Patrick grew up in Bloomington, MN. His earliest memories of cheese revolve around a blue box with macaroni, a green can of Parmesan, and the invention of “individually wrapped” slices of American cheese.  In the mid 90s he took a job at the meat and cheese counter in the basement of the flagship Dayton’s, where he realized that there was more to learn than “cheddar was yellow, Swiss had holes and the stuff in blue cheese was mold.” He was asked to build a specialty cheese counter at the uptown Lunds in 1997 and became the first cheesemonger in a grocery store in the Twin Cities.

Ilene moved to Minneapolis from Memphis in 2002 to finally work as a pediatrician, after spending many years in training. Having grown up in Oklahoma, she wanted to return to the Midwest and loved the cold weather (crazy girl!), and loved the people and culture of Minneapolis. She did, however, miss her local grocery store in Memphis where they sold small pieces of cheese to encourage people to try new tastes — she tried at least a few new ones each week. Then, she discovered her new grocery store, where there was a funny guy who sold her cheese and would cut her small pieces since she lived alone (except for her cat, who loved all things dairy but would only eat a few morsels at a time). He seemed interesting, but she assumed he was married until he made a comment one day that made her realize he wasn’t.

Patrick noticed a cute red-headed girl who started showing up more and more, asking his advice about cheeses for her parties and what to look for in her travels (ask them about the Neal’s Yard Incident). Being oblivious, he treated her like every other customer, with warm service and a friendly manner. One day, Ilene came back from Spain with several artisanal cheeses, and invited him over to her house to taste them.  Intrigued, he brought a bottle of red wine and they spent about five hours talking (two or three of which passed before they even got to the cheese!). She had set the cheeses up on her dining room table as a test, and luckily he was able to name almost every type of milk and age of the various cheeses. He passed!

After he left, Patrick decided he would ask Ilene out (having no idea that he had already been on their first date). Trained well by his mother and grandmother, he first sent her a thank you card, which confused her to no end.  “Why would someone send a thank you note for a date?”  she asked her friend on the phone. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, the other line chimed in.  It was the cheese guy!  He asked her out for the next afternoon, where they spent another five hours talking, eating, laughing, and realizing that something special was going on. He asked her out for that weekend, and they have been together ever since.

Our wedding cake

As they would shop at the Farmer’s Market in Minneapolis, or dine at restaurants in town, Ilene would hear various whispers and see people pointing at Patrick, remarking, “There’s my cheese guy!”  “There’s the Cheese Guy!” In 2004, The Cheese Guy, LLC was born. Patrick began doing more teaching of classes in cooking schools around town, in-home tastings, and corporate events. Ilene began to accompany him, finding the look on people’s faces when they find out the cute red-headed assistant is really a doctor to be priceless!

Today, Patrick is a passionate guide to most of the world's cheeses. For over ten years he has concentrated on learning all about the cheese world, who makes cheese and how, and the pleasure of the table when cheese is served forth.He and Ilene love to travel the country and abroad searching for new cheeses with remarkable stories, collecting old cheese memorabilia and eating at as many small restaurants as possible. They are looking for a shop of their own someday, so Patrick (and Ilene) can continue to share the story of all the wonderful cheeses, in this country and abroad, with all the other caseophiles and turophiles and just plain cheese lovers out there.

• Click here to see some pictures from the American Cheese Society conference.

• Click here to see some pictures from two Wisconsin locations.