The supper club is here to stay, and it’s anything but boring, especially in the Triangle. The latest version involves Speakcheesy, a multi-course cheese and wine dinner put on monthly by the Cheese Shop, at Belltree Cocktail Club (100 Brewer Lane) in Carrboro.
Michelle and Stevie Lee Webb recently opened the Cheese Shop inside Glasshalfull’s wine shop, serving as the Triangle’s only cut-to-order cheese shop. Find anything but the usual offerings in the grocery store cheese section, including small batch and farmstead cheeses from local, domestic, and imported producers — plus charcuterie, specialty butter, and imported pantry provisions. Customers can also walk in and taste cheeses before buying them, like at an ice cream shop, and nine times out of 10, listen to Stevie recall a fascinating story behind the cheese.
Speakcheesy was one of the earliest ideas the duo had in mind when bringing the Cheese Shop to a reality. “Originally, we wanted to put the shop within another business — so we would have a cheese shop in the back of a restaurant or a bar” says Stevie. “So if you have a cheese shop at the back of something, it becomes a Speakcheesy,” he says.
Stevie comes from a cooking background — he trained under Prue Leith from The Great British Baking Show. “When we started doing wine and cheese pairings and classes, we would have these amazing cheeses and amazing wines that went with them, and we kept thinking, ‘what other amazing things can we do with these cheeses for each course,’” he says.
Speakcheesy, which Stevie and Michelle are in the process of trademarking, is an opportunity to collide the worlds of cheese and wine in one sitting, far beyond a regular cheese pairing class where things tend to be a little predictable. “I always considered what I was doing a lot like Michelin-starred dining or dining in Europe, in particular,” Stevie says. “A meal was not a success unless it lasted at least two hours.”
“From a business perspective, I have a joke that a cheese shop just can’t sell cheese,” says Michelle. “You’re not going to survive by just being a cut-to-order right now — so Speakcheesy was a really interesting thing. We know the cheese, and we know the accouterments, but we need to find some really strong partners, and I don’t think this would happen successfully in a lot of other parts of the country where it’s so competitive and cutthroat in the restaurant industry,” she adds. The duo teams up with Paula de Pano of Rocks + Acid wine shop for their pairings. “One thing you certainly get from us and Paula de Pano and Nick Stroud (of Belltree Cocktail Club) is that they love what they’re doing and they love their products,” says Stevie. “We’re not trying to do things we don’t know how to do,” says Michelle. Find the right person, bring the local people in — partner, partner, partner,” she says.
While the cut-to-order shop is at Glasshalfull, the Speakcheesy landed at Belltree Cocktail Club, down the street, as a way to shake things up and find a venue that’s just as interesting as the dinners. The cocktail bar is a hidden gem in Carrboro, attached to popular 30-year-old Carolina Car Wash. Entering the building for a Speakcheesy dinner feels like traveling into a different world — and no two dinners are the same. “We quickly realized that our senses of humor, creativity, and love for what we do mirror each other,” says Zach White, of Belltree Cocktail Club.
The most recent Speakcheesy, which sold out within a couple of days, took guests through Italy with six Italian cheese dishes paired with de Pano’s Italian wines. “As Speakcheesy grows, and we get a bit bolder, the dishes will get more interesting,’ says Stevie. “We are going to push the boundaries a little more each time,” he notes. During Speakcheesy: the Italian edition, the menu had hot dishes like handmade ravioli in a bath of decadent meat broth with Cravero Parmigiano Reggiano, but it was the gorgonzola dolci gelato, in collaboration with Chapel Hill’s Portico 31, that really turned heads.
“Wine and cheese have always been natural pairings, especially when they both come from the same region,” says de Pano, who is currently leading the wine portion of Speakcheesy dinners. “The ‘what grows together, goes well together’ adage rings very true,” she adds. “I find that they both have a lot of flavor complexities that complement each other as well, expressing their inherent terroir. Cheeses also have their own background and histories that make them unique in their own way, the feed that the animals eat, the climate, and the traditional know-how of both the dairy farmers and cheesemakers contribute to the end product, just like wine.”
Speakcheesy Secret Supper: a six-course Iberian wine and cheese dinner will take place on June 21, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. — get tickets here. The Cheese Shop’s cut-to-order shop is open Wednesday through Friday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Follow @cheeseshopnc for news on upcoming events and future information on Speakcheesy dinners and more.