The following story was written by Heinen’s partner Elaine T. Cicora
Some are creamy, some are sharp. Some are mild, some are pungent. Some blend well with other ingredients, and some must stand alone. When it comes to the options in Heinen’s Specialty Cheese Department, there is truly something for every taste.
But when you’re shopping the department, surrounded by myriad temptations in dozens of styles, you might be inclined to wonder: “Where do I start?”
That’s where Anne Somoroff comes in. As Heinen’s Specialty Cheese Buyer and Merchandiser, Anne is a true cheese wiz, wielding a well-tuned palate, years of experience and an unshakeable passion for the wonders of cheese.
Hers is also the expert hand behind Heinen’s Hand-Selected Cheese program, designed to help shoppers identify the cheeses that Anne describes as “the best of the best.”
How Does Heinen’s Choose Hand-Selected Cheeses?
“I love cheese!” Anne declares with a laugh – which is a very good thing, since she personally tastes every cheese that comes into the department.
Sometimes that results in what Anne calls a “wow” moment.
“Whether I’m tasting an English Cheddar, a French Brie, or anything in between,” she says, “I sometimes find myself thinking, ‘Wow, this cheese is fabulous! It tastes exactly like how this cheese should taste – plus it’s available at a great price point!’”
In that case, Anne’s next step is to broker a partnership, if possible, with the cheese producer; once that’s done, the cheese may go on to proudly wear the Heinen’s Hand-Selected Cheese label, which identifies it as an exemplary product.
Anne first launched the Hand-Selected Cheese program about eight years ago, as a way to highlight the most outstanding products that crossed her path. Four years later, she became more focused, actively seeking out offerings to build a collection of great cheeses in a variety of styles. “I look for items that represent both great quality and great value,” she says. “Heinen’s is all about providing the best in customer service – and bringing the very best products to our customers is an essential part of that process.”
Today, Heinen’s Hand-Selected Cheeses comprise a carefully curated collection of 12 extraordinary products, ranging from an “amazing” Italian Pecorino Romano to a creamy Baby Swiss. (“I must have tasted 24 Baby Swiss samples across a three-week period,” recalls Anne, “and this is really one of the best Baby Swiss cheeses out there; it showcases everything that a Baby Swiss should be.”)
Where do Heinen’s Hand-Selected Cheeses Come From?
Some of the Hand-Selected Cheeses are domestic, some are imported, and some, like Heinen’s best-selling 24-month Aged Imported Parmigiano-Reggiano – the first cheese chosen for the Hand-Selected label – are certified as authentic by their country of origin.
“That type of certification certainly speaks to the quality of the product and serves as proof to the customer that what they are buying is really what it says it is,” says Anne. “But it’s not the only thing I consider. I follow my palate, I follow what customers tell me they want, and I follow the trends. For instance, British cheeses have been trending for the past two years, so shoppers will find those represented among our Hand-Selected Cheeses.”
What’s Next for Heinen’s Hand-Selected Cheese Program?
Anne says that shoppers can expect to see an expanded assortment of Hand-Selected Cheeses this fall, just in time for the holidays.
“There are a lot of options here,” she confirms. “Our collection is always evolving.”
Heinen’s shoppers are the beneficiaries of that process, Anne agrees. “Cheese is edible culture,” she says, noting that humans have been making cheese for centuries, as a way to preserve milk and to provide important nutrition. “So I really believe there is a cheese for everybody – for every person, every palate, and every occasion. Just don’t be afraid to explore!”
How to Enjoy Heinen’s Hand-Selected Cheeses
One fun and festive way to launch your own exploration is with a cheese or charcuterie board, Anne notes. “The flavors of the Hand-Selected Cheeses shine on a cheeseboard, maybe accompanied by nuts or dried fruits, a Two Brothers chocolate bar, or Heinen’s fig or sour cherry spread with a Heinen’s French baguette,” she suggests.
On the other hand, they can also serve as part of a more complex creation. “We have very savvy customers, including a lot of foodies, cooks and chefs, and they look at cheese as an ingredient, too: the freshly grated Pecorino Romano on a pizza, say, or our imported Le Gruyere in a gratin or fondue.”
As for Anne’s own favorite cheese, her answer is unsurprising: “Honestly? It’s the one that’s sitting in front of me! It’s all about where my head is at the time – the season, for instance, or what I’ll be eating or drinking with the cheese.”
It’s a full sensory embrace that Anne loves to share with Heinen’s shoppers. “When you try a specialty cheese, it brings your dining experience to a whole different level of enjoyment, and it’s my job to do just that.
“Heinen’s is a grocery store but, at the end of the day, we are a specialty store too,” Anne says. “We want to give you a wow! experience every time you taste our products.
“And that’s especially true of our Hand-Selected Cheeses. Giving you that wow! experience is my job – and I really love what I do!”
Here’s a current list of cheeses that wear the Heinen’s Hand-Selected label; look for tasty additions coming soon!
- English Vintage Cheddar
- Red Leicester
- Imported Pecorino Romano
- 24-Month-Aged Imported Parmigiano Reggiano
- French Brie Mini Wheel
- French Brie Wedge
- Wisconsin Mild Cheddar
- Wisconsin Gorgonzola by Carr Valley
- Imported Le Gruyere AOP
- 9-Year Vintage Cheddar
- Imported 90-Week Gouda
- Imported Baby Swiss