Glenn Harrell / Say Cheese
Glenn Harrell has many loves. In fact, he currently has about 150 loves. And those are just the varieties of cheese. The owner of Silver Lake’s Say Cheese has an infectious penchant for all things gourmet. Every bottle, jar, and wedge has been thoughtfully hand-selected. Visitors, be warned. It’s impossible to leave without an armful of goodies (we speak from experience). If Glenn is personally helping you, it’s likely you’re heading home with a selection of harissa, Viking salt, preserved lemons and a magnificent slab of Manchego to name a few. The next time you’re in Silver Lake pay Glenn a visit, challenge your taste buds, learn from a true expert, and try something new.
What drew you into the gourmet culinary world, and more specifically, cheese? Was it a ‘calling’, a particular event, or a progression?
I spent the Spring/Summer of 1996 in Europe and that’s when I first fell in love with cheese. I actually was going to school as a theater major, but got sidetracked when Nordstrom’s Café offered me a fantastic job. When I spent that time in Europe, and I just knew I had to work with cheese, that it was my calling.
To what do you most attribute the progression of your craft? Did you have a mentor or formal training?
I don’t have any “formal” training, but I was raised in a home with some fantastic cooks; my grandfather was a professionally-trained chef, and my mother was, and still is, an amazing cook, who really taught me so much that I know.
Have you ever faced any risks or obstacles over the years to get where you are today?
To be honest with you, every day is a risk.
When thinking about your future, what are you most excited about?
Retirement! Actually, my goal is to eventually own five Say Cheese locations throughout Southern California.
Let’s talk cheese. Roughly how many varieties do you carry? Tell us about one cheese that we could easily walk past, but if we could taste it, would stop us dead in our tracks.
I’d say at any time, we carry about 150 varieties, but during the holidays we carry around 250 varieties. The one cheese I highly recommend is the Vacherin Fribourgeois, a fantastic cheese from Switzerland. For me, it’s the quintessential cheese: creamy, rich, velvety, nutty, and STINKY! It was the cheese that stopped me in my tracks when I was in Switzerland, the cheese that made me fall in love with real cheese. Funny story, when I first started working at Say Cheese, the previous owner Julie, used to call people into her office to reprimand them, and one day she asked me to step into her office. I was so worried that I had done something wrong, but she said, “Glenn, I just want you to know that there are other cheeses in this shop! We’re going through almost a wheel a week of the Vacherin because you keep pushing it!” BUT, it was the cheese I used as a gauge, whether a customer made a face, or if they fell in love with it, it helped me guide them to the perfect cheeses for them.
There’s an ever-revolving roster of small-batch items on your shelves. Is there something you wish you could bring back that’s no longer being made?
There’s one in particular; it was one of the most wonderful aioli I have ever had. It was beautiful and delicious, tasted home-made, and I haven’t been able to locate it for years. Sadly, I can’t remember its name at the moment!
Say Cheese has an impressive assortment of hand picked wines. What are some pairings you recommend for our next dinner party?
For a red wine, I would highly recommend pairing the 2009 St. Ahon, it’s a recent acquisition and I really love it. I suggest pairing it with some Le Cousin cheese along with lapin path and cornichons. For white wine, the La Caña wine from Spain pairs beautifully with Rosey Goat Manchego from La Mancha, which is a manchego made from goat’s milk.
Describe your perfect meal, from beginning to end.
I’m such a lover of food, it’s hard for me to nail down anything specific, but if I have to choose, my perfect meal would be my mother’s seafood gumbo. She really understands seasoning, and it’s what a lot of chefs lack, they don’t have that balance and consistency with seasoning. It’s something that I feel I really inherited from her, that sense of taste. Paired with a beautiful french red wine. I would finish it with a beautiful lemon pie and a good cup of coffee.
Glenn wears the Roman optical frame in Tiger Eye.