Part 1: Meet Durham’s Cheesemonger, Patrick Coleff

After spending five years working at Murray’s in Manhattan and at specialty food shops in Brooklyn, Patrick Coleff knows cheese. The owner of Reliable Cheese Company, located on East Chapel Hill Street in Durham, sat down with us and dished about K&W Cafeteria, Durham, and, of course, cheese.

Starting with the basics:

Occupation – Cheesemonger and owner of Reliable Cheese. Where are you from? Cleveland, Ohio. When did you move to North Carolina? I moved here from New York a little over three years ago. Seven years ago I moved from Cleveland to New York, which is where I got into cheese business. But living and raising a one year old kid in the city is hard. We wanted to be near family, and my wife is from here. Cleveland’s economy sucks and so it was a pretty easy choice that we would be in Durham.

 What do you love best about North Carolina? After Cleveland and New York, the beautiful sunny weather is great. When we moved here originally, we didn’t know where the shop was going to be. Before I moved, I had gotten a job at A Southern Season through a few connections I had in New York. Carrboro seemed like a good place to live, so we signed a two-year lease there. But I love Durham in particular because of the food scene going on here right now, including five or six bakeries. You walk one way you get beer, the other way you get wood-fired pizza. It’s nice to have all these food places in one small place.

What type of music do you listen to when you’re cooking in the kitchen? At Reliable Cheese, it’s a mix. We have a record player in the back where we end up spinning a lot of old country music, Motown, old 70’s music, things like that. And it’s not too different at home. There is some new music, which is more Indie folk, like the Mountain Goats and stuff like that. I think that it all comes from the same place whether it’s new or vinyl.

Top 5 favorite foods? (anything goes) (1) Cheese is number one, obviously; (2) Beer and wine; (3) Barbecue (another thing I love about NC); (4) Coffee; (5) Bread. There are a lot of great bakeries and no lack of good bread around here.

What is your comfort food? Comfort food for me is just about anything at K&W Cafeteria. I think they specialize in comfort food of all types. Usually when I go there I get fried fish of some sort and a salad with marshmallows in it. Growing up in Ohio, fried perch was a common thing. Now both my 4 year old and I love it.

Are there any foods you won’t eat/try? There’s nothing that I won’t try. I’ve had organ meats, I’ve had brains. I’ve never had bugs, but I’d probably try it. Maybe it’s because I sell things that are covered in mold, but I’m not too easily grossed out by food things.

What is the a memorable meal you’ve eaten recently? One of my favorite meals I’ve had somewhat recently was at The Admiral in Asheville. It was high-end food in a dive bar atmosphere. I love that I can wear my jeans and t-shirt and get high-end food; I don’t have to dress up. In particular, they had these mussels in a coconut broth that were amazing. I finished them even though I was terribly full.

The ingredient you currently can’t stop using is: I’d say that I pickle things. We’ve started doing our own house-made pickles in the shop. If I were to have a current obsession, it would be fermenting our stuff in the shop. Everything I love is fermented in some way (coffee, cheese, pickles).

You have a day with absolutely no obligations. How do you spend it? That never happens – ever. I would probably sleep. I have this place, and a 4-year-old and an 8-month-old at home. I would probably sleep, drink beer, watch the Twilight Zone and read comic books. My favorite beer is my hometown beer, Great Lakes. I previously had to rely on my sister to get if for me, but now the beers are distributed in this area. They have a really good Christmas Ale.

What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant? There’s a lot of stuff we’ll never cook here. We’re mainly retail and we have sandwiches and salad things. You’ll never see any fried foods here. I like making fried fish and chicken and stuff – and donuts. Donuts have made appearances here but not as a thing we sell. The thing about a donut recipe is that you can’t make just two, so I’ll bring the rest and give them to customers.

What are some cooking challenges or techniques you would like to tackle? Finding enough time to make all the stuff. Finding enough time to do everything that we want to offer. I’ve recently done something I’d never thought I’d do, which is hiring someone to come in and just prep food. We don’t really have heat going here, besides our panini press, so everything has to be cold.

Who is one person you’d love to cook with? I would love to sell cheese with Androuet (famous cheese guy). He wrote a whole book, which is a letter to his daughter, on how to properly buy cheese. He’s French.

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