The Cheese Importers warehouse in Longmont is a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. Before Wild Oats, before Whole Foods Market or Sam’s Club, the warehouse’s retail store, La Fromagerie, was offering numerous free samples of European flavors throughout the store.
The unusual cheeses, herbed dips and sauces are still served in colorful, quality French stoneware or on English water biscuits. La Fromagerie also had one of the first olive bars in Colorado. Visitors were visually enticed to sample the diverse selection of big, small, dark, light, stuffed, hot, sweet, pungent olives by the pound.
I became acquainted with the Willow River Natural Cheese brand through food co-ops and health food stores in the late 1970s. By the early 1980s owners Lyman and Linda White had successfully grown their Willow River Cheese into the present Cheese Importers.
Along the way, they had become one of Colorado’s premier importers of the finest cheeses in the world. Then, without much ado, Linda imprinted her femininity onto the couple’s genius by creating a retail space she aptly named La Fromagerie. What she built was a unique specialty store that allowed her to indulge her love of shopping in European open markets.
The store turned the industrial warehouse into a happening place. It was an ideal complement to their enormous walk-in refrigerated warehouse full of hundreds of cheeses and gourmet foods. It also made the two-in-one business synonymous with food trends and buzz words such as gourmet, imported cheese, pastas, Emile Henry china, quiche, smoked salmon, herbed cheese, extra virgin olive oil, espresso, French pastries and fresh-baked French and Italian baguettes.
Linda, American born and bred, told me several years ago she had always been enchanted with anything French. Indeed, you’ll find no other store with such an authentic feel for the flare and character of France.
Inside the store you’re swept away by the aromas. Up and down La Fromagerie’s tightly-packed aisles you’ll be shoulder to shoulder with other curious and delirious food aficionados. It’s not a side-by-side couple experience. No, you’ll find yourself nosing your way alone through French breads, French candies, expensive bottles of virgin olive oil, French and Italian kitchenware, beautifully painted pottery, fine English linens, Swiss chocolates, jellies and jams, pastas, books, jewelry, hanging bunches of dried herbs and flowers, fine soaps and lotions.
Eventually you’ll work your way to the back of the store to find the small deli/bistro. You can easily impress your dinner quests with plenty of take-home party foods. Take a shopping break at one of the small bistro tables. Order an elegant quiche, a bowl of homemade French onion soup, a Greek spanakopita or dolmade, or choose a sliced ham, turkey or salami sandwich on fresh Sicilian green olive bread. The espresso bar features local homemade truffles and fresh-roasted coffee. Marvel at the beauty of the to-die-for pastries or don’t even stop to think — scarf down an original New York snack, the Black & White cookie. I cannot leave that store without a Black & White.
One of the highlights of the La Fromagerie experience is the cheese warehouse. Once you’ve tasted your way around the retail store, take the plunge, grab a jacket and a basket, and walk into the huge 7,000-square-foot cooler. It is cold in there. This is not your typical warehouse. Lunch can be had in this hip cooler. It is not just a warehouse of cheeses. It is a cornucopia for the senses.
It would be rude not to sample the cheeses from Denmark, Holland, New York, Wisconsin, France and Italy. The delectables are displayed on beautiful platters accompanied by soda crackers or mini-toast, sometimes with a side of chutney or jam, whatever enhances the flavors of these bold, taste-intensive cheeses. Hard salami and pestos are ready for sampling. The assorted pâtés read like a White House menu: duck, chicken with mushrooms, chicken with truffles, smoked salmon, spinach and Roquefort, eggplant and goat cheese.
Is your mouth watering? Do you long for a creative, civilized shopping experience?
La Fromagerie and the Cheese Importers warehouse is a destination. It is Colorado’s own delicious secret. Bon Appetit and joyeux shopping to you!
If You Go
La Fromagerie/Cheese Importers, 33 S. Pratt Parkway, Longmont; (303) 772-9599 or (800) 443-2166
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday
Jan McNutt lives and writes in Denver. She was the editor of Art Revue magazine for 14 years and continues to write about art, events, artists and galleries. Also a regular contributor to local rags such as Life on Capitol Hill, Denver Urban Spectrum and Cultural Times.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.