Cheese is personal. It’s emotional. It’s powerful and alluring. Calgary-born brothers Jonah and Andrew Benton tried doing other things with their lives, but cheese won. Cheese always wins.
Jonah studied mechanical engineering at Queens in Kingston, but went travelling upon graduation and realized he was more interested in food. Upon returning to Calgary, he started working at a shop called Janice Beaton Fine Cheese, and there it was: that fire. That craving for the gooey, the smelly, the sharp. Meanwhile, Andrew had also earned an engineering degree, and began his career in Toronto. But soon, he says, “I realized I hated it, and moved back to Calgary.” He ended up going to cooking school, eventually teaming up with his brother at Janice Beaton. They both then moved to Toronto; Jonah worked in purchasing for Alex Farms and Whole Foods, and Andrew helped establish the cheese distributor Provincial Fine Foods. And then, eventually, Vancouver came calling: “I moved out here to do some consulting work for a guy who had opened a cheese shop in Kerrisdale,” Jonah says. “I went to help him out a bit, and after a little, while we just decide to make him an offer.”
Andrew, who joined his brother in Vancouver, adds: “We’d been running other people’s shops for nine years, and we figured we’d made enough mistakes with other people’s money.”
So the Benton brothers became the Benton Brothers: purveyors of the world’s finest cheese. They have now operated their Kerrisdale shop for 10 years, and after a brief stint with a second store on Cambie, moved into a great Granville Island Public Market space six years ago. All the while, their hankering for cheese has not faded.
“People always ask us, ‘Do you like cheese? Do you eat cheese?’” says Jonah. “We probably eat more than the average Joe.”
“That’s the beauty of cheese,” adds Andrew. “There’s always new stuff for us to try.”
“And our products change pretty much constantly, so it never gets old,” Jonah says. “We have not gotten sick of cheese.”
What they have become are democratizers of cheese, helping Vancouverites understand the many nuances of a given slice’s type, age, and origin. Presenting fine cheese from as close by as Agassiz and as far away as Spain, Benton Brothers Fine Cheese runs the gamut—but its greatest success is the knowledge that is paired with each selection. Looking for something rich? They can help. Need to make the perfect appetizer? Here are five suggestions, some cracker options, and a wine pairing to boot. Because with education comes confidence.
“That’s one of the biggest parts of our job is to take that pretension and mystification out of it,” says Andrew. “That’s why we do sampling. We’re not going to send anyone home with something they’re not going to be happy with—so you can sample pretty much anything first, and figure out if you’re going to like it.”
Canada has strict dairy import rules that allow only a few companies to bring cheese in from other countries. But the brothers are currently looking at their options, seeing if it is possible for them to one day have their own import quota and work directly with producers in Europe. Until then, they will keep chugging along, making customers feel welcome and empowered. “At the end of the day it’s just milk and salt,” says Andrew. “It’s just cheese.”
Read more in our Meet the Market series.