CONCORD -- Six days, four nights, three cheeses.
Peter Lovis knows his cheese, but he said the whirlwind tour of Northern Italy he took in May was a different experience than just pure knowledge, it was a way to get a sense of place and meet the producers of some of the world's finest foods.
The trip was in pursuit of one of his favorite and best-selling products, Crucolo, a Northern Italian artisanal, semi-soft cheese that he sells at his business the Concord Cheese Shop.
Lovis, a resident of Townsend, has owned the store since 2003 and, although the trip featured minimal sleep, it was a unique one.
"I have never done anything like this to this scale, it was a good experience," Lovis said.
Aside from developing relationships with manufacturers, Lovis mixed and cut curd and then molded two wheels of Crucolo for aging-- the ones he'll be receiving to sell in Concord.
Those wheels are two of the 10 that come into the U.S. from the cheeses sole producer, Rifigio Crucolo.
"They make about 900 wheels, most stay in Italy, two go to Germany, two to Dubai," he said.
What makes the Concord wheels unique, however, is Crucolo Day. After he began stocking it in 2010, Crucolo had become a best seller.
"It's taste is quite creamy, milky and with a snap of sharpness in its finish," Lovis said.
"It's popular, so we got a proclamation from the town to make our own holiday," he added.
Thus was born Crucolo Day, a Dec.
"People get excited about the event, and the distributors heard about and called the makers," he said.
Rifugio Crucolo also loved the pageantry, and called Lovis personally, asking him to visit for a whirlwind tour of Scurelle, Italy, where they make the cheese. Geographically, the area sits at the base of a mountain, with the newer cheesemaking facilities in a low valley and the Rifugio located in the upper region of the mountain.
Demand has caused the cheesemakers to adapt modern factory techniques, but the Rifugio still serves food, fine cheese, salami and speck grilled on an open wood-fired oven. They also make a famous drink called Parampampoli, a mix of coffee, honey, wine and more served flaming.
Lovis said the Refugio is used similarly to what it was used for in the 1800s, an inn where shepherds could stop to rest while herding to pastures at higher altitudes.
Visiting where his cheese is produced and who is making it makes all the difference, he said.
"I asked the producers their favorites, got to tour the factories, but more importantly I made relationships," Lovis said. "I feel like I have family in Italy even though I was there for a short time."
Denying a cheese because it is expensive is not Lovis' thing, he said.
"We want it if it tastes good, I do have to sell it, but it's good to know the manufacturers then ask them how much it is," he said.
After two days with Rifugio, he also visited the large Dalla Bona facilities, with around 40 aging silos filled with rows of 1,600 columns each containing parmesan cheese. Automated turning machines flip the cheese, to even out the fat, and Lovis tasted several different kinds before settling with Parmigiano Reggiano, a particular producer that he said he chose for the nature of the milk.
"I like milk from lower lying pastures, such as, in France, a cheese made in Normandy as opposed to an Alpine cheese," he said. "The spring milk is richer."
His final stop was with the Carrozzi Family, makers of several varieties, including the Taleggio and Gorgonzola the Concord Shop stocks.
"I was really surprised by how the (Carrozzi) plant is run, it's all done by hand and they have great quality control," Lovis said.
Wooden boards are used by the workers to carry Taleggio Piacini, a soft, tangy cheese with a pungent aroma that Lovis picked for his store. The only machinery used in the plant is a pump to carry out excess water and a dishwasher, Lovis said, but he was also impressed by the architecture.
Carrozzi's plant is completely non-utilitarian looking from the outside, it was surrounded by a stone patio, with equally impressive stone fixtures skirting the bottom of the outside walls, and on one side there is a fountain affixed to the side of the plant.
An iron staircase led upstairs to the offices-- essentially a dining room, where Lovis said the family offered him wine and cheese. Located just outside of Milan, the plant looks more like a villa from the outside, with open walking areas and decorative features.
"You would never see anything like this in the United States," Lovis said. "It was beautifully styled and the environment made me feel like a friend, something beyond a business associate."
According to Lovis, being able to travel and get a sense of place was important for him personally.
"I love what I do and feel I don't work a day in my life," he said. "And when I meet people who share that passion with me, magic happens."
Like the country where it's products are made, his store tries to emulate that as well. Lovis said he wants to keep the Cheese Shop looking old fashioned.
Aside from the counter, where patrons can taste all different kinds of cheese, there is a sort-of wine library, complete with a reference staffer, who will help pair wines. A lunch counter at the back serves food as well.
"Quality of life is reflected in my store hours, we are only open 38-and-a-half hours per week," Lovis said. "It shows in my employees, they are dedicated and have been with me a long time."
Those hours are Tuesday- Friday: 10 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. and Saturday: 9:30 a.m.- 5:30 p.m. The shop is closed Sunday and Monday.
The shop will be holding a tasting event on July 28. Visit the Concord Cheese Shop at 29 Walden St. in Concord or online at Concordcheeseshop.com.