Saturday, December 14, 2013

Day 216 - Fromagination

I have never been to Fromagination. This cheese store located on Madison’s capitol square has consistently been rated as one of the best in the Midwest, and in some cases the nation, in the years that I have lived in Madison, but I never took time to visit the shop at any point while I have called the city home. While such a passing event wouldn’t normally qualify as suitable for my “I have never...” year, Fromagination’s reputation and some last minute changes to my “I have never...” calendar made my first visit to the store appropriate for today’s event. As a result, I rose early this morning to do a little research before making the trip to gain my long awaited first experience with Fromagination.

The storefront
On another cold, snowy morning the otherwise short trip to the capitol square took me longer than expected this morning. The few drivers on the road were all pacing themselves in the face of unplowed city streets, which gave me plenty of time to take in the sights of Madison’s heart covered in a soft blanket of snow. When I eventually pulled in front of the Fromagination storefront, the absence of activity in the city around me left plenty of parking spaces open near the building. As a result, I parked my car directly across the street from the cheese store and started my walk toward the front door. Passing through the front door, I was surprised to see Fromagination’s interior occupied by nearly a dozen customers. On a day that the city still seemed asleep hours after sunrise, Fromagination was bustling with activity, and it would quickly become apparent why that was the case.

Choices... Choices...

The warm, rustic interior of the store provided an immediate welcoming feeling as I stepped to the side of the door to wipe my feet and look around. An endless array of cheeses lined shelves and arched glass coolers running along a counter separating employees from customers. Along the walls, rows of breads, oils, crackers, and other complementary items covered every inch of reachable space. At first glance it was apparent Fromagination was a cheese lover’s paradise. As I started walking into the store, as employee greeted me and offered her assistance. Taking in the overwhelming variety of cheeses in the display case before me, I took a step back and chuckled, “With so many choices, I think I might need a bit,” I said scanning the remainder of the store. “I understand completely! Just let me know when you are ready!” the woman replied with a smile before moving toward the center of the store. Baffled by the sight in front of me, I leaned back in to look over the dozens of cheeses from around the world that occupied the cooler and the space around its exterior. With each movement of my eyes I came across something different or unfamiliar, and I had just scraped the surface of what Fromagination had to offer.

So much good.
Moving toward the center of the store I stopped with each step to look at unique displays of cheese that were completely different than each that came before them. Although there were familiar names like cheddar, parmesan, and brie, I was dumbfounded by the quantity of previously unknown cheeses that lined the space of the store. As I took time to read the labels of each new cheese and sample those that were available, I thought about the limitless possibilities the flavors, textures, and contents each varietal offered from the perspective of creating unique meals. Each sample offered a distinct set of flavors, and the descriptions on each label of those that could not be sampled left my mind reeling. The breadth of Fromagination’s products was nearly unbelievable, and that made me wonder why it took me so long to make my first trip to the location.

They need a home, you say? Alright!
As I worked through the rest of the store I took note of the broadening span of products, which expanded into meats, candies, and beverages near the back of the store. Understanding the themes of each, I took time to read about the various products and compare them to the cheeses occupying the bulk of the store. Although I know next to nothing about cheese pairing, I tried to imagine what various blends of the unique products would bring, and I narrowed in on a few random connections I thought would yield tasty results. In turn, I picked up a few “orphan” sample sized pieces of wrapped cheeses, some small pieces of candy, and took note of the beer or wine I thought would pair best with them. Then, in preparation for an upcoming “I have never...” experience, I picked up a bag of rye crackers with caramelized onion pieces baked in and requested a package of Limburger Cheese from behind the counter.

As one of the employees took action on my request, I took a quick glance at the clock on my phone. I was stunned to see over 45 minutes had passed since I entered store during what had only seemed like a few moments in time. Fromagination had reeled me in and put what little culinary creativity I had into action. That alone was enough to reinforce the idea that this store is highly effective in its area of expertise and likely deserving of its recognition as one of the best cheese stores in the United States. As I brought my purchase to a conclusion and began walking out of the store, I took one last look at the interior of Fromagination and shook my head. “This place is awesome,” I muttered to myself as I passed back out onto the snowy streets. The comment came almost as a reflex while my mind rifled through all of Fromagination’s offerings, which was enough to make me realize my first trip to the store certainly won’t be my last.

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