By Bonnie Williamson
An unusual specialty market in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, opened its doors this past Memorial Day and found residents of this rural community hidden in the hills greeting the new business with open arms.
A plethora of cheeses are available, along with such meats as elk, venison, rabbit and boar. Not standard fare for local menus. The name of this establishment, Fleur De Lis Cheese Shop, is also quite different. Just what is going on?
Fleur De Lis owner, self-proclaimed foodie Regina AaMacha, says despite the fact that cheese shops are not exactly found all over the region, people seek her out, both locals and out-of-towners.
First, the name: why Fleur De Lis? The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily that is used as a decorative design or motif used widely in France and New Orleans in the United States. Both places have significance for AaMacha.
“I’ve been studying cheese for about 20 years, with time spent in France,” AaMacha says. “I traveled all over. I learned geography by eating cheese.”
The New Orleans influence comes from her background, too. A Southern gal, born in Alabama but raised in the Baltimore/Washington, DC area, AaMacha learned how to make dishes from scratch from her grandmother.
“When I was a teenager, my mother was into gourmet cooking,” she says. “What I do now is a combination of both.”
AaMacha says the food business has always been a part of her life. Ironically, it’s directly connected to her other career. She has been performing as a working musician in bars, restaurants, clubs, concert halls and stadiums here and abroad since she was 16 years old.
“I play guitar, eat and cook. Music and food have always been a part of what I do. I had a coffee shop in Florida. Same thing happened there, served people and performed. I travel on tours to keep things fresh musically. Has to be new, but cheese has also been a passion of mine,” she says.
AaMacha offers a wide variety of cheese.
“I find people want to have choices. Many come in knowing exactly what they want. Others come in to learn about cheese,” she says.
When it comes to the flavor of cheese made from goat and cow’s milk, a lot depends on where the animal was grazing. Many cheeses are named for the region from which they originate.
Chevre Noir is a Canadian made one-year aged goat milk cheddar. It’s an elegant, crisp cheese that develops a complex flavor dotted with lactose crystals during the aging process.
Manchego is a cheese made in the La Mancha region of Spain from the milk of sheep of the manchega breed. Official manchego cheese is to be aged for between 60 days and two years. Manchego has a firm and compact consistency and a buttery texture, and often contains small, unevenly distributed air pockets.
Bucherondin is a goat’s milk cheese native to the Loire Valley in France. Semi-aged, ripening for five to ten weeks, it’s produced as short logs that are sliced and sold as small rounds in food stores.
Asiago vecchio is a 12-month aged Italian cow’s milk cheese, which is mild and pleasing to the palate. Asiago Vecchio has a soft, delicate texture and has a light straw-like color.
Appenzeller is a hard cow’s-milk cheese produced in the Appenzell region of northeast Switzerland. An herbal b
rine, sometimes incorporating wine or cider, is applied to the wheels of cheese while they cure, which flavors and preserves the cheese while promoting the formation of a rind.
Casciotta Al Tartufo is aged about one month, a semi-soft creamy cow/sheep’s milk cheese with chips of black truffles inside. The paste is mild and gentle in flavor and texture.
Then there’s Brillat Savarin, a triple-cream cheese AaMacha refers to as the “perfect party pleaser.” It takes its name from the famous 18th century French food writer Brillat Savarin, and was originally created in the 1950s by Parisian Pierre Androuet. AaMacha also offers a very popular ten-year aged Gouda cheese.
She gets her cheese from a variety of venders, even goat’s milk cheese from Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
And, of course, cheese isn’t the only thing Fleur De Lis offers.
“I consider us a women’s cave…with wild game meat,” she says, laughing.
AaMacha features Charcuterie, a branch of cooking devoted to prepared meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausage, terrines, galantines, ballotines, pâtés, and confit, primarily from pork.
“The meats are customized. You can have an elk terrine, for example,” she says.
In a terrine, the meat has been cooked or prepared in advance and allowed to cook or set in its container. It’s served in slices.
Offering game and other meats to customers is also very much a part of the community’s culture, AaMacha says.
“It runs deep. I settled in Berkeley Springs when I was 21. I visited farms and saw pigs hanging to cure in barns. Nothing new to the people here,” she says.
For a sweet tooth, there’s the French Kiss, which is Brillat Saverin Triple Cream Brie, with French mini toast, fruit and chocolate.
AaMacha also has 30 different wines for customers. She has specialty beers on hand, too.
“I help customers pair the right wine with the right cheese,” she says.
She offers wine and cheese classes, too.
Customers can order AaMacha’s dishes online at fleurdelischeeseshop.com or come into the shop at 15 Fairfax St.
“Many people order platters then take them to eat in the nearby park,” she says.
One such platter is the Backpacker, which includes sharp aged cheddar with green peppercorn salami, dried fruit and nuts.
She also offers catering.
Fleur De Lis isn’t the only venture in AaMacha’s future. She plans to open a restaurant called Ravenwood to be located at 206 Martinsburg Rd. close by to Fleur De Lis. The restaurant will seat about 18 people, including seats outside. She hopes to have it open by the beginning of next year.
She still performs musical gigs, but doesn’t neglect Fleur De Lis. The shop is open Thursday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. “or I come in other times when I’m around,” she says.