In the Middle of a Pandemic, Scardello’s Cheesemongers Become Virtual Detectives

courtesy Scardello
Rich Rogers (left), owner, hosts one of many virtual classes via Facebook in the COVID-19 world.
A cheese expert has never faced these obstacles.

The biggest problem now is taste testing — it might be a small thing to us non-mongers, but removing the ability to watch a customer taste a tiny triangle of, say, aged manchego, turns a cheesemonger’s job into a Sherlock Holmes-level puzzle. The sense of sight is down, too: Customers are calling in, messaging through Facebook or texting owners Karen and Rich Rogers directly.

“It can be exhausting,” Rich Rogers says.

The Rogers’ shop just moved past a decade of slinging wheels of Parmesan on Oak Lawn.

“When you take away the tasting — a person’s taste — it makes it immensely more difficult and time consuming.”

It does sound like a cheesemonger’s nightmare: Construct the perfect board, with wine and chocolate pairings, for a customer you can’t see or hear or pass along a sample goat’s good milk work. They are now cheese private eyes by virtual appointment, and it’s hard, yet rewarding work.

Rogers takes in a heavy breath as he recounts his last two weeks — he’s only got a few minutes before he needs to get back to prep for his evening cheese class.

He theorizes that the time we’re in, the nightmare that is 2020, may just be the first time a customer is unable to sample a piece of cheese over a counter on a global scale.

Note to self: Immediately add “go on a cheese-sampling bender” to the list of things we’ll do when this madness is over.

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Prepping cheese kits to-go
courtesy Scardello
Rogers will lead a chocolate and cheese class in the evening. It’s one he’s excited about: He’ll suggest wine pairings and advice on what Dude, Sweet Chocolate creations go with which cheese. Customers who’ve signed up for the Facebook Live event can pick up their cheese in the afternoon, then follow along with cheese college in the evening. Rogers said he’s getting comments such as, “This is my new favorite TV show.”

The good news is: Rogers isn’t limited on capacity. He’s bound only by how much cheese he’s got on hand for attendees. Don’t try to last-minute crash this course in order to get a trunk-full of brie, people.

The virtual classes, such as a French cheese course or a Vermont cheese tour, are guiding them through this crisis. He hopes it’s a quick relief from the burdensome world.

Still, he worries about his staff.

“We are constantly reevaluating because we want to keep everyone safe,” Rogers says.

Everybody pivots; the answer to how-in-the-hell-do-we-stay-afloat questions is a moving target, “sometimes almost day to day," he says.

To-go cheese plates for 15 bucks even — add salami, prosciutto, little pickles, olives, mustard or a bar of dark chocolate, for a few bucks more — are popular right now.

So are his three- or five-cheese kits, complete with crackers, dried fruit and nuts for $35 or $50, respectively.

These are the days of miracles and wonder: Let them know if you want to add a stick of salami or a bottle of wine to your cheese kit delivery (within 5 miles of Oak Lawn).

“It’s like the Wild West,” says Rogers of the curbside pickup rules.

Some folks are shouting for the staff to drop the quarantine kits in the trunk. Some want the mongers to leave the bag and back away.

The beauty of Scardello is this: Eleven years later, in the middle of a pandemic, their cheesemongers are ready for the challenge.

Scardello, 3511 Oak Lawn (Turtle Creek). Curbside pickup and limited delivery is available.