As we step off the busy sidewalk of downtown Thornbury through the door of The Cheese Gallery, I instantly feel as though I have magically stepped across the Atlantic Ocean and into a small European bakery or cafe. The smell of fresh bread and espresso fills the air, and the little tables by the window are crowded by comfortable-looking armchairs and covered with dainty cutlery and ceramics. It helps that Noemie the barista (and as we later learn brownie baking savant) grew up in Paris and is the first one to greet us from the coffee bar that sits next to the front door. She is one of the teams of amazing local women who help to make The Cheese Gallery incredibly unique, welcoming and interesting.
Casey Thompson, the owner, opened the business ten years ago when she realized that the local grocery store, which was very small at the time, did not have gourmet cheese or international gourmet foods in general. When they first renovated the building, it seemed like a very large space to fill, but they have since expanded exponentially, both in the diversity of their product and also in their place in the community. They have truly become a staple of downtown Thornbury.
Although The Cheese Gallery has become somewhat of a “gourmet grocery store” as demand has increased in recent years, the shop also prides itself on its in-house menu. Their main “claim to fame” is their Gourmet Grilled Cheese, which changes weekly. This week’s specials are a classic fig and brie on a French baguette or blue cheese with horseradish and garlic chutney on organic cranberry and walnut sourdough, which is what I smelled baking when we first arrived. The creativity of some of their sandwiches is astounding, and everyone that I have tried is heavenly. Most of the baking is done in-house by a member of Casey’s team, and they offer a wide choice of tasty treats both sweet and savoury.
If you’re in a hurry, or just want to get home and relax, you can also pick up a wide range of gourmet foods to go; from chutneys and jams to fresh locally prepared meals, such as frozen soups, lasagnas and tortières. A personal favourite of mine is Chef Patrick’s Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Quiche, which is loaded with a rich variety of flavours and fills my home with delicious aromas while it cooks.
Casey and her team also work with about a dozen local artists and artisans who display their work throughout the store. The walls are hung with stunning canvas paintings, and pottery, glass, and woodwork adorn the shelves, which add to the cultured atmosphere. On top of the local products, you can find merchandise and artwork from all over Europe. Casey has made it her mission to “expand with purpose” and often brings in specific items at the request of her customers. Recently she was able to track down a beautiful set of paviot napkins from Paris, which are now proudly on display behind the counter, waiting to be picked up.
As you might suspect, The Cheese Gallery is renowned for its incredible cheese and charcuterie boards, which you can enjoy in-house or order to go. There are often more than 100 varieties of cheese to choose from, and the staff are skilled at helping you to create a balanced and delicious mix of cheeses and meats. The to-go boards are secured in a classy-looking pizza box, making them perfect to take home or to bring on a picnic. The boards serve two people, but the shop also provides catering for anything from small parties to weddings. One time they made a cheese and charcuterie board that was a spectacular 24 feet long! Along with the coffee bar, they also serve local ciders (hard and soft), wines, and beer.
The Cheese Gallery is a founding member of The Apple Pie Trail and has grown and changed dramatically over the last ten years, as has the surrounding town. What hasn’t changed is the positive relationship between the community and the people in it. Most customers are greeted by name, and new patrons are soon regulars. As Casey says, “The connection goes beyond just dropping in to buy something. You’re actually seeing your friends.”