How to Find Your New Favorite Cheese at Your Local Cheese Shop
Are you afraid of cheese? My editor posed the question in light his experiences at Scardello, the gourmet cheese shop in Oak Lawn. Certainly to an enthusiast, a veritable treasure trove of flavors wait to be discovered inside the cheese counter. But to the uninitiated, a cheese case can look like an overwhelming (and very expensive) minefield of mold and milk fat.
Terms like affinage confuse, creatures like cheese mites frighten, and the USDA repeatedly reminds us if we so much as smell raw milk, we'll likely die. It's no wonder some customers can feel intimidated when they walk into a cheese shop, which is a shame because there's really only one simple question you need to ask when trying to choose a cheese: "Does this taste good to me?"
From there you want to make sure you get a few different types of cheeses, from mild bries, to sharp cheddars, to funky blues. Thinking in terms of texture and choosing hard and soft cheeses will help you to put together a well-rounded cheese experience too.
With so many potentially overwhelming varieties, Lance Lynn, a manager at the shop, says that coming in with a pairing in mind can help limit the choices. If you have a rare wine on hand that you've been wanting celebrate with, or you just got a case of your favorite microbrew, Lynne can pull a handful of cheeses from the case that will work well with what you've got. And even without a pairing in mind he's more than happy to let you taste a few cheeses while he dials in on your palate.
On my recent visit to Scardello I told Lynn I was looking for big and bold flavors. I wanted to get as far away from the bland, lifeless commodity cheeses that top our pizzas and fill the shelves of our grocery stores.
Lynn started with a Brazos Valley brie made right here in Texas. It was a mild cheese, with a great texture and a subtle tartness, but I wasn't wowed. "Do you have anything with a little more personality?" I asked Lynn, who reached for a Saint Foin brie from the case. Handmade in northern France near Versailles, this cheese had a much stronger, almost musty flavor.
"We call it gamey, or barn-yardy" Lynn told me. I called it delicious, and asked to move on to our next cheese.
Next Lynn pulled out a Scharfer Maxx 365 from the case, shaved a small sliver from the wheel, and presented it to me on small, white slip of paper. "This is from the Studer Dairy, which is really close to the Bavarian border," he told me, as the cheese began to soften in my mouth. There were crystals imbedded in the cheese, which crunched between my teeth, and the flavor was deep and intense.
Finding cheeses that tasted delicious was the easy part. Now I was starting to feel like I'd have to choose favorite children.
Then Lynn appealed to my more sinister and illicit senses.