There are three backbones of our business: our customers, our suppliers and our staff. We are proud of the fact that we have many employees who have been with us for over 10 years. We are also proud to offer a wonderful environment for young, hardworking and passionate people to work with us and learn the trade. Many of these folks have since gone of to start their own stores which we are pleased to say have been wildly successful in their own rights. Whether it be washing our dishes, working the registers, baking cookies and cakes, preparing our meals, caring for our cheeses or sourcing the best produce possible, our staff is dedicated to maintaining the highest standards of quality in the work we do. We hope you have the chance to stop in and visit us at any of our stores – you’ll see what we’re all about.
The history of the store is intertwined with that of owners Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal. Ihsan and Valerie own and run Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, South End Formaggio in Boston’s historic South End and their newest venture Formaggio Essex Market in the Essex Street Market in New York’s Lower East Side. All of their stores offer a wide selection of handcrafted cheeses, artisan meats and specialty foods.
Ihsan Gurdal was born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey surrounded by a culture famous for its bazaars full of varied flavors and fragrances. Ihsan added his own twist to this mix by becoming a star volleyball player and in 1976 he participated in the Olympics as a member of the Turkish Olympic volleyball team. In 1977, Ihsan left Istanbul to pursue a college education at UC Berkeley. As a student at Berkeley Ihsan played volleyball and tapped into his natural appreciation of specialty food by working at a local wine shop. In 1982, Ihsan took advantage of an offer to become head volleyball coach at Harvard University and left Berkeley for Cambridge, Massachusetts. While in Cambridge, Ihsan kept his interest in food alive by working at a small specialty food store called Formaggio Kitchen. Soon after starting his work at the shop, Ihsan became manager and cheese buyer.
Following his retirement from Harvard volleyball, Ihsan was able to put all of his energy into Formaggio Kitchen. In 1992, Ihsan took over ownership of the shop and since that time has presided over the shop’s development into one of the leading retailers of gourmet foods in the country. He has worked extensively with celebrated cheese makers and affineurs throughout the United States and Europe, including Neal’s Yard Dairy of London, Pascal Jacquin of France’s Loire Valley, and Paris’ Fromagerie Barthelmy. His travels around the world have brought to Formaggio Kitchen an unparalleled selection of rare and unique cheeses and fine foods from around the world. Many have been introduced to the US for the first time and are only available from Formaggio Kitchen.
In 2006 Ihsan was inducted into the Guilde du Fromage by Roland Barthelemy and on November 10, 2008 Ihsan received the title of Chevalier of the Ordre du Mérite Agricole from the French government. This title was given to Ihsan for his tireless work in supporting French agricultural artisans by introducing his stateside customers to their hand-crafted products. Other American recipients of this prestigious title include Julia Child, Jacques Pépin, Paul Prudhomme, Alice Waters and Kermit Lynch.
Valerie Gurdal moved to the Boston area from Miami, FL in 1980 to pursue a college education. Before moving to Boston she spent 6 months living in Madrid with her aunt and uncle. While in Madrid she developed a love for the daily market experience of visiting her local cheesemonger, bakery, meat purveyor and various fruit and vegetable stands. After arriving in Boston she sought out similar shops with an eye for the unique and inspiring and she soon discovered Formaggio Kitchen. While working in the kitchen at the well-respected Cambridge restaurant Chez Nous, she got to know Ihsan from her frequent trips to the shop and in 1984, she decided to work at Formaggio Kitchen full-time. Since then, Ihsan and Valerie have worked together to create in their stores the “market-experience” that inspired their love of food and the desire to share that with their community.
Tim Bucciarelli’s love of food started with family meals influenced by a bit of Italian heritage and his mother’s French teaching background. His world of food expanded dramatically with his first job at Formaggio Kitchen in 1984. After school and weekends he worked for a guy named Ihsan who was the new manager of the shop and the driving force behind the strong work ethic and passionate dedication to artisan food.
After college and through a career in several tech-related jobs, Tim found himself perpetually pulled back to the world of specialty food retail. When he finally returned to Boston in 2003, he reached out to Ihsan and was welcomed back to the Formaggio family once again. Tim started out at the South End shop and worked under Michael Lee of Twig Farm who was then cheese buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End. When Michael left to start making cheese, Tim took over the role of cheese buyer and learned the ropes of international and domestic cheese buying. Today, Tim is based in the Cambridge store full-time and his role encompasses virtually every aspect of the shop including import logistics, mail order, marketing and business operations and IT as well as buying various imported dry goods from Europe. You’ll often find him working the cheese counter, bakery or register as well.
Julia Hallman’s interest in food began naturally as a young girl growing up on a small farm in Eastern Oregon. It was on the farm that she learned about food in its most basic forms. She picked blackberries and made jam with her mom and sister, fished for trout in their backyard, cared for the family’s 30 bantam hens, and tended her own small vegetable garden next to her mother’s much larger one. In the evenings, Julia’s parents would cook everything from braised elk to grilled whole salmon to freshly baked bread.
At first, Julia really didn’t understand how much her upbringing had taught her about food. When she moved to Boston to attend Tufts University, she painfully missed the meals to which she had grown so accustomed. Being rather stubborn, Julia would not settle and sought out food she knew and loved by going to farmer’s markets, joining community gardens, and discovering Formaggio Kitchen. Formaggio Kitchen took all of the principles of food she grew up with and presented them on an international level. Julia fell in love with the store and began working there shortly after graduating from Tufts. Julia serves as our store’s General Manager and as lead buyer with a focus on chocolate, jams, honey and tea. As a buyer, Julia still relies on the principles she learned on her family farm – when you know where your food comes from and who made it, it always seems to taste that much better!
Stephen Meuse is senior wine buyer at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts where he can often be spotted stocking shelves and dusting bottles – though most days he leaves his spots at home.
Earlier in his career, Stephen was adjunct professor in the history of food and wine at Boston University’s graduate program in gastronomy and was longtime wine columnist for The Boston Globe. From 2011 – 2106 he could be heard talking wine on NPR’s America’s Test Kitchen Radio. In 2016 he followed ATK radio host Christopher Kimball to his new venture, Milk Street Kitchen. You can read Stephen’s wine column in Milk Street’s new print publication and hear him on Milk Street Radio.
Mary Chapman is a native of Southern Maine. One of her earliest food loves was when her grandfather would share his favorite snack: Stilton and Triscuits. After completing her Bachelor’s degree in History, with a focus on the history of food, Mary moved to California to pursue a career in the wine industry. She worked several harvests for wineries such as Hirsch, Cobb, Merry Edwards, and Kamen Estate, each involving 7 day weeks and 16 hour days. Presented with the opportunity to work for Tomales Bay Foods/Cowgirl Creamery selling cheese and working a more reasonable schedule, she jumped at the chance. Missing family and Maine inspired a return to the East Coast and the pursuit of a Master’s degree in Gastronomy at Boston University. She graduated in 2015 and soon came on board at Formaggio Kitchen as Mail Order Manager. She now manages our our online media and marketing, oversees the Mail Order Department, serves as a monger on the cheese counter, and is a frequent teacher in our classroom program.(not busy at all!)