ST. PAUL, Minn. — Kowalski's Markets, launching its latest round of cheese classes last week, has expanded both the number of classes and class locations.
Even with two new locations added, and an expanded schedule, there were so many sign-ups that waiting lists were created for each of the new classes, and now officials have added two classes to the already existent 10 this quarter. Still, the waiting lists continue to grow, Jill Forster, the 10-unit independent's specialty cheese director, told SN. And the classes last week — Cold Winter Nights Cold Winter Brews and Grilling With Cheeses — got excellent reviews from customers who attended them.
“I had an email at a quarter of eight this morning from a customer who told me how much she enjoyed last night's class,” Forster said the morning after the Cold Winter Nights Cold Winter Brews class.
In that class, Forster and Brian Mallie, Kowalski's wine/beer manager, matched different cheeses with heavy and light brews.
“For instance, we paired a light Belgian-style beer from upstate New York with Crave Brothers Les Frères, which is a fruity, washed rind cheese made in Wisconsin. The two go very well together.”
People usually think of cheese being paired with wine, Forster said, so the class attendees were particularly intrigued with the idea of serving artisan cheeses with beer, and pairing them for the best taste.
In the Grilling With Cheeses class, Lori Turner, a Kowalski's cheese specialist, took away — or attempted to take away — customers' wariness about cooking with cheese.
Turner made kabobs with fresh pineapple and halumi, a firm Greek cheese that's known as the grilling cheese of Greece. It holds up well when heated. A grilled cheddar sandwich on raisin bread and fresh pear halves grilled and topped with blue cheese were also featured.
The classes had their send-off last spring at just one location, the company's flagship Woodbury store. Meanwhile, customers have asked for classes closer to them.
“I have one woman who comes to every one of my classes. She has to drive for an hour and a half to get to a couple of them,” Forster said.
The ideal class size is 20 to 25 people, Forster said. That's enough for good interaction without getting too cumbersome, she said.
Some of the classes coming up this spring include Make Your Own Mozzarella; Perfect Pairings — Condiments; and Goat and Sheep Milk Cheese Tasting.
Rather than seeing the classes as a way to sell more cheese in the short term, Forster sees them as word-of-mouth advertising that will bring more people into the specialty cheese department as class attendees talk about what they learned in the classroom.
While there are some featured cheeses displayed right there in the classroom that customers can buy, Forster and Turner always, at the end of each class, take everybody over to the specialty cheese department to show them the large variety available, and to answer any questions they might have.