We frequently buy big blocks of Swiss and cheddar cheese from Costco. This commodity cheese is not bad, but I always end up eating too much, probably because the cheese is just not very satisfying, so I try to make up in volume what the cheese is lacking in deliciousness.
It’s smarter to buy better – and sometimes more expensive – cheese, and simply eat less.
We still mourn the loss of Marion Street Cheese Market. Though it declined over the years, when it first opened at the northwest corner of North Blvd and Marion, it seemed the clouds had opened and showered upon us cheesy manna from heaven. Erik Larson, who started the fromagerie, along with first-rate cheese mongers like Lydia Burns, introduced me to many wonderful cheeses.
Now, local options for sourcing superior cheeses are limited, and although Pete’s Fresh Market and Whole Foods have large selections, I’d recommend cheese-shopping at Sugar Beet, where you can get a lot of individual attention and guidance through their more tightly curated collection of cheeses.
Recently, I toured the cheeses at Sugar Beet with Joey Stawski, the resident cheese monger, and Lissa Dysart, who worked at Marion Street Cheese Market and now does marketing for Sugar Beet. Together, we tasted several cheeses that might be a little more expensive but that provide fair value along with more flavor and textural dimension than you’d find in low-cost, lower-quality commodity cheeses.
Here are some cheeses Stawski and Dysart recommended you try the next time you’re at Sugar Beet:
Alemar is a brie-type cheese from Minnesota that’s lush and creamy with light bitterness coupled with a pleasing tang. Alemar spreads like butter and, like butter, just a smear on good bread can be very satisfying. ($21.99/pound).
La Tur is an Italian cheese made of goat’s and cow’s milk. The center is pleasantly chalky, and the goat’s milk provides intensity while the cow’s milk offers mouth-filling richness. I’ve been enjoying this cheese for many years now; it’s fantastic. (22.49/pound)
Montgomery Cheddar is a “bandaged” English cheese, which means wheels of the cheese are wrapped in cloth and massaged with lard to encourage the growth of bacteria that help develop flavor compounds. We might be accustomed to cutting big slabs of cheddar for a sandwich, but just a thin slice of this outstanding cheese will provide a lot of flavor. (24.99/pound)
Trois Lait is a French cheese made of three milks: goat, sheep and cow. It’s a washed rind cheese, and it has just a hint of funk, which will please fromage-o-philes while being light enough to not turn off younger cheese enthusiasts. (29.99/pound)
I bought about a quarter-pound each of Alemar and Trois Lait; I ate just a little of both, with French bread, for lunch, and that was all I needed. When cheese is this good, it doesn’t take much to make you happy.
To pair with cheese, Dysart’s first choice is a white wine, Principe de Viana Chardonnay. It took me a long time to learn that red wine is not always the best pairing for cheese: it can steamroll delicate flavors. Now, with cheese, I almost always go for white wine… or beer.
So, for National Cheese Day (June 4), or really any day, celebrate cheese by eating hand-crafted varieties that provide big satisfaction even in small quantities.