TRAVERSE CITY — Tina Zinn and her daughter, Kimi Fish, don't just want to sell you a hunk of cheese.
They want to help you love the cheese, learn about it, appreciate it. Thursday, they're opening a new store, The Cheese Lady, on West Front Street.
"I call it a cheese tasting room," Zinn said. "Everything stays on the wheels and nothing ever gets wrapped in plastic. Nothing ever sits out where you can't try it."
The original Cheese Lady store opened in Muskegon 10 years ago. Franchises have since opened in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. The stores allow customers to try cheeses before purchasing them.
Zinn's niece opened the Grand Rapids store two years ago, and that's where Fish got her start as a cheese enthusiast. She is moving to Traverse City to help Zinn open the store.
Fish said she's a "cheesemonger," or "caretaker of cheese," although she still has a lot to learn about the cheese culture.
"It's a matter of cheese knowledge," Fish said. "I would consider myself somewhat of a cheesemonger, it's my job title. I study cheese, I obsess over cheese. I care for cheese."
Zinn's spacious store is decorated in bright greens and deep purples. There are more than 100 cheeses in the cooler, walls stocked with olives, crackers and other cheese-pairing essentials, and artisan wares like Zinn's sister's pottery, Michigan-made cutting boards and fair trade baskets from Ghana.
Fish said the store's location on the corner of West Front Street and South Maple Street puts them in the "foodie district" with Burritt's Fresh Markets, Folgarelli's Market & Wine Shop and Mary's Kitchen Port.
"People are already coming to this area to shop for things that we'll be carrying," she said. "They're looking for that specialty stuff."
Zinn hopes The Cheese Lady will feel like a European, open-air market where customers can relax, taste cheeses and buy cut-to-order slices.
“A lot of times we’re going to try it with you," she said. "It makes me happy when anybody comes in and likes mountain cheeses, stinky blues, or says ‘I’m really adventurous, why don’t you just tell me what to try?’”
Fish is excited to help people with dietary restrictions, such as lactose intolerance, find cheeses they can eat.
"We're educating customers at the same time we're providing awesome cheeses to their lives," she said.