While spending time in Portland, Maine recently, I made a trip to nearby Scarborough to visit The Cheese Iron, a cheese and specialty foods shop. Owned and operated by cheesemongers and husband-and-wife team Vince Maniaci and Jill Dutton, they’ve been bringing the best in European and American cheeses to the Portland area since 2006.
Vince has been at the cheesemongering game for a long time, as he told me while showing me around the store: after getting out of the Navy in the 90’s he started at the bottom, sweeping the floors at Cambridge, MA’s esteemed Formaggio Kitchen, learning the ropes along the way; later he spent time at Dean and Deluca in New York and Harry’s Farmers Markets in Atlanta. When Harry’s was acquired by Whole Foods, he took over the cheese counter at the flagship store in Austin, Texas. After five years in Texas, Vince and Jill decided it was time to open their own shop, and made their way to Portland, where The Cheese Iron was born.
One of the great features of the store is the open-windowed cave in the back, with wheels of cheese laid out on hay mats and cheese tryers — also known as “cheese irons”, hence the name of the store — resting on the window sills. The visible cave is a great way to introduce the customers to the process of affinage and cheese handling, as well as being visually striking. I assumed there were further walk in coolers in the back, but Vince told me that wasn’t the case; the windowed cave is the whole backstock, allowing for wheels to be brought into the cave, flipped, washed and brushed to bring them to peak, and sold when ready without languishing in coolers unnecessarily.
Sadly, I was a bit early for the arrival of larger numbers of Maine cheeses, which were expected in the autumn, but I did get to try some excellent cheeses, including “City of Ships” from Hahn’s End Dairy in Maine, a semi-firm aged cheese, with a distinctive tang and bite; Alpha Tolman from Jasper Hill, better known as the focus of Culture Magazine and Jasper Hill’s “Birth of A Cheese 2012” project (I’d been wanting to try that one for a while!), a young Alpine that was already developing a depth and complexity of flavor that promises great things for the future; and Humble Pie from Woodcock Farms, a sheep and cow mixed-milk washed rind cheese, meaty, buttery and pungent and absolutely at peak.
The Cheese Iron also has a wide selection of charcuterie, breads and other accompaniments for your cheese. If you’re in Portland, Maine and need your cheese fix, this is definitely the first stop.
The Cheese Iron
200 US Route One
Scarborough, Maine 04074