Thursday, February 10, 2011

Bulk Cheese Warehouse, Saskatoon

Olives, cheese, pasta, chutney and much, much more

Bulk Cheese Warehouse has been one of my favourite haunts for many, many years. I immediately head for the cheese section to see what is new and/or irresistible, but I usually end up buying crackers or olives or fancy jam as well. So, it was a pleasure to meet with Mike Bartlett, the store’s general manager and find out more about the store.

Family business
Mike’s father, Scott Bartlett, started the business over 20 years ago. It was originally a wholesale business selling to restaurants, hotels and pizza parlours between Prince Albert and Regina. When the current location at 732 Broadway Avenue became available, they opened a small retail outlet. Over time, the retail business has expanded and replaced the wholesale business.The family also operates a retail store in Regina on Quance Street.

Mike says that the store’s aim is to provide customers with a food experience, to help them discover new things and enjoy good products. Bulk Cheese Warehouse tries to stock food that is not available elsewhere in Saskatoon and to answer customers’ questions. “We like to educate our customers,” says Mike, “and they educate us.”

Lots and lots of cheese
Mike says that they try to cover the full range of cheeses and not to have too many of the same kind, so there’s lots of variety. The employees are always happy to describe the cheeses or to give you a sample if you’re not sure if you would like a particular kind. “We want people to be confident that the product they buy is the product they want,” says Mike.

I appreciate being able to buy several small pieces of cheese rather than one large chunk. Mike says that this is deliberate. They try to keep all the pieces around the $5 price point so that customers can try something new.

The most popular cheeses are goat cheese, smoked cheese, brie, camembert and three-year-old Gouda. Mike feels that “stinky” cheeses (washed rind cheeses such as morbier, oka, St. Nectaire) and blue cheeses are under-appreciated and urges people to give them a try. “Westerners think that all blue cheeses are the same, but there’s such variety,” he says. “They range from buttery to crumbly and from fruity to salty with hints of mushroom and fresh-cut hay and garlic.”

Dried goods
The Bulk Cheese Warehouse stocks so much more than cheese and pasta. “I’m into slow food,” says Mike, “so I always pump up the dried goods section – the barbeque sauces, mustards, peppercorns, olive oil and vinegar.” The store sells local products if they suit the business and are unique to Bulk Cheese Warehouse. Mike pointed out the camelina seed oil – “It’s very fruity with a distinct flavour similar to fresh asparagus. It’s good for salads or frying.” – and the apple cider vinegar from Petrofka Bridge Orchard.

I’m fascinated by the jars of salsa and jam and dessert sauces, and I can’t resist the hot and spicy olives that taste just like the ones I enjoyed in southern Spain. The olives (calamata; green; Moroccan dried; stuffed with lemon, almond or tomato, etc.) come from a Greek supplier who carries French, Spanish and Greek olives.

Full meal solution
If you’ve had a busy day at work and don’t know what to eat for supper, Bulk Cheese Warehouse can provide you with a full meal. They have everything from pasta and sauces, to pizza and lasagne, to salads and desserts.

Mike says that the demand for ready-made meals has been growing steadily over the past few years, and it’s a good way to put products that might otherwise be wasted to good use.

The Butcher Shop sells a wide range of meat (the cold smoked meats are apparently very popular) and seafood.

Up and coming
Bulk Cheese Warehouse outgrew its kitchen facilities and has recently taken over Anniello’s Pasta Supreme at 811 51st Street East. It has a small retail outlet but isn’t able to offer the full selection because of size restrictions.

Mike is planning some renovations to update the Broadway Avenue location. But the store won’t shut down during renovations. They’ll do the work at night, moving the stock in and out on dollies.

If you don’t see what you’re looking for, just ask. Mike says that many of the products they stock are a result of customer requests.

And don’t be afraid to try something new. It’s fun.

Note: I have updated the information about the retail and wholesale business after posting the article.

See also:
Cheese, Glorious Cheese
Charelli’s Cheese Shop and Delicatessen, Victoria, BC


Anonymous said...

I love the Warehouse, too! It's our go to spot for cheese, bagels (imported from Montreal - frozen but still excellent) and meats, especially the chorizo! Thanks for this great entry about it; it's good to know the history of this essential Saskatoon business.

Penny McKinlay said...

Yes, the Bulk Cheese Warehouse is definitely one of my favourite haunts as well. Your blog looks great - I look forward to future posts.