Some people have street cred. Jeff DiMeo has cheese cred. With a decades-long career buying, selling, importing, distributing, merchandising, making, and consulting about cheese, he knows what he likes, and he has a good idea of what Rhode Islanders will like too.
Jeff and his wife Angie founded a food consultancy business in 2017, merging his cheese and specialty retail acumen with her experience in marketing and the digital landscape. The couple worked directly with independent food businesses and large brands, but along the way, a cheese shop of their own morphed from a wistful dream to a more seriously considered reality.
For years, Jeff, a Rhode Island native, lived with Angie in Wayland Square and was keenly aware of the absence left there when nationally recognized chef and cheesemaker Matt Jennings closed his much-loved cheese shop Farmstead and neighboring bistro La Laiterie in 2014 – bonafide institutions for a decade in the lively, community-driven neighborhood. The void only strengthened the DiMeos’ desire to be shopkeepers in the square, only there was never a commercial space available that aligned with their vision. So they waited…and waited, until, after a three-year quest, an unexpected “for lease” sign popped up in the perfect location this past March, and they pounced.
“We looked at each other and said, between the two of us, I don’t know anyone that could do it better, or at least with more passion,” explains Jeff. “There are some really wonderful cheese shops that we frequent and love, so we’re just excited to be in that realm and servicing, in my opinion, a very dry specialty cheese market, which is the East Side.” He recognizes there are big box stores with cheese departments, like Whole Foods, which ironically, helped launch his cheese career. DiMeo was working at Bread & Circus in Wellesley, MA, an upscale chain of a dozen markets ultimately bought by Whole Foods. The acquisition changed his professional life’s trajectory.
“At the age of 19, Whole Foods asked me to become a specialty coordinator for the tri-state area, so New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut – they were just opening stores in New York City. They really liked what I was doing, and they liked that I thought outside the box, and honestly, that I was kind of breaking all the rules at Whole Foods with the cheeses that I sold, and where I sourced them from and how I was selling them,” says Jeff. Later, working for a cheese importer, he became well versed in cheeses from Italy, Spain, Portugal, and beyond.
When they open the doors to East Side Cheese & Provisions on South Angell Street this month, curious and casual cheese lovers and avid turophiles alike will be able to shop and sample more than a hundred local, domestic, and international artisanal cheeses in the 1,200-square-foot space.
“Angie and I have a lot of connections and we have a lot of direct relationships, which is only good for everybody,” says Jeff. “It obviously can potentially lower our cost of goods and allow us to pass that onto our customers, and introduce them to things that would normally be a much more expensive product at a more reasonable rate, but also getting our hands on things that other retailers just can’t, whether that’s a one-off experimental batch from a really well-known cheese maker in Vermont, something that is created specifically for us, or things that we discover along the way in our travels that we really want to introduce to folks in Rhode Island.”
The shop will also stock a selection of pantry staples and items that pair well with cheese, including artisan crackers, jams, pickled items, olives, charcuterie, drinks, and more. Cheese and charcuterie boards will be available to grab and go or to order in advance online. The DiMeos are also planning classes, tastings, pairings, and fun events at the shop, including Cheesy Bingo and Foodie Trivia.
While it’s hard to choose a favorite, Angie reveals the cheese that means the most to her and Jeff. “Our favorite of all time is the king of all cheese: parmigiano-reggiano,” says Angie. “That’s the one that’s always in the house. We traveled to Italy and I’ve gotten to see it being made by small family farms and producers. It resonates and sits deep within, I don’t know, my heart – and my belly.”
17 South Angell Street • 450-0273
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