Eric Larson would often remind me that I was one of his first customers. I walked into the first location of Marion Street Cheese Market during the first week it was open, and I've always been a very enthusiastic supporter of what he's done for local cheese and for Oak Park.
I thought then, as now, that Marion Street Cheese Market was one of the most exciting food resources in the community. A big part of that excitement was Larson himself, part owner and head Cheese Guy, who seemed always ready to chat about his product and bigger issues like sustainability, the artisanal food chain, and other not always specifically product-related topics. Like Bill Todd and his tea at Todd & Holland, Larson was always ready to talk about cheese for as long as you wanted to talk about cheese. His enthusiasm seem limitless, his cheese knowledge broad and deep, and his bonhomie authentic.
I did notice a few times that I hadn't seen him on many recent visits, but I knew he'd had twins lately, and I figured those two young ones were probably what was keeping him at home more often. The "leaving-to-spend-time-with-the-family" rationale has been besmirched by politicians and other public figures who are forced to leave office due to some crime or misdemeanor. In Larson's case, I have no doubt that the pull of spending more time with his new family members was exactly why he felt it was a good time to say goodbye to the cheese market he'd founded and built into one of the village's most valuable food institutions.
Visiting the Marion Street Cheese Market and Café, I continue to be entertained and educated by folks like Lydia Burns, who knows more about cheese than anyone else I've ever meet, Leonard Hollander, perhaps Oak Park's finest chef, and many others who seem to reflect the food philosophy of Larson and, I'm sure, his business partner Mary Jo Schuler.
So although Larson the Cheese Guy has left the building, the spirit is still there behind the cheese counter, at the registers and in the café. I'm sorry to see him go, but I'm very glad that the market/café he helped build looks like it'll be around a while, doing what it's always done, and serving up lots of deliciousness.
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