The store is tiny, but so far the draw has been huge.
The newest shop to open its doors inside Horwood’s Mall is Cultured Fine Cheese. A micro-sized business taking up only 135 square feet, Larra Daley’s shop offers cheeses from around Canada and Europe.
Since opening last week, interest has been steady – the kind of steady that doesn’t give you time for lunch or a bathroom break.
“(Opening day) was actually a bit overwhelming. My husband took the day off of work from his business to come in and be here and just share the excitement and it was smokin’ busy,” she said.
And it wasn’t just first day excitement.
“I had a girlfriend stop in on Thursday morning just to say, ‘Hi, how’s it going’ and she spent the whole day helping me and came back the next day to just help me out because I think she felt bad that I was a bit swamped.”
On Wednesday a passing cousin had to call Daley’s husband to come in to help because she didn’t have time to get to her cell phone.
The fact that she’s already considering the possibility of hiring someone to help is a good problem for a new business to have. Daley says she’s grateful.
“Whitehorse is really receptive to small business, to new businesses. So we’ve had a really amazing welcome, we’ll see how that all kind of balances out in the coming weeks and seasons.”
Working in the shop surrounded by display cases of cheese, Daley pivots between slicing wedges off of large wheels and chatting up the customers about the cheese they’ve chosen, where it comes from, what to pair it with and what they might want to try next.
It’s reminiscent of a sommelier talking about good wine. Though Daley insists she’s not an expert, that conversation is the kind of service she says she wants to offer people.
“Talking to a customer, getting an idea of what sort of flavours they like, how adventurous they are, and for me sometimes I want to push that with them a little bit (to try new things.)”
When the doors opened, the store started with between 50 and 55 different cheeses.
About 40 per cent of the cheeses come from Europe, 35 per cent from Quebec and the rest from elsewhere in Canada.
“I think probably some of the best cheese in Canada is coming out of Quebec,” Daley said, pointing to what little’s left of her wheel of Louis D’or Quebec cheese.
“Personally I feel like that’s almost on the same level as like comte or beaufort, which has been made in France for hundreds of years. Classic, famous, French cheese.”
So far Yukoners have shown themselves to be open to variety, she said.
Smoked applewood cheddar from P.E.I. was gone by the second morning. The year-old comte went really quickly and so did the cave-aged gruyere.
Each cheese has a small card that tells you what it’s made with and the flavours to expect, whether it’s the subtle fruity aromas of butter crab apple in the organic Raclette de Compton Poivre or the essence of roasted and salted hazelnuts in Le Blackburn.
“There’s such a wide variety. What makes a good cheese, I think, is consistency, texture plays into it, flavour obviously, aroma. But it’s really subjective to the person eating the cheese,” she said.
News of the Yukon shop is spreading.
“We’re seeing tourists come in and find us already too, who are really excited to find some of their favourite cheeses from back home,” she said.
Alongside the cheese are all the fixings: Jellies and artisanal preserves, crackers, olives and mustards, balsamic vinegars and truffle honey from Italy.
“I can definitely say the product sampling has been a lot of fun,” Daley said.
While researching her new business, Daley visited cheese shops in Vancouver and Calgary and reached out to others in the business.
“There’s kind of a select group of people who decide to dedicate their lives to cheese, I guess,” she said.
“It has been really welcoming. Everybody I’ve approached has been really receptive and really open to ongoing contact if I have questions and stuff. So that’s been nice.”
And she’s already imagining road trips when things slow down.
“I can’t wait until some point in the future I can pack my family up and do the little road trip through B.C. and meet all these people that I’m working with and get tours of the cheese factories and the farms and stuff like that.”
Daley says they’re still experimenting with what cheese to stock. The store is too small to order directly from Europe, so they have to go through a wholesaler. That can mean having to order as much as nine weeks ahead of time.
For the younger cheeses closer to home Daley says she wants to make sure the extra travel to the North doesn’t impact flavour or quality.
“I’ve been checking with some of our customers who come in who recognize cheeses from Quebec and are trying them and I’m saying, ‘does it taste like home? Is it still the same as when you had it in Quebec?’” she said.
“I’m getting really good feedback about that. I’m feeling like so far quality isn’t compromised at all.”
When asked why she would dedicate her time to this pursuit, Daley responds “Do you like cheese?”
“Usually 99 per cent of people say ‘yes’ and that’s why. My husband and I both love cheese and we were finding that so many of our friends like us, when we leave the territory, one of the things we were cramming into cooler bags or suitcases upon returning was cheese,” she said.
“It was just something we were hoping there would be a bit of a niche market for, cheese presented in this way.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at