Cheer for Cheese
Photographs by Martha Busse
When you walk in the sharp tang of blue, plus feta, Muenster, goat and sheep varieties form a delightful menagerie for the nose.
Fromagination, after all, is a shop for the senses, says owner Ken Monteleone.
“What I wanted to create was not the drudgery of shopping—I wanted to create an experience,” he explains. “And I wanted something that said cheese but not the word ‘cheese.’ I want to expand the imagination in the world of cheese. So Fromagination stands for cheese of the nation and of the imagination.”
Moteleone’s two-year-old Capitol Square specialty shop looks like it could have been plucked right off the streets of New York, or even Paris. The delightful décor and aesthetic leave customers with the distinct sense that this store is special. Pleasant grass paper-covered walls, slate floors, attractive product vignettes and a little dash of glamour—chandeliers resembling flowers—add up to stellar merchandising on Monteleone’s part.
Much of the place is outfitted with sustainable materials, and reclaimed items serve as whimsical touches—Camp Randall locker room bins hold products, customers shop with 1920s Walgreen’s baskets, and clocks from the old Capitol building keep the time.
The irony in Fromagination is that even though the look and product mix is thoroughly sophisticated, it’s really marketing Wisconsin’s artisans—a stark contrast to the down-and-dirty work those farmers do every day. Sixty percent of the cheeses are from the Dairyland. You might recognize names like Hook’s Carr Valley, Crave and more.
“Connecting with the producers and getting to know them is the favorite part of my job,” he explains. “The passion that goes into what they create and sharing that story with the customer is very fulfilling.”
And customers should be happy to hear about—and eat—those stories, as long as Monteleone’s willing to share them.
Price range: $1.25–$125
Owner's Picks: Roelli Cheese Dunbarton Blue (English-style cheddar with blue cheese), $24.99/lb; Quince & Apple shallot confit with red wine, $7.50; bambu eco-friendly plates, $8.50; wine journal, $24.95.
Editor’s Picks: Hammond’s ribbon candies, $7.99; Brunkow’s Brunu-usto baked cheese, $7.99; Hook’s five-year cheddar, $19.99/lb; New Glaurus Brewing Co. Belgian Red and Raspberry Tart, $11.99.
Verdict: Not only does the store provide a sleek, satisfying shopping experience, Monteleone’s cheese-related events sound fun, too. Check out Saturday wine tastings, fondue lunches and dinners, and his booth at the Madison Food and Wine Show.
• Fromagination, 12 S. Carroll St. 255-2430. Fromagination.com
Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.