The beauty of having a first-class cheese and wine store in Arlington, VA, is that it can serve customers from Washington D.C., Maryland and northern Virginia, as the Beltway passes right by and tens of thousands of people are driving in its direction each day.
But that’s not the only reason why Arrowine & Cheese, located at 4508 Lee Highway, is always so busy—it’s because even people who aren’t close by often flock to the store to take advantage of its incredible selection of cheeses.
The genesis of Arrowine dates back more than 30 years. It started under the name Bottle and Cheese Shop in the mid ’70s, and current owner Doug Rosen worked there while studying in college. It was during this period that he discovered a love for wine.
“After college, I always had a special affinity for this location,” says Rosen. “When the opportunity came up to become one of the owners, I jumped at the chance.”
That was around 1995, and Rosen teamed up with Shem Hassen on what was now known as Arrowine. Over the last 20 years, the two partners have been travelling the world together trying to find the best wines at every price point and bringing in cheeses that will appeal to its ever-expanding customer base.
To help in that regard, the store brought in Badr Abaichi as its cheese and charcuterie manager in 2012. Before joining the store, he had a wealth of experience working for gourmet, fancy and organic food places, such as Dean & Deluca, Balducci’s, Whole Foods and the Brooklyn Deli.
“This is something that I have long been interested in. I’ve been able to develop a nice palate at an early age mixed with a Moroccan flavor,” says Abaichi. “I’m the type who is always craving Brie on a fresh-toasted baguette with honey. I’m always in search of new cheese pairing ideas.”
The life of a cheesemonger is everything he ever dreamed of. Each day he gets to come to work, cut into a new wheel, taste it and then proudly introduce it to customers. He also creates tasting events, pairs cheese and charcuterie for easy on-the-go orders and keeps tabs on what the latest trends and cheeses are.
“Arrowine does not follow trends, we set them. Our staff travels the world to try and find the best products for our customers at the best price,” says Abaichi. “The products Arrowine brings in have balance, complexity and soul. This includes all of our products, from our beer, cheese, charcuterie and especially wine.”
And it’s not just Rose and Hassen doing the travelling. All of the store’s staff is trained and has the opportunity to travel for education. Cheesemonger Perry Soulos was even named the Number One Cheesemonger in the country back in 2014, winning the Cheesemonger Invitational.
“We are ambassadors of the products and producers; we sell and we want to share their stories and products with our clients,” says Abaichi. “We are like a family; we aren’t trying to just sell cheese but we want to help educate our customers about them, as well.”
That’s why you can always hear Arrowine staff members talking to customers about the history and background of each cheese it sells.
About that Cheese…
The cheese selections at Arrowine are constantly changing and evolving, and customers are always given the opportunity to try new varieties.
“At times, we may sell as many as 375 cheeses in our shop, and it’s common for us to display 175 to 200 on any given day,” says Abaichi. “It’s always tempting to think that ‘having more is better,’ but the truth is, this isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to our shop display.”
His approach for finding new varieties for the store starts with simply asking his vendors to send samples.
“I try them with all the mongers, because we all have different palates and it helps to have a number of cheese mongers tasting cheeses side by side,” he says. “Listening to their opinions and what they are tasting is how we choose the ones we like from that particular selection. In addition to that, we have the luxury at Arrowine to travel within the states and overseas, mostly Europe, to visit the farms and the cheesemakers and tell the story behind the cheese from the source and see all the steps of the cheesemaking process.”
Abaichi also attends the Fancy Food Show twice a year (one in San Francisco in January and one in late June in New York) and that helps him get exposed to new products. And of course, customers sometimes have opinions of things they have experienced elsewhere, and that dialogue often leads to learning about others.
Recently, Arrowine started selling Green Hill cheese, made by a Georgia company called Sweet Grass Dairy.
“We discovered it at the local food show. It’s a nice soft ripened cow’s milk with a buttery flavor, silky texture and thin, bloomy rind,” says Abaichi. “It’s always special to work with small family farms and passionate people like them to tell us the story behind artisan cheeses so we can pass it on to our customers.”
In the Store
In addition to such a delectable cheese selection, Arrowine is known for so much more. Wine certainly gets its share of space in the store—not to mention being a part of the store’s name— but it also offers one the most popular curated craft beer selections in the area.
“The same care in selecting cheese is taken towards every product we sell,” says Abaichi. “We often work directly with many smaller producers that may not see regular distribution in our area for everything from chocolates to charcuterie to crackers.”
On your visit, be prepared to face some crowds. Arrowine averages about 150 customers on a weekday and up to 400 on Fridays and Saturdays. Customers come in all ages and ethnicities, and there’s been a rise of Millennials coming in of late.
“The baskets of our typical customers have wine, beer, a variety of cheeses, charcuterie, crackers and chocolate,” says Abaichi. “Our dedicated and passionate staff will cater to customers at any level of interest, consulting with you to select the perfect wine and cheese to fit your taste, meal and budget, whether it’s for your book club, wine-tasting club, dinner at home or to cellar for years. We can also special order wines for you. All you have to do is ask.”
The store philosophy is simple: to foster a welcoming environment that encourages people to explore. It’s a place to learn, enjoy and have fun.
“Our products need to offer real value and taste good. And we work harder to bring that to people,” says Abaichi. “Our prices are competitive and often the lowest in the country. We negotiate the best price from distributors and pass those savings along to our customers.”
Each weekend the store holds free tastings and events, and there are always special tasting discounts. The store’s email offerings provide even greater discounts for customers, as well as information on new cheeses and products available.
While Abaichi noted that naming a favorite cheese is a bit like asking a parent to name their favorite child, he is able to offer up his most loved styles.
The first one that comes to mind is Comté 36 months, which is an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese. “Produced from the milk of cows that have been fed from the rich pastures of the Jura Mountains, the milk for each round of cheese can only come from within a few miles of the cheesemaker, giving to each wheel a very specific terroir, flavor and aroma,” he says. “The maturing period gives a distinctive nuttiness to the cheese.”
Next on his list is Delice des cremiers, a rich, indulgent triple cream cow’s milk cheese with a soft, sweet and buttery flavor. “Crème fraîche is added to the milk during the manufacturing process and gives a slight sourness and a hint of spice on the palate,” he says. “It is covered in a fully white mold that will soften the outside of the cheese when it’s allowed to ripen.”
A customer favorite is Wrångebäck, an unpasteurized cow’s milk from Sweden that has a slightly tangy aroma with a grassy-milky scent of a warm cow barn. “It has a wonderful, slightly tart, complex umami flavor perfected by smooth, dense and creamy mouth feel,” says Abaichi. “The cheese is aged between 18 to 30 months.”
Secret de Compostelle is a raw sheep’s milk from the Pyrenes that offers a natural rind with plenty of colorful microbial life. “Inside, it is firm and the color of pale butter, the aroma distinctly nutty with a hint of sour cream,” says Abaichi. “The texture is silky, especially if you shave it with a cheese plane.”
Finally, he names L’Amuse’s Brabander Goat Gouda as a favorite of the Essex Street Cheese collection, with its “beautiful white paste and lovely flavors of caramel and butter.” Every year, affineur Betty Koster sets aside a handful of these wheels, normally aged six to nine months, and ages them for an additional six months. The extra time in the caves results in a firmer paste and a more intense flavor. To distinguish the cheese from the younger Brabander, Koster coats it in black wax. “The fact that this cheese is seasonal and has a very nice distinctive flavor makes it special,” he says. “We get as much as we possibly can, and it usually sells out really fast.”
Since its inception, Arrowine has become a name known by all cheese lovers of the D.C. Metro area community. Politicians and high-level government employees are regular customers as well as diplomats working in the area who look for their favorite cheeses from their home countries.
“We support both the traditional European cheesemakers and the New World artisans who create delicious cheese, uphold this wonderful and important craft and specialize in artisanal varieties,” says Abaichi. “We all enjoy what we do and try to create a place where everyone feels welcome. It’s a dream job for me, and there’s nothing better than seeing a customer leave with a smile on their face.”