some people haven’t always been and now that they are and they miss it. I see the longing. People buy for others and tell me ‘Oooh, that looks really good.’ “
* Find voluptuous cheeses and more at Blu, inside Alfonso’s Gourmet Olive Oil and Balsamics at St. Philip’s Plaza (River and Campbell) Monday to Saturday 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday 9 am to 3 pm, and coming soon inside a new Alfonso’s at Oracle and McGee. And, after a year in the making, a new kind of Blu will open at The Mercado San Agustin later this month. The Mercado location will feature a wine bar, cheese boards, charcuterie, and gourmet sandwiches, as well as a retail shop. Keep up with Blu on their website and Facebook page.