Denver’s Truffle Cheese Shop proves a small space is no obstacle when it comes to selling gourmet cheeses.
When Lisa Morris purchased the Truffle Cheese Shop in August of 2021, she set out to change the offerings of the previous store, which focused on truffles and exotic foods.
“Prior to changing the name to Truffle Cheese Shop in 2008, the focus was mainly on imported foods,” she says.
After a refresh 14 years ago, the 600-square-foot store emulated a European cheese shop that is cozy, simple and welcoming. “Our customers come in saying it looks like the Paris cheese shops they’ve visited,” Morris says.
Although her background is in accounting, not cheese, Morris says the knowledge of fromage comes easier when a person is interested in the subject.
“Me and my staff members, a couple who’ve been here more than 10 years, listen, learn and research cheeses,” Morris says. “We talk to importers. The information is out there, you just need to talk to the right people.”
Truffle Cheese Shop is located north of the Cherry Creek area in Denver. It is in a walkable neighborhood that is surrounded by many large homes.
“This area is very well established, with an older demographic,” Morris says. “There is a bakery right next door, a meat market down the street and many specialty stores in the area.”
Truffle Cheese Shop benefits from an established customer base, as it has made a name for itself over the last 20-plus years.
“Denver is not unique from larger cities, but we have many microbreweries here, so people focus on beer and we can add cheese in the mix,” Morris says. “Denver is a young, progressive city with a lot of foodies. People are willing to spend more for good quality food, and we’re lucky to attract those customers into the shop.”
Morris says people in the city are into pairings, which don’t have to be fussy, but can be presented as a way to enjoy good food in different formats.
Capitalizing on the Space
Truffle Cheese Shop makes the most of its small footprint. The store has five cheese cases with more than 100 different types of cheese spread out through the space.
“We try to make our cheeses as visible as possible, but some are kept in the back,” Morris says.
Although the store does not offer foodservice items, it will create platters and gift baskets. Mail order via e-mail is available, and Truffle Cheese Shop has a monthly cheese club.
“In the summer months, we prefer not to ship cheeses out of the Rocky Mountain region,” Morris says. “We want to ship within one to two days, but we can’t ship far when the weather is hot as we need to keep the integrity of the cheese intact.”
In sourcing the cheeses, Morris works with importers and conducts research on cheesemakers and cheeses.
“Through importers, we can find cheeses to bring in,” Morris says. “They help us by working directly with cheesemakers overseas. We like to say we’re one step away from the cheesemakers here.”
The shop also sells its cheeses wholesale, with several area restaurants purchasing in larger quantities.
“The restaurants may use it on cheeseboards or in their cooking,” Morris says. “We also work with farm-to-table style restaurants. We enjoy collaborating with these customers, and our staff loves to go try out these restaurants, as well.”
Truffle Cheese Shop puts a big emphasis on its cheesemongers. Although it only has a small staff of six, everyone loves to share their passion for the product. Morris’ son works at the shop currently, but she considers all staff like family.
“When people come into the shop, we don’t want them just coming in, buying cheese and leaving,” Morris says. “We can talk about cheeses in here, if it’s for snacking, what it can add to meal, what wine to pair it with if hiking and what works to carry in a backpack. We want it to be an experience, not just leaving with great cheese but also with knowledge about the cheese they’re buying. If we know the cheesemaker’s story we will talk about that, but also about the cheese’s characteristics, the region it came from, etc. It’s all part of the knowledge of cheese and helping customers understand what makes cheese special.”
Truffle Cheese Shop’s most popular offerings include the types of cheese people know best. This includes English and domestic cheddars as well as Manchego, Brie and Gouda. What’s trending tends to be seasonal.
“As the weather gets warmer, fresh cheeses become bigger sellers. We bring in fresh burrata from Italy and have fantastic feta,” Morris says. “We also do a lot of platters with personal sizes for one or two people and extra-large for 40-50 people.”
The store sells large quantities of platters during the week that include cheese and charcuterie, along with olives, nuts, dried fruit, jams and honey.
“We like to complement the platters with something sweet for customers,” Morris says.
The pandemic caused challenges in sourcing cheeses that normally would be readily available. The shop imports about 80% of its items.
“We’re hoping to return to normalcy and are seeing it come back,” Morris says. “We’re able to get cheeses that we couldn’t get during COVID. People want unique and harder-to-find cheeses. Another trend is people eat more at home so they want cheeses to make a meal out of, and they want us to prepare it for them or want to do it themselves; we’re seeing that a lot more.”
Morris says one of her biggest challenges is being in a specific niche with cheese.
“We focus specifically on cheese and so are lucky that we’ve been here over 20 years,” she says. “We have a great customer base.”
To cultivate more customers, the store conducts pairings and events around the city to expose potential customers to different cheeses.
“With Whole Foods and area grocery stores that have extensive cheese cases, we need to set ourselves apart,” Morris says. “We try to bring in cheeses that are unique, but it’s an extra challenge with the pandemic. Fortunately, we have a great staff who is passionate about cheese and food in general to keep the shop running.”
The shop has partnered with local breweries to pair beer flights and cheese and also has worked with a local cidery and wineries in the city. “
“We try to get out into the city,” Morris says. “Where we’re located we want to expose our products to more people, so we often go to different areas of the city to do pairings. We have a pairing next month with a local distillery.”
Morris adds that although the cheese industry is large, the community is small and a place where everyone supports one another.
“It’s important for us to know where the products came from and who the cheesemaker is,” Morris says. “It’s also important to help people understand why cheese tastes how it does, what’s different about it and why it tastes good. Our customers like to know where it comes from and how it’s made.”
The plan is to expand to a second location that will be all encompassing. “Ideally, I would love to open a second location if we can find the right fit,” Morris says. “In doing that, I would love to do a cheese and wine bar, with both wine and beer sales available, and I’d like to do a café-style with a retail shop. We can’t do that where we’re located right now, but we’re actively looking for a second location and hoping to expand within two years.”