Running a shop stocked with imported and domestic artisan cheeses is a lot like taking care of children.
"Every morning I take the cheese out of the case to see how it's doing," said Dawn Mednick, co-owner of the Cheese Shop at the OC Mart Mix in Costa Mesa.
"I unwrap the paper and make sure that it's not too moist.
"It's a lot of work. It's a lot like running a preschool. When I see a cheese that didn't get proper care, it's like I lost my own kid."
Opened Jan. 28 in the Mix — an eclectic indoor shopping hub at 3313 Hyland Ave. that's reminiscent of San Francisco's Ferry Building Marketplace — the store offers 45 cheeses, meats, sandwiches, chocolates, spreads and other pairings that complement the Mix's wine and coffee vendors.
"When I walked into [the Mix], I just loved the feel of it here," Mednick said. "I told myself, 'They need a cheese shop here.'"
Mednick is well-versed in the art of operating a cheese shop, having done so as part of her San Clemente restaurant and market, the Cellar, for three years. There, Mednick offers a full menu, wine bar, live music and about 100 fine cheeses.
She fell in love with cheese after visiting shops in France, Italy, England, Argentina and others.
"I just love cheese — it's incredible," Mednick said. "You can have just one slice shaved off the wheel and the way it sits on the palate, it's amazing. You get all that flavor from four simple ingredients."
At the Mix, she plans to eventually offer classes on cheese basics and even partner with other vendors to host cheese-pairing events.
"Wine can be kind of intimidating, but cheese is a little more friendly and a bit easier to get into," said Holton Britt, a cheesemonger at the shop. "People tend to find a cheese they like and then have fun learning about it."
The Cheese Shop is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday through Friday, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday.
Educated cheesemongers can walk cheese beginners through the different products, offer samples and will log customers' preferences for future purchases.
"We're a non-pretentious cheese shop," Mednick said. "We have fun with cheese."
*Prices subject to change
Cheese Basics from The Cheese Shop
•Fromager d'Affinois, $19.99* per pound, with wildflower honey and almonds
•Humboldt Fog goat cheese, $24* per pound, with sweet and spicy pepper jam
•Brie d'Meaux, 24.50* per pound, with walnut pesto
Store cheese in the vegetable tray of the refrigerator, never the freezer. Re-wrap cheese in the shop's paper, not plastic, which can suffocate the cheese. Keep cheese from other strong-smelling foods, like onions or garlic.