About two-thirds of the cheeses sold in the specialty departments of Woodbury, Minn.-based retailer Kowalski’s stores are cut and wrapped in-store, said Joe Moore, the company’s specialty cheese director.

It’s a practice that’s become much more common in recent years, Moore said.

“In the past, selection was much more limited. As demand for cheese grows, so does our selection. Now more than ever, we’re cutting and wrapping more specialty cheese than we have in the past.”

Cutting and wrapping is a win-win for Kowalski’s and its shoppers, Moore added.

“We love discovering new cheeses and sharing them with our customers.”

Many retailers are moving toward vacuum-sealed packaging and other methods to prolong shelf life, Moore said. But Kowalski’s attitude is that the cheesemakers’ stories can get lost when deli clerks are just cutting boxes open and placing prepackaged product on retailers’ shelves.

“We take pride in the fact that the majority of the cheeses we offer are in full wheel form,” Moore said. “We cut the majority of our cheeses down and wrap them in house. This gives us the ability to cut fresh pieces for our customers and aids in building personality and excitement within our department.”

Yes, that means more labor hours — a precious commodity in today’s employment environment. But the tradeoff is well worth it, Moore said. Namely, a cheese department that’s second to none and staffed by industry professionals that act as a liaison to the artisan and specialty cheese makers Kowalski’s represents.

“By investing in the training and education of our cheesemongers, the knowledge gained filters right back to our customers through interactions and storytelling,” Moore said. “We staff all of our specialty cheese departments with cheesemongers who are passionate about the products that make our department what it is, and this is ultimately why we have a successful cut-and-wrap program.”

Kowalski’s specialty cheese departments aim to keep things fresh and exciting. One way to do that is to cut pieces that people can enjoy in one or two sittings.

“People often get hung up on the price per pound,” Moore said. “We try to remind our customers that they usually do not purchase a full pound. The average size of a piece of cheese in our department ranges from 4-6 ounces.”

Rather than a price per pound focus, Kowalski’s puts more of an emphasis on what makes the cheese unique by sharing the story behind the cheese, who the cheesemaker is and what their vision was when creating the cheese.

When it comes to what shapes to cut cheeses in, Kowalski’s tries to make things a bit easier for its customers by following some tried-and-true best practices.

For example, most block cheddars are cut square, manchegos and goudas are wedged and bries are cut into triangles.

Kowalski’s gets more creative with its cuts and sizes when it comes to cutting cheese for cheese boards and flights — categories that continue to enjoy strong growth.

Four merchandising tips:

Shape up.

Consumers’ eyes have been trained to recognize some cheeses by their shapes. Make sure you know which should be cut in a block, which in a wedge, etc.

Mix it up.

Be sure to offer a variety of sizes. Some consumers will be looking for cheese they can finish in one or two sittings.

Tell stories.

Even if you don’t have a full-time cheesemonger on staff, make sure your deli staff can answer questions about the cheeses you’re cutting and wrapping in-house.

Brag a bit.

Let consumers know that because the cheeses they’re buying were cut and wrapped in-house, they’re as fresh as can be.