RICHARD PETERSON

RICHARD PETERSON

There’s nothing cheesy about Ecco Buckhead’s general manager and his passion for fromage.

RICHARD PETERSON

One of my favorite genres of cheese comes from the Pyrenees mountains. Many of these cheeses have been made for hundreds of years, mostly with sheep’s milk. The nomadic herders in the region take their sheep through the mountains in search of the freshest grasses. The milk produced helps to craft cheeses that have a subtlety and complexity—a savory umami quality—that is just amazing. When you can pair that kind of cheese with just the right wine, it’s like bells going off. You’ve created magic.

I discovered my love for artisanal cheeses around 2005 when I worked for Gaylord Resorts in Nashville. I’ve always been passionate about food and wine, and I was drawn to the romance of the origin stories of certain foods and beverages. I’ve worked in restaurants for my entire career, and I was actually working toward becoming a wine sommelier. However, a unique opportunity arose when my food and beverage director crossed paths with famed NYC chef and restaurateur Terrance Brennan, who is responsible for bringing a lot of old school artisanal cheeses from Europe to America. Gaylord Resorts wanted to add something new to its restaurants: an authentic cheese experience. They needed someone to become a maître d’ fromage, and it sounded like something I would enjoy.

After landing the position, I was sent to study in New York where I learned from the masters at the Artisanal Premium Cheese Center, a 10,000-square-foot cheese importer and aging facility that sources cheeses from around the world. I also studied at restaurants such as Picholine, Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro and Murray’s Cheese Bar. I immersed myself in that world and narrowed my focus to artisanal cheeses that are made in small batches. After a few months, I was tasked with taking my newfound knowledge and transforming it into something that would work for the market in Tennessee. That included creating a program through which I could deliver a highly unique and memorable dining experience for our patrons; it involved placing 25 to 30 cheeses from around the world on a cart and pairing them with beer, wine and other beverages tableside. I even presented seminars to conferences of hundreds of people, showing them the best possible cheese and beverage pairings.

I was able to take that experience to a variety of establishments in Nashville, Washington, D.C. and other locales for several restaurant groups. In 2019, I decided to move to Atlanta. I initially worked with Brewed to Serve Restaurant Group; after the pandemic, I was given the opportunity to transition to Fifth Group Restaurants and become the general manager of Ecco Buckhead. Here, I once again will have the chance to tap into the unique skills I have cultivated, as we are working to focus on and further build our cheese and cured meat program. I can couple that with my experience as a wine sommelier, a designation I also received while on my cheese adventure.

In my personal life, I’ve become known for giving artisanal cheeses as gifts, as well as tips and recommendations to friends and colleagues. You’ll often find me at my local Kroger picking up Murray’s Cheese, which brings back wonderful memories of studying at the Murray’s shop in Greenwich Village so many years ago. Of course, wherever I am, whether I’m in a professional or personal capacity, I find joy in sharing my love of artisanal cheeses with the people around me. We live our lives over a plate of food or a drink. For so many people, that’s the best part of the day. I love the business I am in because I want to play a role in the best part of someone’s day. I also want to introduce people to a diverse range of cheeses and the stories behind them. People become mesmerized when they realize how much work and love goes into making these products. You can have a whole flavor journey with cheese, and I really found my niche in this truly exciting world.

ECCO BUCKHEAD
404.347.9558
ecco-atlanta.com
@ecco.atl

As told to Amy Meadows
PHOTOS: Erik Meadows

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