Mary Tuthill, Waitsfield, is a cheese geek. An American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, she manages Mad River Taste Place in Waitsfield, where she is surrounded by Vermont cheeses and locally-made chocolates, sauces and more. She is an alumna of the renowned Culinary Institute of America, worked in restaurants for about a decade, then spent another decade running the cheese department at Whole Foods in Connecticut and Florida. In 2017, she found herself itching to get out of Florida and started looking at what she described as cheese-centric states, such as Wisconsin, California and, of course, Vermont. She responded to an ad for the manager of a new cheese shop in the Mad River Valley and in April 2017 helped open the Mad River Taste Place.
Owner Robin Morris, who founded the Mad River Food Hub, began the shop as a front-of-house for the food hub, dedicating the space to selling Vermont-made products from the producers and makers that made up the food hub. While the food hub is not currently in operation, the Taste Place continues to be a source for Vermont-made products, centering around its extensive cheese selection. Tuthill and her staff are extremely knowledgeable about cheeses and are happy to chat with customers about cheese science as they sample the Taste Place’s wares. “We want people to understand cheese and the science,” she said. She’s happy to talk to customers about cheeses and says offering samples of everything is an important part of the process.
Prepandemic, the Taste Place served up cheese plates, grilled cheese and glasses of beer and wine, but, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Tuthill says customers weren’t sitting in one place to drink and eat but continuing to troll the shop maskless and “It didn’t feel safe.” Putting an end to food service, however, created other opportunities. They were able to expand their merchandising space and offer many more Vermont products, from mustards to spiced nuts and coffee and teas. “It has been such a brilliant business plan,” Tuthill said, and “super well-received by customers.” Tuthill tries to find small Vermont makers and farmers. With the exception of some wines, all products are made in the state, many local to the Mad River Valley.
In peak tourist seasons, the Taste Place provides Vermont-made products to many out-of-staters, though it also boasts a “die-hard, dedicated, local following. We wouldn’t be here without them,” Tuthill said.
The holidays are a busy time at the Taste Place. Tuthill and her staff have shipped a “massive amount” of holiday orders and offer ready-made baskets and cheese plates, as well as stocking stuffers.
When not slicing cheeses, Tuthill can be found swimming, gardening and walking in summer and, in winter, snowshoeing and curling up in front of the fireplace with a good book, a glass of wine and, of course, cheese.