Orrman’s Sets Out to Educate Its Customers

This Charlotte, NC cheese shop provides product
and insight on all things cheese.

As North Carolina’s most populous city, Charlotte is steeped in history and culture. The third fastest-growing city in the U.S., and topping the country in Millennial occupation, this town is extremely ripe for cheese sellers.

Rachel Klebaur was ahead of her time when she opened Orrman’s Cheese Shop in December of 2012.

“My family and I were living in New York City, but I had a sister who lived in Charlotte,” Klebaur says. “We were looking to start a cheese shop, and really liked the 7th Street food hall market.”

The Market at 7th Street is a non-profit incubator for emerging chefs, restaurateurs, entrepreneurs, artisans and other business owners. Located uptown at the base of the 7th Street light rail station and the 7th Street stop for the Lynx Blue Line, the market is accessible from anywhere in the Queen City. In addition to Orrman’s, vendors include a wine shop; coffee café; gift shop; zero waste store; cold pressed juice outlet; popcorn maker; acai bowl eatery; and restaurants offering Italian and Asian fare, along with pizza.

How It All Began

Klebaur’s love for all things cheese began when she attended the French Culinary Institute in New York City, which has since merged with the Institute of Culinary Education.

“I was always interested in learning about cheese,” she says. “It was when [Murray’s Cheese founder] Rob Kaufelt did a presentation at the school and mentioned he was hiring that I started my journey.”

Klebaur put in an application and was hired to work at Murray’s Cheese in New York’s Greenwich Village.

“This was back in 2003, and I worked at Murray’s for about two years,” she says. “After that, I moved to Miami to work for a cheese buyer/distributor, before moving back to New York City to work as a cheesemonger at Lucy’s Whey.”

Klebaur then made the move to Charlotte, opening Orrman’s Cheese Shop just three months later.

Orrman’s is a 300-square-foot shop that Klebaur describes as “very tiny”.

“My first cheese counter was 100 square feet,” she recalls. “We started with just a cheese counter selling cheese and accompaniments.”

Currently, Orrman’s has a 4-foot cheese case and an upright case that used to contain back stock but now is used for cheese displays. A cooler has been designated for back stock.

In 2016, Klebaur took over the space next door, which allowed her to expand and set up a cheese bar for foodservice offerings. There are just four seats, as the majority of the dining area is in the main food hall and shared with the other vendors.

Her menu of cheese-centric items includes grilled cheese, cheese boards and cheese plates. “If it has to do with cheeses, we do it,” she says. “Everything from gift boxes to cheese platters. We run a wholesale business, as well, which is growing right now.” (See accompanying sidebar for Orrman’s Cheese Shop’s restaurant partners.)

Creating a Destination

The shop carries some staples but is always bringing in new cheeses to diversify its offerings. Its selection includes a combination of regional cheeses made in North Carolina, such as Field of Creams from Prodigal Farm and Rocket’s Robiola from Boxcarr Handmade, along with imported types like aged goudas, along with Alpine and French goat cheeses.

“I love tasting new things,” Klebaur says. “Plus, our customers are interested in trying new things and often come in looking for recommendations. If we don’t carry something they’re looking for, we always have alternatives to give them.”

Klebaur says Orrman’s most popular cheese is a truffle brie that’s created on site.

“We don’t make the cheese itself but we doctor it a little bit, and that is the most popular,” she says. “Also, Prairie Breeze ched­dar is always on the counter.”

Another favorite of customers is Chocolate Lab. An American cheese hailing from Fairview’s Looking Glass Creamery, it is produced from pasteurized cow’s milk and distinguished by a red rind that is washed every other day with a brine solution. The wheels also are rubbed with crushed cocoa and sea salt. Chocolate Lab has a very firm texture, rich aroma and a sharp, pungent yet sweet taste.

“This is a local cheese everyone loves,” Klebaur notes. “The name and flavor of the cheese are what gets them.”

Orrman’s foodservice offerings feature items from its cheese case paired with gourmet food and ingredients on its shelves. This includes locally-made preserves and pickles, tinned seafood, charcuterie and anything that fits on a cheeseboard.

“We are taking things from the store to create sandwiches to serve as grilled cheese or as a part of a cheeseboard or plate,” Klebaur says. “If you fall in love with a pairing or sandwich, you can buy the ingredients and take them home.”

Orrman’s offers a varied selection of grilled cheese sandwiches, including gouda with plum chutney and pickled green tomato on sourdough; smoked mozzarella with prosciutto and roasted tomatoes on focaccia; and raclette and rosemary ham with fig jam on whole wheat. Other items include niçoise salad, mac and cheese and tomato soup. Its kid’s menu also offers mac and cheese, along with PB&J and cheddar on sourdough or wheat.

Orrman’s small catering menu includes cheese and charcuterie platters, raclette service and crudites. Soup, sandwich bites and tea sandwiches also are available. Its kitchen is run by Klebaur’s husband Jose Espinosa, whom she met in culinary school back in New York City.

“Our sourcing for menu items follows how we source for our cheeses,” she explains “We focus on small-batch producers or cheeses made by small companies. We’re hopefully supporting family businesses.”

Profitable Partnerships

Orrman’s has partnered with Assorted Table Wine Shoppe, another market vendor, to hold wine and cheese pairing events.

“Pre-COVID, we had multiple partnerships with breweries around town,” Klebaur recalls. “We held cider and cheese pairings. And we are currently holding raclette night every Thursday, with plans to start up cheeseboard making classes.”

It hasn’t been an easy road running a small business. Klebaur has had to handle the bookkeeping, social media and all other aspects of the store. She also has been contending with staffing shortages that have lengthened her work hours.

“Staffing right now is a concern,” she says. “We’re a small staff, and I can’t overstaff, so if someone calls in sick, I fill in. It’s about trying to find a balance.”

Klebaur admits there are many cheese shops that do amazing things, so the goal for Orrman’s is to offer great products while educating its customers.

“Our cheesemongers are knowledgeable about cheeses, pairings, how to recommend things or create a cheeseboard,” she says. “We love talking about cheese to anyone who will listen.”

Klebaur says she has a number of favorite cheeses, noting that Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, VA, is one of her sea­so­nal preferences.

“I love how the cheese’s flavor progresses throughout the year and season,” she says. “It’s a fun one to enjoy month after month, as it gets buttery and mild in the beginning and then near the end of the season it is more intense, savory and brothy, yet meaty.”

At press time, Klebaur was working on updating Orrman’s Cheese Shop’s website to further strengthen its mail order business.

“Right now, we have a website where customers can only order a limited number of items online,” she says. “We’re taking product photos, writing descriptions and will be testing the new site next week.”

She says this is imperative, since online orders are growing, and more people want to place orders online for pickup.

“Also, many customers live outside of Charlotte, and even though they will drive an hour or hour-and-a-half to the shop, they’d like to have the option of ordering online,” she says. “We hope to have it all online so they can order at their convenience.”

In the meantime, Orrman’s may soon expand to a larger spot in the market. “We’re in the process of nailing down a contractor for construction but looking at early 2022 for the larger space,” says Klebaur.

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