LUDLOW, Vt. - Located in an old Victorian on an unassuming side street, the Wine and Cheese Depot is the kind of place that one could easily miss amid the sea of ski shops and breakfast joints. But that would be a mistake.
This specialty shop offers a selection of wines and artisan cheeses you might expect to find in a town much larger than Ludlow. The owner's dedication to service and her passion for sharing her knowledge about these palatable pleasures also set it apart.
On a recent visit, my hand wasn't off the doorknob before I got my first impression of the place: sultry and familiar Van Morrison music crept from the shop's every seam. It set the perfect tone for this space, with its weathered wooden floors and exposed brick columns, bathed in the kind of lighting you find in a late-night jazz club.
This place is all about wine and food and it's reflected in the decor. The interior doors are covered with wine-crate panels; countertops are gleaming red marble; and shelves and baskets brim with containers of olives, oils, and all things wine and cheese.
Before moving to Ludlow, Leslie Stuart, the shop's owner, had rented ski houses in town and often found herself disappointed with the wine selection at local markets. After taking several wine courses and reading widely on the subject, Stuart decided in 1996 to make her move.
Most of the shop's space is taken up by the wine, categorized by country and grape, with special sections for champagnes and local vintners. Racks boasting wines priced around $12 sell out quickly, but those with deeper pockets can find rarities like the Robert Foley Claret, priced at about $110 a bottle, out back in a temperature-controlled room.
"Special orders are big for me," said Stuart, "and that is the best part about being small. I can fulfill personal orders making sure my customers get exactly what they want."
As the perfect pairing for any wine, cheese makes up the shop's other signature item. The Depot keeps anywhere from 20 to 40 cheeses in its cases, and specializes in locally-made products.
There are certain cheeses the shop finds nearly impossible to keep in stock, such as Lazy Lady Farm and Ascutney Mountain by Cobb Hill Farm. After having Stuart ply me with samples, stories of farms, and some history, I left for home with a new favorite. The hard, sharp Tarentaise, an aged alpine raw milk cheese made on the Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret, Vt., was my cheese of choice this day.
Judging by the number of smiling people coming through the door, it's clear that while this shop's stock keeps changing, Stuart's passion keeps customers coming back.
Kimberly Sherman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.