Culpeper Cheese Company debuts downtown
© Culpeper TimesJeffrey Mitchell fell in love with cheese at an early age.
“I grew up in the Georgetown area and in those days there were little markets and it was much more of a community,” he said. “You knew the business owners…they were your neighbors. At the French Market, there was a cheese case and the lady would let us taste the different cheese.”
From these tasting experiences, Mitchell began to develop an appreciation of the texture, the color and the aromas of various types of cheese.
“Cheese is a living thing,” he said.
Mitchell used his knowledge running the Frenchman's Cellar, which opened as a part of the Frenchman's Corner, owned by Marc Ast, about five years ago.
This month, however, Mitchell moved his business next door to Ast's as the Culpeper Cheese Company.
Don't let the name fool you, though. In addition to cheese, Mitchell offers a vast selection of regional beers, wine and fresh fish. Croftburn Market, specializing in fresh local beef and sausage also, has what Mitchell called its “uptown location” inside Culpeper Cheese Company.
“I am no longer front to back with the Frenchman's Corner,” said Mitchell. “Now we are side to side.”
Mitchell said he chose a new name for his business to not only mark it as different from the Frenchman's Cellar, but also to reflect something he is passionate about.
“We carry only the finest quality cheeses here,” he said. “There is no sawdust or seaweed or other additives that some cheeses have. The cheese comes from Charlottesville and Maryland, but also from California, Wisconsin and as far away as Bulgaria.”
Mitchell explained that although cheese is not processed in Culpeper County, milk from here is sent to processing plants in Pennsylvania and then returned as cheese.
“One of the fun things about what I do is getting to see where cheese is processed and to visit vineyards and breweries.”
Mitchell said that at the Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware he was encouraged to sniff the wood in the vats. He also said that different vineyards harvest their grapes in different ways.
“Milk, grapes, hops, wheat, barley, it is so neat to see how farms feed into the products we sell,” he said. “We like to say we're the most unusual type of farm store. You touch any of our products and it goes back to the land.”
Mitchell said the Culpeper Cheese Company carries “north of 200 varieties of beer with more arriving all the time.”
Mitchell wasn't always a businessman. He began his career as a photographer working with Kodak, later worked for the Madison Eagle newspaper as a reporter and served at Foti's in Culpeper.
“That's where I fell in love with food,” he said of the restaurant owned by Frank and Sue Maragos. “I occasionally got to help out in the kitchen and in five years there I learned a lot about what I didn't know.”
Mitchell got the opportunity to buy the cheese business from Ast and he joined the American Cheese Society and then attended the Culinary Institute of America's boot camp to increase his knowledge.
“When I lost my job at Kodak a lot of other people also lost their jobs and their pensions,” he said. “I did not want to go back to the corporate world.
“I knew I eventually wanted to do something to control my own destiny. I didn't want to be controlled from on high but I wanted to know that I had control of my own destiny.”
However, Mitchell said he realized that he had to cede certain responsibilities to others for his business to succeed.
“I had been a micro-manager,” he said. “A couple of years ago I had a medical event and it was wonderful how the people I had hired took care of things when I wasn't there. I realized I had to let go and give them control of their areas.”
Mitchell now has Rachel Kujowa as his cheese manager and David Hodgson as his beer manager. However, he is still involved in all facets of the business.
“You get to touch everything here,” he said. “I'll push a broom, ring people up and I'll taste wine and beer,” he said. “I get to hear about people's lives – their celebrations and their losses and their tragedies.
“I'm excited to be here and I'm excited about where we are going.”