The Marion Street Cheese Market is a great resource in Oak Park, especially for those of us passionate about aged dairy products. But their new space multiplies their offerings significantly. Now, in addition to more than a hundred cheeses, you can also grab a bite to eat or drink, all in an eco-friendly space.
Expansion is one thing. Quadrupling your size is another. Oak Parkers not only have a new-and-improved venue for enjoying aged cow, sheep and goat cheeses, they also have a built-in cafe where cheese takes center stage.
"We were open for a while and I thought it would be great to be able to take that great cheese we have and move it out in other ways. So a cafe and a wine bar were some of the first things that came in mind," said Eric Larson, Marion Street Cheese Market.
Larson has a dozen cheesemongers on staff. They'll help you sort through more than 125 cheeses at any given time -- from rounds of goat, to wedges of Vacherin and wheels of Colby and blue. There's both domestic and imported, with equal amounts of cow, sheep and goat represented.
"Education is going to be a primary component of what we do here, whether it's with wine and beer or with cheese," said Larson. "And with cheese, one of our favorite ways is just our initial encounter with the customer across the cheese counter, giving them samples, asking them questions that will help us provide cheeses that we feel that they will really enjoy."
But this expansion also means a choucrouterie, with salamis and prosciuttos, plus a full-service cafe fashioned with all recyclable materials, from the seats to the walls, and plenty of local beers on tap. From the kitchen, there's an assortment of pizzas, some including both sausage as well as goat and Fontina cheeses. A hot, broccoli cheddar gratin is just as satisfying as a grilled cheese sandwich, or a mound of sliced, fried, cheesy potatoes. Desserts are subtle, yet elegant: a chocolate pot de creme arrives with a chocolate-bacon truffle, while a farmer's market fruit tart features local berries.
Larson says the education process will develop slowly.
"The first step is just building a rapport with the customer across the cheese case. From there we want to get them coming to our cafe, maybe enjoying cheese flights and understanding how cheese flights work, how cheese and beer or cheese and wine pair together. And the next step: classes and demonstrations, cheesemaker meet and greets, and the use of our website to help educate people about artisan cheese."
The market will also hold lectures and private events. And of course, like any good cheese market, you're always encouraged to sample before buying.
Marion Street Cheese Market
100 S. Marion St., Oak Park