Formaggio Kitchen is a specialty store full of fine foods from local artisans and exclusive imports from international producers. Best known for their gourmet cheeses, their family of stores began in 1978 with a vision of creating a European shopping experience in Cambridge, MA. Now, there are three stores in Cambridge, Boston’s South End, and New York. Beyond cheese, they sell wine, beer, charcuterie, produce, olive oil, jams, honeys, coffee, tea, spices, chocolate, confections, and a variety of other specialty food items. As we celebrate National Wine & Cheese Day on July 25th, we connected with Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge’s Cheese Buyer Marc Hernandez and Wine Buyer Colin Mason to learn more about their business.

Coravin: How did you each begin your career in the industry? Is there a specific cheese or wine that piqued your interest in your respective careers?

Marc: I grew up in a family where food was paramount. Catching up with each other and sharing some quality time together always meant doing so around the table with cheese and wine. When I moved to Boston, I was introduced to Formaggio Kitchen and knew that working here would be the best way to learn about specialty food and wine. It has absolutely been a tremendous learning experience. 

Colin: I began working in the industry 8 years ago at a restaurant named Ribelle. While there wasn’t a specific wine that piqued my interest, I had a wonderful mentor, Theresa Paopao. Her love of wine was infectious and she put me on the right track to succeed.

Coravin: We understand that Formaggio was started with a vision of creating a European shopping experience locally. Tell us about what makes Formaggio unique from other small, specialty food shops.

Marc: We pay an immense amount of attention and dedicate so much time and energy sourcing only the best products from around the world. Our staff plays such an important role in communicating what’s so special about each and every discovery. If we find something really cool and interesting that we want to carry, it is always met by support and passion throughout the shop.  

Colin: I believe that what sets us apart are the number of choices we give you for both cheese and wine. We have a huge selection of natural wines that allow us to have some really unique pairings.

How do you source your inventory and how have you cultivated relationships with your producers? Have these relationships changed as a result of the challenges presented by COVID-19?

Marc: Absolutely. The most important part of sourcing our cheeses is building that relationship with the cheese maker or affineur. In order to do this, we must travel to meet with them in person, showing that we put work into understanding what makes their cheese extraordinary. We must also show a passion for the cheese and ensure them that their hard work will be preserved through proper cheese maintenance and care, and shared with our customer base.

Colin: As far as wine goes, we have great distributors and importers that we have been working with for a long time. They know what we like, and we know who we like working with. Usually they will bring samples for us to taste, but this does not happen anymore due to COVID-19. I wouldn’t say these relationships have changed more so than they’ve been strengthened.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Marc: Building a cheese selection for a customer that is putting together a special night for friends or family. It is so fulfilling working with these customers to educate them about cheese and work through their preferences. Seeing their genuine excitement in taking these cheeses home to share the experience with their friends and family is also very rewarding.

Colin: Talking with customers and helping put together amazing pairings. Building these relationships and getting to know our customers is by far my favorite part.

Do you have any tips to share to help customers pair cheese and wine? What is your personal favorite pairing?

Marc: Look for balance. The perfect wine pairing should compliment a cheese and visa versa. For example, if you have a really rich, full cheese, look for a wine that will be crisp and refreshing to help break through the richness of the cheese. My personal favorite pairing is Côtes du Jura and Beaufort. 

Colin: If it grows together it goes together! My personal favorite pairing is Crémant de Loire and Valençay.

Wine and cheese are definitely two delicacies we appreciate! Do you have a go-to wine and cheese pairing? Share with us on social by tagging @Coravin on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.