Artisan Spotlight: Charleston & Church
At first bite, Charleston & Church Cheese Rounds will make you say, “Sweet cheeses, that’s good!” This delightfully addictive snack is crafted by Warren and Jenn Simmons, the wonderful folks behind Charleston & Church.
We recently had the chance to catch up with Jenn to chat about the inspiration behind the business, their 2020 Flavor of Georgia win, and all things Cheese Rounds!
Like every great product, these Cheese Rounds have a story and a recipe passed down generations. The inspiration behind their business and this delicious recipe comes from Warren’s grandmother, Irene Simmons.
“The inspiration behind our Cheese Rounds has always been Warren’s grandmother Irene Simmons, or ‘DeDe’ as she was known. She was born in 1907 and lived to be 94, but sadly I didn’t meet Warren until several years after she passed so I never got to meet her. But she taught Warren to cook, they spent long hours in the kitchen when he was a kid, and his fondest memories with her are cooking together. She was known throughout Charleston for being a consummate hostess and everyone loved her Cheese Rounds which she would serve as hors d'oeuvres at her soirees.
Our base recipe, which Warren started tweaking around 2016, was her recipe for Cheese Rounds. He kicked it up a bit with some heat and added the pecan as a nod to Georgia, but the origin of our recipe is Warren’s grandmother who made it for years in her kitchen on Church Street in the Battery of Charleston, SC. Both our company name and our product are an homage to DeDe, our inspiration.”
Made with love and rooted in tradition, it’s no surprise that Cheese Rounds are delightfully addictive. You’ll be hooked at first bite! (We may or may not have eaten the entire bag in one sitting.) If you’re wondering how these bites of deliciousness are created, they’re crafted by hand at PREP Commercial Kitchens in Atlanta with the highest-quality ingredients.
“Cheese Rounds are lovingly made by hand at PREP Commercial Kitchens by Warren and one of our godsons who assists him. We don’t have any fancy equipment, only a commercial mixer and convection ovens. The goal is, however, to be picked up by a production facility or co-packer who can take over production, and we would like that to happen sooner than later so we can really scale-up our volume.
Regarding ingredients, we are really proud that unlike products similar to ours in the marketplace today, we don’t use any ingredients that didn’t exist when Warren’s grandmother created our recipe in the 1930s.”
With a product that’s the perfect mix of Southern heat and savory cheese, they entered the 2020 Flavor of Georgia Food Product Contest and not only won the Snack category but also were named the Grand Prize Winner. How did it feel to beat out 117 other products from makers around the state and win the grand prize?
“Surreal would be the word.
The contest was virtual in 2020, and winners were announced via a video at a pre-determined time. We went on YouTube to watch, and categories were announced alphabetically. Since we were in the Snack Food category, that one was announced last. When we won the category, we looked at each other like, “No way!” I was literally saying, “I can’t believe it!” when Warren said to me, “Wait, we have to watch the Grand Prize winner,” so I calmed down and a few seconds later, Dr. Sharon Kane announced us as the Grand Prize winner. And I totally lost it! We both did. We were in our dining room just screaming and jumping up and down, incredulous.
I ran to my phone but couldn’t even decide who to call first and was just kind of frozen. We finally called our moms once we could get it together to move and speak. But, winning felt surreal. We have an awesome snack food, but to beat out 117 other delicious, creative food products across Georgia was just not something we expected.”
It’s no surprise that these award-winning Cheese Rounds have gained quite a following of snack lovers, but they have a famous fan as well. A long-time fan of Hall & Oates, Jenn and Warren had the chance to serve their cheese rounds at John Oates’s autobiography release. And well, the snack made his dreams come true.
“A little backstory to how John Oates came to taste our Cheese Rounds . . . I have been obsessed with Hall & Oates since the 80s, when I was very, very young. So, when Master Chef Tom Catherall asked us to provide Cheese Rounds for a book signing he was hosting for John Oates’s autobiography release, you can guess that I fan-girled and acted very awkward when I met poor John who was so gracious.
Warren was, of course, totally calm, serving John Oates Cheese Rounds off a tray. John actually patted him on the back and said, “Man, I love your Cheese Rounds!” whereas I think he probably couldn’t wait to end the conversation with me. Anyway, we consider John Oates a fan!”
As a longtime fan, we just had to ask: what Hall & Oates song describes Cheese Rounds?
“I think the Hall & Oates song that best describes our Cheese Rounds is one that John Oates actually sings lead on, and that is ‘Possession Obsession’ off of the Big Bam Boom album. There is a line that goes:
‘Just a taste of possession obsession
Brings a case of possession obsession’
This is true of our Cheese Rounds. Retailers will sample them, and then say, ‘We need to order several cases of these!’ One taste causes addiction!
We’ve been told that wives literally hide our bags from their husbands and vice-versa. People hide them from their co-workers. They are that good, and once folks have a taste, they are obsessed . . . and get possessive of our Cheese Rounds!”