Most everyone who has a high-powered corporate job has thought, at one time or another, about walking away from it all. Few have the courage to take that leap and step into the unknown. In Kristi Barber’s case, the unknown was an awful lot of cheese.
Barber was an oil industry executive who traveled the world for work, lived on multiple continents and made sure to try the best local food wherever she went. A little more than a year ago, as she was about to board a train in Scotland during one such work trip, Barber looked at her husband and said she wanted to walk away from the rat race and start an artisan cheese shop. “He scoffed at the idea, ” she says, “but two weeks later I was home (in Houston) with a completed business plan in hand.”
The couple investigated a number of Gulf Coast cities to host their startup, but Kristi’s family ties to Mobile County kept bringing her back this way. When Fred Rendfrey with Mobile Downtown Alliance sent her information about a former gas station on St. Louis Street that was up for lease, her husband made the drive to town and was ready to sign on the dotted line at first glimpse. “We picked the name after we saw the building, ” Barber says of the diminutive cottage built to house a Pure Oil Company gas station in 1937.
Barber offers more than 100 cheeses of every milk and age, as well as crackers, charcuterie and accoutrements to-go, but it’s the dine-in lunch that keeps people coming back. Pressed sandwiches, fresh salads, cheese boards, sweets and more highlight some of The Cheese Cottage’s best offerings. “I love communing over shared food. Sitting around a plate of cheese and talking about what you’re enjoying brings such camaraderie.” The covered outdoor patio, complete with cafe lights and oversized picnic tables, was designed to allow slow, enjoyable moments like that to happen over and over again.
The Cheese Cottage is a little bit off the beaten path, surrounded by up-and-coming businesses that now dot a revitalized St. Louis Street. The best way to become acquainted with The Cheese Cottage is to stop by for a tasting. Each week, Barber and her staff choose six cheeses to highlight, welcoming any customer to stop by for a complimentary try. She offers insight, background and details on each cheese, answers questions and makes recommendations. There’s no pressure to buy, but most people leave with a bundle of dairy deliciousness.
On the Menu
Artisan Cheese and Charcuterie Board
Three rich cow’s milk cheeses, three cured pork delicacies, nuts, pickles, local honey, baguettes, crackers and a bacon jam, made in-house daily, round out this offering. Sharing is recommended.
Burrata Caprese Salad
[Pictured Top Right] Thick-sliced Roma tomatoes are separated by hand-pulled burrata, a type of mozzarella that is filled with cream, making a super luscious cheese. It’s topped with a drizzle of balsamic reduction and sprinkles of fresh basil.
Basil Pesto and Bacon Mozzarella Toastie
[Pictured Right] The Cottage’s version of a panini is warm and crispy, filled with super-fresh melted mozz and thick applewood smoked bacon on multigrain bread. The bite of fresh arugula rounds out the flavors.
Red Wine Poached Pear Dessert
This dish began as a special, but was so popular it made the regular menu. A poached pear rests on a bed of whipped mascarpone cheese with a hint of cinnamon and a divine red wine reduction sauce.
The Cheese Cottage • 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Tu – Th, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. F – Sa
650 St. Louis St. • 308-8488 • Average entree price: $10
text by Maggie Lacey • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau