A 19th Century building in the Warehouse District of New Orleans, lovingly restored and painted a deep salmon color, stands out from its neighbors on Tchoupitoulas Street. Originally a warehouse used to store grain, coffee and produce that were shipped through the Port of New Orleans in the mid Nineteenth Century, it is now the St. James Cheese Company. Opened in 2015, the building was repurposed and is currently home to a sophisticated gourmet cheese shop, selling a curated assortment of artisan cheese and includes a restaurant serving light meals, beer and wine.
Surrounded by fashionable restaurants, trendy coffee shops, boutique hotels, world class museums and a burgeoning arts scene, the St. James Cheese Company fits right in with the melding of historic architecture and urban revitalization in the evolving Warehouse District of New Orleans.
This innovative cheese shop is the brainchild of Danielle and Richard Sutton who have a passion for cheese. Both were students at Tulane University in New Orleans, where they met. After College, Richard became a Banker and Danielle was in Public Relations. In 2002, they left New Orleans for London to further their careers. Instead, they began a new career, working at Paxton and Whitfield, a high end cheese shop in the upscale St. James neighborhood in London’s West End, that is world renowned and has been in business since 1797. It is “By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen”, which means a Royal Warrant was issued that Paxton and Whitfield was approved to supply the Royal Household with Cheese and could advertise this fact. Being “By Appointment” is a huge honor and being the supplier of cheese to the Royal Family is extremely prestigious. Working at Paxton and Whitfield, Danielle and Richard were able to follow their passion and love of cheese, while learning everything there is to know about the business. Richard became the Manager and in the daily running of the Company, they were able to develop and build a network of cheese suppliers in the British Isles and Europe that would become invaluable in their next project.
Intending to return to New Orleans and open a Cheese Shop, their plans were interrupted when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 and devastated the City. After the flood, New Orleans was struggling to recover and the economy was at its worst. In 2006, a year after Hurricane Katrina, friends persuaded the Suttons to come back. Being in New Orleans, they were reminded how much they loved the Crescent City and decided to go ahead with their plan. Even though New Orleans has many renowned chefs and restaurants, there was no specialty cheese shop and this presented an opportunity. Opening their first location at 5004 Prytania Street in the Central Business District, they called it St, James Cheese Company after the neighborhood where they had worked in London as well as a reference to the ” St James Infirmary Blues” a song made famous by the late Louis Armstrong, the famous jazz singer, composer and trumpeter who was born in New Orleans.
In 2015 following the success of the first shop, Richard and Danielle took over a dilapidated building in the Warehouse District and undertook a major restoration, commencing with replacing the unfinished dirt floor and continuing throughout the space, until it was completely restored. This became the second St. James Cheese Company and was the venue that I visited.
The selection of cheese is extensive, diverse and carefully curated, displayed in a large glass refrigerated case. They average about seventy five cheeses in stock at any one time.
Imported and local artisan cheeses are on display and they are sorted into groups, each labeled with its name and provenance. Cheesemongers are on hand to explain the differences in the cheese selection, the ageing process, moisture content, the reason why some cheeses are blue veined, different skins or rinds, flavors and smells and whatever other questions the customers may have – the cheesemongers are trained and have all the answers.
Richard and Danielle have also invested in extensive storage space and coolers to store and further age to perfection some of their inventory for both cheese shops. Through their extensive connections, St.James Cheese Company prides itself in having built a network of artisan cheese makers and affineurs (the people who age or mature the cheese) both national and international, giving them a unique cross section of farmhouse cheeses.
With restored brick walls and large windows that let in the light, the interior is outfitted with contemporary furniture in colors of lemon and white, A special feature is the cheese bar adjacent to the cheese display, where customers can interact with the cheesemongers, tasting, chatting and sampling the cheeses on display.
The attractive cheese menu has a selection of delicious cheese suggestions. These are cheese platters with charcuterie or salads prepared by the in-house chef that are perfectly plated and look as if they slipped off the pages of a gourmet magazine.
Mouthwatering grilled cheese sandwiches made with specially selected cheese arrive at the table bubbling with melted cheese combinations, plus many more sandwich and salad options.
Unable to resist, I chose to sample one of the cheese platters and allowed the cheesemonger to make the selection of three very different cheeses. This is what was on my plate:
- Casatica di Bufala, a rich and creamy cheese from Northern Italy, made from Water Buffalo’s milk, mild and delicate that melts in the mouth
- Fior d’Arancia a sweet cow’s milk cheese with blue veins, that is pierced and placed in barrels, bathed in a sweet Arancia wine for about thirty days, then left to finish aging on wooden planks
- Lola Montez, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Bavaria Germany, with a handmade rind of herbs and flowers that is dense with a medium flavor
The order came with a basket of crusty bread and crackers, and I could not have asked for a more beautiful presentation. Served on a rectangular platter, it was decorated with a fan of finely sliced Granny Smith apples, tart in-house satsuma plum jam, honeyed walnuts, fig mustard and the platter was lightly sprinkled with black salt. The combination of cheese and the accompaniments was perfectly balanced as was the attractive presentation created by the in-house chef who has designed the different menu items.
There is an extensive menu including mac and cheese, raclette, charcuterie and cheese plates, grilled cheese sandwiches, Plowman’s Lunch and salads — all perfectly served in a relaxed atmosphere at a reasonable price. If budget is a consideration, take advantage of Happy Hour, between 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday.
To go with the cheese platters, there are six craft beers on tap and a full bar for pairing beer, wine and cheese offerings.
For parties, catering and weddings,, make an appointment to discuss your requirements with the catering department. Orders for cheese can be placed online and they will be carefully packed and shipped.
The St. James Cheese Company at 641 Tchoupitoulas Street in the Warehouse District is easily accessible to the Julia Street Art Galleries, the Central Business District and the French Quarter.
If you are in New Orleans, be sure to visit the St. James Cheese Company. It is operated by people who are passionate about what they do and obsessive about serving cheese at its optimum best… This is a genuine food find in the heart of New Orleans.
St. James Cheese Company, 641 Tchoupitoulas Street, (504/304-1485); 5004 Prytania Street (504/899-4737), New Orleans. stjamescheese.com