When Jean Higgins opened Di Raimondo’s Italian Market and Cheese Shop in Paso Robles, it was more market than cheese and all strictly Italian. In the 13 years since, her thoughtfully curated array of domestic and international cheeses has assumed the starring role.
“I wanted to start a business that recaptured the feeling of going to Europe when I was 12,” said Higgins. “I remembered a lot of what we bought to eat, especially in Italy.”
After researching the concept, “I found a great distributor and started out as an Italian market,” she remembered. Though it was away from the main action on the Downtown City Park, the tiny store over on 13th Street between Park and Pine streets was a hit from the start.
“A lot of people had never seen a whole wheel of cheese and were entranced by it,” said Higgins. “Eventually, I started getting requests for cheeses from areas other than just Italy. So I decided I needed to branch out.”
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Though relegated to a smaller role, Italian foodstuffs are still a staple at Di Raimondo’s. There are olive oils, salts, sauces and more than 20 different kinds of dried pasta. Of course, there are cheese accompaniments as well, such as various crackers, dried fruit and several charcuterie options, plus several loaves of freshly baked bread that are delivered daily (except Monday) and available until they run out.
As for the cheeses, Higgins estimated that she has about 100 available at any given time. The selection runs the gamut of textures and milks (cow, sheep, goat and mixed), and aptly represents the world of cheese: from Piave to Point Reyes Blue, from Mizithra to Morbier, from English Farmhouse Cheddar to French Emmental.
Most of the cheeses at Di Raimondo’s are small-scale production cheeses, and if you’re unfamiliar with any of them, Higgins is happy to offer a sample. She prides herself (and her staff) on giving personal, attentive service to all her customers and helping them pick out the perfect cheeses based not only on their tastes but also their budgets.
“Regardless of price, a good cheese should unwrap when you taste it,” Higgins said. “Just like a good wine should.”
Holiday cheese tips
Here, Jean Higgins of Di Raimondo’s Italian Market and Cheese Shop offers some tips for your holiday cheese plates.
▪ Put things out in odd numbers: “It’s just more appealing for some reason.”
▪ Present the entire wedge of cheese: “It’s prettier and the cheese won’t dry out as much.”
▪ Assemble themes of different cheeses: “Pick all hard cheeses, all blues or all cheddars, for example. It’s also nice to have the cheeses labeled so your guests can discover new favorites.”
▪ Include different types of milks: “Cheeses made with sheep and/or goat’s milks are easier to digest, and often even lactose-intolerant people can enjoy those.”
▪ Have the bread and/or crackers nearby: “You’ll need something as a vehicle for the cheese, but it doesn’t have to go on the same plate.”
▪ Cheese is the star, but don’t forget the supporting cast: “Put out lots of other goodies such as dried and fresh fruit, shelled nuts, honey or a honey comb, olives. It’s good to have a juxtaposition between textures and to have the sweetness of something like fig jam against the salty cheese.”
Katy Budge is a freelance writer from Atascadero. Contact her at email@example.com.
Di Raimondo’s Italian Market and Cheese Shop
822 13th Street (between Park and Pine streets)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.,
Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
The scene: A world of cheeses awaits, plus cheese accompaniments and gourmet Italian products.
The cuisine: Buy cheese by the ounce or by the wheel; party trays available with advance notice; on weekends, box lunches available with cheeses, charcuterie, dried fruit and nuts.