Walking into Fromage, a Cheese Boutique in Middletown is like reuniting with an old high school friend. Time has passed, but your affinity for each other hasn’t. Mainly because Christopher Pride, the proprietor, knows his way around some banter. The husband and I walked into the store while Chris chatted with a friendly couple buying cheese, bread, and meats for a dinner party. Oh, the banter I was privy to! While listening and giggling on occasion, I looked around the shop.
Local items abound at Fromage! Chris offers a variety of local breads from Magnolia Bread Company in Sudlersville, MD. Magnolia grows the wheat and bakes the bread! Even the herbs and produce are directly from the farmer’s garden. I chose a multi-grain baguette and a Peppadew Cheddar loaf to enjoy for dinner later.
Next to the bread is a display of balsamic vinegars and oils from A Taste of Olive based in West Chester, PA. The basil olive oil caught my attention right away. I tasted it (thanks to the tiny cups on hand for just that purpose) and fell in love, swooning when I imagined a perfectly ripe summer tomato doused with the golden green basil goodness.
Making my way around the store I noticed truffles and chocolates from The Squirrel’s Nest, already a local favorite, and honey from Gage Family Beekeeping right in Middletown. Craig and Adrienne Gage attend the hives and jar the honey with the help of their children, Claire, Clayton, Kyle, and Ryan–a sweet, small business with an equally sweet product. Honey is such a good accompaniment to many cheeses (manchego + honey = yes please).
By the time I stepped up to the counter to look at the cheese case, I already liked Christopher because of his support of local food producers. But then we started talking, and I REALLY liked him. While we bantered back and forth, I learned Chris is a retired Verizon field technician wanting to bring a little European culture to Middletown. Chris grew up in Philadelphia but his roots go much deeper than his Philly childhood. His family tree begins in Italy, complete with a vineyard still owned by the family. When traveling to his homeland, one of the hundred things Chris loves about Italy is the little neighborhood cafes. Combine those cafes with the markets he grew up frequenting in Philly and the concept for Fromage was born. Excellent, unique and tasty products served in a friendly, neighborhood atmosphere.
Our conversation veered to Chris’ passion, which is, you guessed it, cheese! He joked that the cheese-stealing mouse on his menu sign is his own likeness at age 6. “That’s how much I love cheese,” he said.
I asked Chris about his local cheeses. He carries a variety of Eve’s Cheese from Chestertown, MD. I tried the Italian Colby–tangy, yet smooth, blended with Italian herbs. When all was said and done I tasted about four cheeses, offered up to me with a side of banter from Chris. Each cheese was delectable, including a variety spiced up with Old Bay seasoning, a smokey and spicy gouda, and a Balsamic BellaVitano. A fellow customer raved about the Merlot BellaVitano.
I settled on two cheeses–the local Italian Colby and the Balsamic BellaVitano. Even though the Balsamic isn’t local (in all fairness to me, this outing was before my all local diet began on June 4), I can never resist a nutty, fruity, and savory-sweet cheese. Before I left, Chris offered me some espresso, perfectly sweetened with sugar (one lump for me, two for him). While he made me the exceptionally good (and Italian) espresso, I didn’t have to coerce him too much to pose for a few photos. (Would you like some ham with your cheese?)
The husband and I walked out of Fromage weighted down with bread, cheese, olive oil, and an extra gift from Chris–a sandwich of sorts with manchego cheese, multi-grain bread, balsamic vinegar, and local honey. I couldn’t wait to get home to enjoy my bounty with a glass of red wine.
Next time you’re in Middetown you must visit Fromage, a Cheese Boutique. Sit outside with a fruity glass of house-brewed peach iced tea, eat a panini with the cheese of your choice, or pretend you’re in Italy while sipping espresso with the perfect amount of crema.
While you’re there, you’ll learn something about cheese from Chris, who wants you to be a cheese aficianado too. I think Fromage needs a slogan – “Go for the cheese, stay for Christopher Pride.”