“I’m pretty convinced that most people have never tried their favorite cheese,” said John Loomis, who expects to open the Cheese Shop of Saline downtown this June.
He’s hoping to change that for many Saline residents. Loomis and his wife, Ruth, will open the Cheese Shop of Saline at 98 N. Ann Arbor St., in the building that most recently housed Oxygen Plus.
Loomis, co-founder of the Zingerman’s Creamery, will make fresh cheese on site every day.
“If I can’t make the cheese better, cheaper or both, I won’t do it,” Loomis said.
To that end he also plans to sell cheeses made in Europe and around the country. The Cheese Shop of Saline will also sell deli meats, crackers, breads, olive oil, wine and craft beer. There will also be a small kitchen where staff will prepare sandwiches.
But the passion is cheese.
“The fresher the better. We’ll be making fresh cheese every day,” Loomis said.
Loomis wants to sell you cheese. But he wants you to love the cheese you buy.
“What I want to be known for is making sure you get a lot of flavor. I also want people to know what they’re buying. Buying cheese in a place with 500 cheeses can be an intimidating experience. But we’re going to talk to our customers and provide free samples and make the experience friendly and comfortable,” Loomis said. “People will appreciate learning a little more about cheese.”
He also plans to offer workshops and classes.
Loomis has been around dairy all his life. His father managed a dairy in Detroit, so his summer jobs involved working with milk and ice cream. John and his brother Bill started a cheese making venture, Loomis Cheese, in downtown Ann Arbor in the 1990s. It came after exploration
“My brother talked to me about starting a cheese business. I thought, ‘That’s a crappy idea,’ because I hated all those summer jobs I had,” Loomis remembers. “But he was talking about something different. I’d grown up with Velveeta. He was talking about farmhouse cheese. And that was something I didn’t know anything about.”
So, Loomis began tasting cheese for ideas. And then he started trying to make his own.
“I became fascinated by cheesemaking and the way you could use the same ingredients to get such different results,” Loomis said.
So, Loomis trekked around the country to learn from America’s premier cheesemakers. But he couldn’t find anyone making cheese like the European cheeses he liked. Someone gave him a list of 15 cheesemakers to visit in Europe. He contacted all of them and asked if he could visit and learn from them.
“I got two thirds of the way through my list and everyone laughed me off. But then I found an Englishman in Wales who said, ‘I don’t like Americans but you can come stay here for two weeks,’” Loomis recalled.
Loomis stayed there for nearly two years.
“I would work with him for three months and then go work with other cheesemakers for awhile, so I learned to make a lot of different cheeses,” Loomis said.
When he returned to America, he and his brother opened a “cheese plant” in Ann Arbor.
“It was basically a small room. The inspectors came in and laughed at us because it was so small. But that’s all we needed. It was what I was used to in Europe,” Loomis said.
Loomis Cheese was tiny, but it gained traction with a Welsh Cheshire cheese. It was mentioned in the New York Times. Locally, it was carried at Zingerman’s restaurant.
“We started making a raw milk cheese which was something that nobody was doing in Michigan,” Loomis said.
The business lasted about five years.
“After a few years it occurred to me why every cheesemaker I visited in the United States drove a 10-year-old car. The market wasn’t there for $30-a-pound cheese, so we closed up,” Loomis said.
Besides, working with raw milk wasn’t easy. Finding people to deliver the raw milk wasn’t easy.
Loomis went to work for Zingerman’s as cheese buyer and cheese seller. It was while working at Zingermans that Loomis met his wife, Ruth.
“She worked in the catering department. They would have to come up and grab their cheese for their catering trays. I always made sure I was around when she came up to get the cheese, so I could talk to her a little bit more,” Loomis said.
While at Zingerman’s, Loomis started talking about another cheese making venture.
“We started talking about another creamery and we launched Zingerman’s creamery,” Loomis said.
Loomis was part owner in the creamery, which opened in 2001.
The creamery was a big success, supplying cheese to fine establishments across the country. He worked there until about a year and half ago.
“It’s funny. As it reached a certain size, I got pulled away from the parts of the job that drew me into it,” Loomis said. “I was doing less and less of the things that attracted me to the job.”
Making cheese and talking to customers about cheese.
Loomis had been speaking to John and Erika Alyard, owners of Tecumseh’s Boulevard Market, about starting his own retail business. For years, city officials have been trying to convince the owners of the market to open a store in downtown Saline.
“I’ve always admired what they do in Tecumseh. I wanted to start my own place and they told me that Saline was always trying to recruit them. So I began speaking with folks from the city and it seemed like a great fit,” Loomis said.
Loomis is also happy to be working with his wife again. They worked together at the creamery until growth required the hiring of many employees, and Ruth left because of a Zingerman’s policy about spouses working together.
“She’s the brains of the business. I’m the other parts,” Loomis said.
Ruth also provides him with grounding.
“She has a very good palate. I can get into the esoteric stuff with cheese, and if she doesn’t like something, she tells me,” Loomis said.
Despite all the fuss, Loomis said the secret to making great cheese is simple.
“Find the best milk and don’t screw it up,” he said with a laugh.