April 13, 2004 > The Cheese Taster Delicatessen
The Cheese Taster Delicatessen
"We make the winning sandwiches for the Ohlone Basketball team," says Judy. "Every away game, the team orders their sandwiches from The Cheese Taster Delicatessen for a guaranteed win...at least in the culinary department."
Judy Miller smiles as she recalls how The Cheese Taster Delicatessen began in 1974. "The location had been a cheese shop that closed. I was going to open as a cheese and wine shop - I had a winery partner - but licensing was too difficult for the wine part, so I opened as a cheese shop." Realizing that selling cheese would not be enough to support the business, she soon expanded to include meats and sandwiches. She adds, "It just kept going from there."
Asked about the name of the shop, Judy says it comes from her belief that "if you can get someone to taste something, they will find out what they like." She often found that people would claim to prefer a certain type of cheese such as a "sharp" cheese when they were actually referring to their inclination towards strong flavors. When tasting a variety of cheeses, their true preference would soon become evident.
The food business is nothing new for Judy and her daughter, Christine McQuilliams who are constant fixtures at the deli. Judy came from a Chicago family that owned a restaurant and later, when married with her own family, she moved to Los Angeles and worked in a restaurant there as well. When the family moved to Hayward, Judy worked for the school district, again in food service. A subsequent job at a deli in Pleasanton convinced her that working in the delicatessen environment was a good fit. When given the opportunity to open her own shop, she knew it was the right thing for her and "a chance to be in business for myself." She adds, "Later on, it just grew into a family thing."
The Cheese Taster Delicatessen has always been family owned. Judy says, "I enjoy working with food and the interaction with people." A fast pace and strong friendship with her repeat customers is the prime attraction for Judy. Her family knows and she tells employees that although they carry some specialty products, the thing that is really being offered at The Cheese Taster Delicatessen is "service." Judy's son worked at the delicatessen then moved on to the Culinary Institute at Hyde Park in New York. He is currently a chef at the Winchester Country Club near Boston. Christine has joined her mother at the delicatessen and her daughter Nikki and son Cody help out too. Once in a while, even Judy's husband Lyn is pressed into service. This is a true family affair!
The word "delicatessen" has been misused over the past ten years according to Judy. She says that it used to be a place people shopped for meats, cheeses and salads or even a party tray for the week. It was mostly bulk foods. Now the term has been extended to include cafˇs where cooking is done. She says that although The Cheese Taster Delicatessen is well known for sandwiches (the lunch crowd can attest to that!), there is no cooking at the deli. Known as one of the best lunch spots in the area, Judy says, we have customers who travel quite a ways to eat lunch here.
"My first love is cheeses and I am partial to that. We are able to give families a good product at a good price." She adds that if someone is having a wine and cheese party, they often ask for advice on the type of cheese that will be the right counterpart to the wine served. Office party platters are no problem for Judy and Christine. They have been putting together trays of delights for years and can help when people want just the right combination of meats, cheeses and delicacies for a special occasion. Christine says, "We have time to talk with customers. Some other places are staffed with people who are not knowledgeable about their products. We are often asked for advice and we take time to listen and understand what is appropriate for them."
The Cheese Taster Delicatessen can be a great resource for current trends in cheese products. Judy says that currently Spanish cheeses are very popular and they are carrying a variety of these for their customers. She adds that goat cheeses are popular too. "Some people think that goat cheese is always soft, but we carry a large variety. Sometimes customers like this cheese because they have difficulty tolerating cow's milk." Christine adds that they currently carry ten different Blue (Bleu) Cheese varieties which are very popular as well.
Meat selections are not neglected at The Cheese Taster Delicatessen. Judy says that "Spanish is in right now, so we are carrying Serano Ham from Spain and Parma Proscuitto. We also carry Molinari brand Italian meats from San Francisco." She adds, "If you are selling sandwiches, only the best quality meat will do." The products we carry do not have preservatives or chemicals added. "We will not serve anything that we wouldn't eat ourselves," says Christine. "We want people to feel like they have gone home or to their aunt's house for lunch, not like they are in a cafeteria, chain restaurant or something like that. We know exactly what is in their sandwich. I know everything is perfect because I slice the meat and vegetables every morning for the day. If I wouldn't eat it, I wouldn't serve it." She says, "There are a lot of tomatoes that I throw away because they are not up to our standards. Some places get pre-sliced packages and they have to use everything. We don't do that."
Customers of The Cheese Taster Delicatessen agree with the mother/daughter team. This popular spot has a constant flow of people asking for help with a platter, a team party tray, a special cheese or meat to take home for dinner and, of course the lunch crowd that knows they will get personalized service and large portions of delicious sandwiches that will carry them through the day. Hikers bound for Mission Peak know this is the place to stock up before the climb.
For some families, The Cheese Taster Delicatessen has become a tradition. Judy and Christine see multiple generations coming by to have a sandwich and say "hi." Customers are often amazed that the dynamic duo at the deli remember them, even if they have been absent for awhile. Christine says, "We remember our customers and even though we may forget a name now and then, we never forget the face...or their favorite sandwich!" For those who have a favorite sandwich or cheese, this deli will deliver just what you want. If it isn't on the menu, ask and, if possible, Judy and Christine will make your wish come true.
If you haven't had the pleasure of a trip to The Cheese Taster Delicatessen, there is no time like the present. Find out what has attracted local residents and others who drive many miles to experience the people and products at this family delicatessen. It will be well worth the trip!
The Cheese Taster Delicatessen
43367 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(Mission San Jose District)
To Go, Picnic Orders
Brown Bag Lunch