Archive for December, 2013

 East Davis Street shop serves the everyday gourmet 

Experience counts. The more one gains the greater chance of success. Perhaps that explains why the Culpeper Cheese Company is a favorite haunt of folks who love quality cheese, wine, craft beer, soups and sandwiches.   

Jeffery Mitchell

Jeffery Mitchell

“I became a wine buyer when I was twelve years old,” says owner Jeffery Mitchell chuckling. “My mother was a hard working single Mom and loved her Chardonnay. When she broke her hip I was tasked to buy wine during her recovery.”

Mitchell remembers the corner shop owner cooperating with his mother during her convalesce by selling wine to the young lad. “One day her favorite chardonnay was out of stock and I made a buying decision on my own. It was a bottle of Verdicchio with a neat looking fish scale pattern. Unfortunately, the high acidity Italian white wine did not agree with Mom’s palate.

“When I bought that wine home it was not a good evening. I learned there had to be radical differences in wine tastes. And that a bottle’s shape did not make the wine,” he says smiling.

It was a lesson learned at a young age and provided the base for Mitchell’s ever evolving knowledge of gourmet foods.

After graduating from college, he took a course on serving wine in restaurants. “It was my first wine class but by far the best I’ve ever taken. The instructor served ten wines. The first nine were purposefully hideous; over-oaked, high alcohol, too much sugar, and every other flaw you could think of. Then the tenth wine was poured and it remains in my memory to this day.

“It was balanced, in harmony and flavorful. The experience was an eye opener for me and led to a greater understanding of wine,” recalls Mitchell.

Going independent
So how did his career as the proprietor of a fine food and drink shop unfold? After twenty years in the photography business, including time at Eastman Kodak, he found himself unemployed. “Our division at Kodak saw that film was dead and digital would prevail but nothing in the corporate strategy was going to change. Our entire division was let go.

“I realized there is no future but your own. I worked as a newspaper writer, at Foti’s restaurant and then at the Frenchman’s Corner where I began learning more about cheeses. Seven years ago I opened my own shop called the Frenchman’s Cellar and renamed it the Culpeper Cheese Company two years ago.

IMG_8321_1“Today wine and cheese hold equal attractions for me with cheese sneaking ahead. I’m especially excited about Virginia cheese production. There are some astonishing producers here. Virginia is just a spark in the dark right now with about a dozen high quality producers. By comparison, Wisconsin has hundreds of cheesemakers,” says Mitchell.

His cheese inventory centers on what he calls “natural cheese”; products that contain only salt, rennet, and curds. Like wine, cheese has terroir characteristics based on the breed of cows, sheep and goats’ milk used and the grasses they feed on.

So what can a customer expect when they visit the Culpeper Cheese Company? “First, I hope you are greeted with a friendly welcome and that it smells good when you come in. We make homemade soups and Panini sandwiches daily.

“I am fortunate to have an experienced staff that can help in selecting products based on individual tastes. This is not a one person show. I am blessed to have knowledgeable personnel that make my success possible.

“Our shop carries over sixty selections of cheeses from around the world and about 400 different wines. We have a wine station where you can taste featured wines before buying a bottle or ordering a glass with a cheese plate or sandwich. One popular offering is our 6 for $60 program—a 22% discount over individual purchases. We call it ‘wines that are right for tonight’,” he says.

For beer lovers there are 300 bottlings of craft brews and eight draft lines to choose from. One popular offering is the “trio of taste” that lets a buyer sample three different four-ounce pours for $6. Recently the shop held a beer dinner with more to follow.

IMG_8313_1Asked why Culpeper is a good location for a gourmet shop Mitchell replies, “Davis Street is a pretty special place. A lot of ‘Main Streets’ are gone. If you drive elsewhere, there are beautiful turn-of-the-century buildings that are vacant.

“In Culpeper there is a sense of the old and the new and the camaraderie among shop owners is great. Hourly we refer people to other businesses and they do the same for us,” says Mitchell.

The Culpeper Cheese Company is opened six days a week, closed Mondays. Visit for hours of operation or call 540.827.4757.  

John’s pick of the month  

Shropshire Blue Cheese 


Rather than go with a wine recommendation this month, let’s celebrate the bounty of cheeses available at the Culpeper Cheese Company.IMG_8329

One of our favorites is the delicious Shropshire Blue Cheese. This cow cheese hails from the United Kingdom & Ireland and was first created in the 1970s at Castle Stuart Dairy in Scotland. The cheese is semisoft with a sharp, strong flavor and a slightly tangy aroma. Pair with a Pinot Noir wine or a porter or stout beer. Cheers. 


Published in the December 19, 2013 edition of the Culpeper Times.


End of Harvest
Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Reflections on winter

Posted on Dec 16 2013 | By

 Experiencing the shiver of delight, not chill 

I’m a man for all seasons. No, not a Thomas More challenging King Henry VIII and his propensity for divorce in the classic 1966 movie. I doubt I have the moral strength to lose my head for my principles.

But rather, I am a man for all of nature’s seasons; spring, summer, fall and winter. This love dates to my early days of scouting when I cared less about earning merit badges but simply wanted to go camping. Anytime.

My affection for the out-of-doors is reinforced when winter settles on our bucolic Piedmont countryside. Winters here are ephemeral. Out of an entire season, we might only have a few weeks of really cold weather before March blows the frosty days away in a whirlwind.

And lest I get side tracked, the subject of global warming is being left on the shelf for now. The last word I read is that global temperatures have not changed in the last fifteen years, regardless of rising greenhouse gases.

IMG_2620In Virginia, the average winter temperature is 39 degrees. Sounds chilly but that’s the average. There are plenty of mid-40 degree days or higher. But this winter is off to a grand start from my perspective. As I type, it’s 36 degrees outside at two o’clock in the afternoon with a light blanket of snow draping the forest surrounding our home.

The Old Farmer’s Almanac makes this 2014 prediction for our region:  Winter will be colder and drier than normal, with the coldest periods in early and late December, early January, and early February. Snowfall will be near normal in the north and above normal in the south, with the snowiest periods in early November and in mid- and late February. 

Ahhh…a delightful prognostication; let’s hope it’s accurate. A cold winter warms the heart and turns one inward to home and hearth. During the rest of the year, my restless nature has me pursuing all manner of activity. Once the sun is up in the summer, I’m off to engage in yard work, golf, trail maintenance in the Shenandoah National Park, hiking, volunteer work and more. Balmy weather compels one to activity. Yes, retirement gifts me much free time.

During a cold winter, I venture outside less but when I do, it’s into a more peaceful world. Daily walks on my community trails are solitary excursions. No one is about; the crunch of snow on the trails is the only sound I hear. Rambling through a snow covered forest is an invitation to open a conversation with myself on all manner of weighty issues—or not. I return home a calmer man than when I left.

When the temperatures begin to drop in November, it’s time to pull the comforters out of storage and prepare the beds for long winter sleeps in snugly comfort. Firing up my beloved wood burning stove is a hallmark of winter’s descent.

Bringing fire into a home has its environmental critics and is attendant with a wee bit of a safety issue. But to sit in my living room in the evening, transfixed on a soft burning fire, creates a sense of security and peace.

IMG_7522No heat pump, propane tank or electric heating can match the deep warmth—both physical and emotional—conveyed by a wood burning stove. It is a presence almost as real as a person; a living entity shielding one from the harsh reality of cold air, while providing warming comfort to those gazing into its magical flames.

A dram of single malt scotch enjoyed in the company of both a softly crackling fire and my bride of forty-eight years, is like roaming the Elysian Fields here on Earth.

As a writer, dropping temperatures stirs creative urges. Since there is less life outside, the thought process turns inward and appears upon paper in a gentle, unrushed march of words on subjects untouched in a warmer clime.

Among the highlights of an award-winning winter is a heavy snowfall. Time seemingly stops as the snow piles up, traffic remains captive in blocked driveways and scenes evocative of a century ago appear as an artist’s rendering. It is the ultimate solitary confinement in the best sense of that normally dreaded term.

Another delight is my escape to the mountains for both downhill and cross-country skiing. Downhill is often a family adventure while cross-country finds me heading into West Virginia with the guys to work hard, gliding over forest trails and relaxing in the evenings with libations and stogies.WhiteGrass (2)

The end of the day assessments includes how skillfully we managed the icy descents on free-heel skis. Truth is neither sought nor expected in these performance reviews.

I look forward to this winter, hopeful its auspicious start is not melted in a January thaw.

Quotation anthologist, Terri Guillements, frames the quiet season best by saying, “The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.”

So while others wait the eventual return of warm breezes, I will revel in the imagination of the chill.


Categories : HAGARTY TALES