I’ll break the suspense here: Diana is not the one retiring. Why would she?
Las Vegas’ own “Wonder Woman of Cheese,” Diana Brier ACS CCSE, CCP, has more specialized cheese certifications and letters after her name than almost anyone in the country. In addition, while living in Las Vegas, she added the Wine and Spirits Education Trust Level 2 in wines (WSET2).
Diana, co-owner and director, notes in her biography that she is “one of only 54 people in the U.S. to hold a Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluator (CCSE) certificate from the American Cheese Society (ACS). She has also earned the Certified Cheese Professional (CCP) certification from the ACS.”
Valley Cheese and Wine, located in Henderson, is an institution that has been family-owned and operated since 2006, changing hands twice since its inception.
Diana and her parents bought the boutique wine and specialty cheese shop in July 2020 when Las Vegas was still in the middle of COVID-related lockdowns and restrictions.
After three years, it is Diana’s parents, Terry and Burgess, who have decided it’s time to retire. With this decision, the family decided it was best to sell the shop and move on to the next step in their collective and individual lives.
Community-driven energy and a common bond
I asked Diana how it feels to be a part of something like this with her family.
“Up until purchasing the shop together,” she says, “my cheese career and extensive experience in the industry had been relatively enigmatic to my parents. So having them see my true passion and the magic I bring to cheese was a really special thing for me.”
She says it resonated with her parents as well. “My dad discovered a passion for wine and is good at it! My mom loved the community-driven energy and bonded with customers. We took something special away from this experience, including newfound love and respect for one another.”
She waxes almost poetic, painting a picture of a vibrant space that brought her and her family into Las Vegas and vice-versa.
“From the moment that shop became ours,” says Diana, “it has been a true labor of love. I am so, so proud of the space we’ve created, one that is inclusive, fun, educational, relaxed and happy. A place where you can work remotely, unwind from a tough day with a glass of wine, meet your friends for a happy hour, attend a class or a tasting, or enjoy a party.”
The vision comes to life when she speaks of it. This writer can attest to its visceral, palpable realness as someone who has experienced it first-hand.
Diana continues, ”I care a great deal about the future of VCW and want to make sure it goes to someone who will love it moving forward just as much as I have over the past few years.”
So why the decision to sell? The shop has a following. She has a personal and professional following. So how is this change a new path in the world of Diana Brier?
“I want people to know that I don’t see this, or any major life change or step away from high-level professionals in their industries, as any kind of failure. Quite the opposite. I think we’ve truly succeeded when we know ourselves well enough to know when it’s time to step away.”
She is sad, of course, but she continues.
“[We’ve made the decision] because not every relationship is meant to last forever,” she says with a strength of resolve. “Because not every step in our career is the last step. Because not every decision we make has to be a final decision.”
She adds, ”Because I have so much more to offer this industry and have found my soul begging to explore it.”
Ch-ch-ch-changes and cheese: An interview
You are a cheese lover, educator and a cheese maker. Will you go back to making cheese?
“That really depends on whether something exceptional comes my way. I’m open to going back into make rooms, but it’s not something I’m actively seeking at the moment.”
You’ve always followed your passions to take you places best for you at that moment. So where do you see yourself next? As one of the country’s most cheese-educated and certified palates, what is on your radar for the next thing?
“I always plan to continue my knowledge of and love affair with cheese,” says Diana, “which means taking time to hone other specialty skills that complement it. For the moment, staying in Vegas and learning as much as I can about the beverage side of the industry feels like the right move… but I am open to just about any possibility.”
“I’m already a WSET2 in wine and plan to continue on that path, and I’d like to work towards a Cicerone certification and possibly a WSET in Spirits. If it can pair with cheese, I want to know [more about] it.”
“Gaining supplemental knowledge and experience will keep me sharp in cheese (no pun intended). But eventually-and there’s no timeline for this-my spirit feels called back to the mountains; I hope to plant myself there and bloom for a while.”
Are you looking forward to the no-set-business-hours freedom of consulting, events programming and teaching? What are some of your plans?
“Definitely! There is a certain flexibility with not having a brick-and-mortar that allows for a bit more creative programming. There’s no limit to what I can offer, from menu consulting to immersive staff workshops to pop-up pairings and private parties; I plan to keep cheese a relevant part of my everyday life.”
What have you learned from this experience that has changed your involvement in specialty food and, specifically, the cheese world?
“Las Vegas has provided me with a unique opportunity to understand the hospitality side of cheese: menu design, costing, consulting, platters and catering are all skills I learned here. But, most importantly, I’ve learned about the type of leader I am, the inclusive vibe I like to create with specialty food, and the true magic and passion I have for this industry.”
As for adding to her professional network, she is “already getting involved with the American Cheese Society for the conference this year and hope[s] to eventually help shape the future of cheese and cheese education.”
How would you describe the Vegas specialty food scene? Specifically for small businesses like yours. Is it who you know, what you know, or somewhere in the middle?
“The specialty food scene is pretty vast, so I will stick to what I know and talk about cheese in Vegas, [which can be difficult] as Vegas and agriculture don’t necessarily go hand in hand.”
“Frankly, we’re not there yet. Remember that only recently have we been getting these badass locals who really care about their craft opening their own little bad-ass spots… but before then, what really mattered was food cost. Artisan cheese can be an expensive item on your menu,” she says, “of cheese’s inclusion in the food scene.”
“Charcuterie boards have been trending for a while, so we’re seeing a lot of places capitalizing on that, but [they are] using cheeses that still keep their food costs low … which means the customers don’t get the exposure to the finer cheeses that they probably deserve.”
She speaks of other “cities where cheese has been a more relevant part of the conversation for a longer time; you have restaurant owners and chefs who are well-versed in cheese and proudly feature artisan cheeses on their menus.”
“I’m sure there’s some middle ground,” she adds, “but my personal experience here has felt like it’s much more of who you know than what you know.”
Continuing that line, it’s been said that Las Vegas is a complex city to run culinary endeavors. Are there any insights you believe to be accurate, false or somewhere in the middle?
“The pace of play in Las Vegas is unlike anywhere I’ve cheesed around before, and I can’t disagree that it’s hard out here. Vegas has the memory of a goldfish; stay relevant or you’re immediately forgotten. Collaboration and community were heartening ways for me to try and navigate that need.”
She is serious but finds the good. “What makes it easier, what shares the load and what heartens the experience of it all, is the community. It’s strong, expansive and collaborative.”
“And, oh!” she exclaims.
“It is magic.”
Details and contact information
During the sale process, Valley Cheese and Wine will remain open during posted business hours. There is no definitive closing or transfer date. Classes and events will also continue.
Anyone interested in purchasing Valley Cheese and Wine can reach out to Burgess Brier via email at email@example.com.
Valley Cheese and Wine
1570 West Horizon Ridge Parkway, Suite 140
Henderson, Nevada 89012
Tue-Sat: 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.