Fromagination Celebrates 5 Years with 80 Pounds of Pleasant Ridge Reserve

What started out as the little-store-that-could and morphed into one of the nation’s premiere cut-to-order cheese shops will celebrate its fifth anniversary in style this week with an 80-pound wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve.

Owner Ken Monteleone, who first opened Fromagination in October 2007, will mark his 5-year anniversary this Friday at 3 p.m. by cutting one of only two 80-pound wheels of award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve ever made by Uplands Cheesemaker Andy Hatch in Dodgeville. The 12-month-aged cheese will be offered to the public for tasting and sale.

“It seemed like a pretty good occasion to break out the big wheel,” Andy told me this week. “Ken has done a lot for artisan cheesemakers. We’re just happy to be part of his big day.”

I first met Ken six years ago, when Fromagination was nothing more than a concept he carried around in a black portfolio. I remember meeting him at Barrique’s on West Washington Ave., talking about store concepts and what cheeses he would carry. When he opened in October 2007, Fromagination carried nothing but Wisconsin artisan cheeses for the first 30 days. It was the first time a cheese shop of that calibre had done such a thing, and it put Wisconsin artisan cheesemakers on the map.

Since then, Ken and his staff have focused on forging close relationships with Wisconsin cheesemakers, and as a result, the little shop on the Capital Square is often one of the first retailers many artisans contact when a new cheese is developed and ready for tasting. Monteleone sources as many local products as possible, with nearly 60 percent of the shop’s 400 products coming from an area stretching from Minneapolis to Madison to Chicago.

That dedication has been recognized by the industry. Lauded for its dedication to serving cheesemakers and small artisans, its attention to customer service, and its commitment to the environment, Fromagination was named an Outstanding Retailer in 2011 by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, and is a perennial winner in local Best of Madison contests for favorite specialty food store.

Be sure and stop by 12 S. Carroll Street in Madison on Friday at 3 p.m., say congrats to Ken, and take home a piece of big-wheel Pleasant Ridge Reserve. See you then!