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Best Places To Buy Cheese


Joe Riley
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I'd like to start this thread to explore the wonderful world of fromage. Let's find out the best places to buy it, not only in our area, but in New York (from all accounts that I've heard, the source of the best imported cheeses in the U.S.A.) and elsewhere. Wisconsinites, feel free to extole the virtues of your state's signature comestable. Which restaurants have the best cheese plates? What are your favorites?

I'll start.

I've always heard that the best source for cheese in D.C. is Dean & Deluca. I know of several top city restaurants which source their own cheeses there, rather than from their regular food vendors. Agree or disagree?

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I'd like to start this thread to explore the wonderful world of fromage.  Let's find out the best places to buy it, not only in our area, but in New York (from all accounts that I've heard, the source of the best imported cheeses in the U.S.A.) and elsewhere.  Wisconsinites, feel free to extole the virtues of your state's signature comestable.  Which restaurants have the best cheese plates?  What are your favorites?

I'll start.

I've always heard that the best source for cheese in D.C. is Dean & Deluca.  I know of several top city restaurants which source their own cheeses there, rather than from their regular food vendors.  Agree or disagree?

Disagree heartily. Dean & Deluca are a number of notches below Cheesetique and Arrowine. It is, however, better than Whole Foods. And Whole Foods beats out Sutton Place.

I'm sorry to inform our DC and MD friends, that for serious cheese you need to cross that river.

ETA: Forgot about Wegman's but I was thinkig inside the beltway. Also, I've heard rumors that Cowgirl Creamery is going to open a cheese shop in Penn Quarter. That would be interesting.

Edited by CrescentFresh
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I have to agree with CrescentFresh. Aldo, at Arrowwine, formerly of Dean & Deluca, is a fantastic cheesemonger, who has never steered us wrong. He knows his cheeses, knows when they're ready, and learns what his customers like.

I am personally less familiar with Cheesetique, but I was very impressed with the quality of Jill's products and the care she takes with the cheeses. She's also very committed to educating people about cheese, evidenced by her classes and tastings.

I shop regularly at Wegmans in Fairfax. Although many of their cheeses are precut and wrapped in plastic :o , they have a nice counter where they do cut to order, and they have labels on the cheeses in the glass case that tell whether they're ready eat now or when they will be. They also offer "flights" of cheese, which are really little cheese plates of nicely matched varieties that are ready to eat, and can be taken home on a festive cheese platter.

I shop more often at Whole Foods, but rarely buy cheese there, except for hunks of parmesan for grating. Their cheeses are all precut and wrapped in plastic, and I don't think they're stored at a good temperature--I think they're too cold to ripen properly. :)

Balducci's (the store formerly known as Sutton Place) also precuts their cheeses, and I have not been impressed by the knowledge of the folks behind the counter when I've asked for help (like, when I ask about soft-ripened cheese and I'm steered exclusively to brie).

As far as restaurants, I will be interested to know where they source their cheeses. I'm told that Maestro gets at least some of theirs from Artisinal in NY.

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I have to agree with CrescentFresh.  Aldo, at Arrowwine, formerly of Dean & Deluca, is a fantastic cheesemonger, who has never steered us wrong.  He knows his cheeses, knows when they're ready, and learns what his customers like. 

I am personally less familiar with Cheesetique, but I was very impressed with the quality of Jill's products and the care she takes with the cheeses.  She's also very committed to educating people about cheese, evidenced by her classes and tastings.

I shop regularly at Wegmans in Fairfax.  Although many of their cheeses are precut and wrapped in plastic  :o , they have a nice counter where they do cut to order, and they have labels on the cheeses in the glass case  that tell whether they're ready eat now or when they will be.  They also offer "flights" of cheese, which are really little cheese plates of nicely matched varieties that are ready to eat, and can be taken home on a festive cheese platter.

I shop more often at Whole Foods, but rarely buy cheese there, except for hunks of parmesan for grating.  Their cheeses are all precut and wrapped in plastic, and I don't think they're stored at a good temperature--I think they're too cold to ripen properly. :)

Balducci's (the store formerly known as Sutton Place) also precuts their cheeses, and I have not been impressed by the knowledge of the folks behind the counter when I've asked for help (like, when I ask about soft-ripened cheese and I'm steered exclusively to brie).

As far as restaurants, I will be interested to know where they source their cheeses.  I'm told that Maestro gets at least some of theirs from Artisinal in NY.

Firefly also sources their cheese from Artisanal.

I can't say enough about Jill and Aldo at Cheesetique and Arrowine, respectively. If you live in DC or inside the beltway VA, there is no reason for you to be going to any other place aside from there. Additionally, the rest of the staff at both establishments are also highly knowledgeable about their products and will definitely steer you right. So if Jill or Aldo are not available, feel comfortable asking any kind of question to someone there.

And to top it off, if you shop at Cheesetique you can get some great meat. If you shop at Arrowine, get the bagels and/or beer.

ETA: Here's a secret about shopping at Whole Foods or Wegmans where the cheeses are already wrapped and you have no idea when they were cut. Reach into the fridge, grab that uncut wheel of whatever you want, and tell them you want half of it, or a quarter of it, or some such thing. If they won't, then just give a little wave and say, "bye." But I've never been told no.

Edited by CrescentFresh
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I am not a huge fan of Artisinal. I think the emperor aint wearing nothing more than a suit from Hect's and paid a Nordstrom's price. WHile they do have a number of true small producer cheeses, they also ahve a lot of factory made cheese that has been aged with great care and attention. The result? Factory made cheeses that taste a lot better than they would if you bought them at Whole Foods but not as good as true artisan made cheeses. In Computers its GIGO- garbage i, garbage out. In cheese, its factory made in and factory made out. France today is under the dominance of big producers so if your main area of expertise is France, then you will be forced to use a lot of factory made cheese. Even Pascal Jacquin makes a lot of factory style goat's cheeses where he used to be the king of the RM Goat's milk cheeses.

They do support American small producers which I love, but the unfortunate experience I have had is that most American farmstead and small producer cheeses are just too darned much money for what they offer. Humboldt, Cato Corners and others are making world class cheeses that offer a lot of value for the money. But there are too many cheeses that cost as much as my last wheel of cave aged Bitto and don't deliver anywhere near the flavor and complexity.

Believe it or not, I have yet ot have the pleasure of a visit to Cheesetique. I will someday soon. Cowgirl Creamery is much nicer than a Whole Foods cheese department (That ain't saying much if you are not at San Francisco or Columbus Circle these days) but its not my idea of a cheese destination based on my visit to the Ferry Terminal store in SF.

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I've always heard that the best source for cheese in D.C. is Dean & Deluca.  I know of several top city restaurants which source their own cheeses there, rather than from their regular food vendors.  Agree or disagree?

Disagree, for the most part. They let their cheeses go too long for my taste.

Sutton Place was once good, slipped for a while, and seems to have turned over a new leaf now that they are Balduccis.

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Disagree, for the most part.  They let their cheeses go too long for my taste.

RE: Dean and DeLuca. I had an experience recently that proves Heather's point. Two days before Christmas, my husband bought a wrapped (sealed wrap, that is) aged goat cheese there as a gift for me. He kept it in the refrigerator. I opened the wrapper on Christmas Day and the cheese was WAY over the hill--easily a month beyond being even edible, not to say optimal. The cheese had no date on it, provided by the cheesemaker. A significant bummer for both of us, to say the least. When I took it back to D&D after Christmas, a supervisor looked at it and shrugged, took it to the manager of the cheese department who looked at it and shrugged, offered a perfunctory "sorry about that" and handed me a refund. I really got the sense that they don't much care.

Depending on who is at work behind the counter, I have had some good experiences (and the opposite) at the Georgetown, Arlington and P Street Whole Foods stores. Sometimes you'll get somebody to wait on you who knows and cares about cheese, if you are lucky. And some of the best cheeses are cut to order from whole wheels. But Whole Foods and D&D hire staff for very low pay and put them in their cheese departments with little regard for customers' concerns. There seems to be very little training, and it is the rare individual with the passion or aptitude to learn about the product they are being paid very little to sell. Not always the case, though. I've had the best luck at P Street.

Aldo and Katie at Arrowine are my favorite cheesemongers. It's a big shlep for me to get to Del Rey, so I haven't been to Cheesetique yet.

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Depending on who is at work behind the counter, I have had some good experiences (and the opposite) at the Georgetown, Arlington and P Street Whole Foods stores.

Before being subsumed by Fresh Fields (and then Whole Foods) the Georgetown Bread & Circus had a great cheese department. I think the French market on Wisc was still in business then and they had some competition for the embassy staff in the neighborhood.

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Not sure if this is deserving of a seperate thread but I wanted to let all the cheese lovers out there know that Calvert Woodley has two excellent artisinal cheeses on sale this week.

Humboldt Fog for 14.99 a pound, and

Great Hill Blue for 11.99 a pound

I regularly see Humboldt Fog for $20 or more a pound so this is quite a good deal.....and I believe Great Hill Blue sells in the $15-18 range normally

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My husband returned from hunting and gathering at Wegmans in Fairfax this afternoon with a quarter-pound of perfectly ready Quatres Feuille in his shopping bag. He usually buys cheese from Aldo at Arrowwine, so I was a little surprised that he had bothered with Wegmans, until I tasted the cheese.

I've previously given Wegmans a mixed review, but I want to reinforce that their actual cheese counter is really great, and many of their cheeses bear little signs saying "Ready Today" or "Ready in X Days".

My husband reported seeing Tito, late of Arrowwine, behind the counter today at Wegmans. They were already doing a decent job, but now I can report that a good cheesemonger is there.

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Despite eating an obscene quantity of Cabrales, we still found time to taste a few unfamiliar cheeses in Barcelona, including one positively divine goat cheese known as Tupí de l'Artelac. It has a pale, soft, moist, grainy paste, the flavor is extremely sharp like a blue, but not barnyard-stinky. It was severely alive, and in many ways akin to a concentrated elixir of those things I like best about blue cheese, except that it's not blue at all. Tupí appears to be particular to a handful of districts around the Pyrenees, and we were told that this one was from a small artisanal producer in Bages. Any hope whatsoever of finding this stuff in the US?

In this photo, the Tupí is in the small spoon at 12 o'clock (to be savored last, naturally).

post-710-1159443637_thumb.jpg

For the record, the others are (clockwise from the fruit gel): Serrat de Corroncui, Tou Roi, Gebrat D'Obaga, and Taboullet.

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I bought Humboldt Fog at our new Giant in Haymarket this past weekend. I don't remember the price per lb, but I ended up paying about 17 for an entire piece. They have a fairly large cheese department at this store. So if any of you live out here in the boonys (Jake), you know where to go.

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I bought Humboldt Fog at our new Giant in Haymarket this past weekend. I don't remember the price per lb, but I ended up paying about 17 for an entire piece. They have a fairly large cheese department at this store. So if any of you live out here in the boonys (Jake), you know where to go.

I love Humboldt Fog, but I gotta admit this makes me concerned. If this California cheesemaker is producing enough of this cheese that it is being sold by a huge supermarket chain on the other side of the country, how much longer can we call it truly "artisanal"?

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Maytag Blue cheese is $17.xx at Chessetique and $16.xx at Balducci.

I used 20% Balducci discount coupon so it was better deal. However, I am not sure those are exactly the same manufacturer. I am going to take advantage until the coupon expires on Sept 30.

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Has anyone been to the Costco at Pentagon City? You would not believe their cheese selection. In addtion to their normal cheeses they are now carrying "Artisinal" cheses from France, Italy and Spain. It is in a separate cooler in the same row as the wines close to the frozen items. I bought some brie, and two others (I am not at home so I don't have the names), that are incredible. Their prices are similar to what you would pay in Europe and you don't have to buy 10lbs to get the deal! (Normal sizes) I just hope this isn't a seasonal thing!

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Has anyone been to the Costco at Pentagon City? You would not believe their cheese selection. In addtion to their normal cheeses they are now carrying "Artisinal" cheses from France, Italy and Spain. It is in a separate cooler in the same row as the wines close to the frozen items. I bought some brie, and two others (I am not at home so I don't have the names), that are incredible. Their prices are similar to what you would pay in Europe and you don't have to buy 10lbs to get the deal! (Normal sizes) I just hope this isn't a seasonal thing!

I have been getting the Garafolo Bufala Mozzarella there since this summer, which is amazingly delicious and cheap ($9.99 for four balls in a tub) compared to other places. There have been a shifting small variety of bloomy rind, triple-cream and washed-rind cheeses in addition to the perennially available aged gouda, goat gouda, manchego, comte, grana padano, reggiano, P'tit Basque and others. At Costco it's possible to find some really good stuff at great prices, if you are a savvy shopper.

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I have been getting the Garafolo Bufala Mozzarella there since this summer, which is amazingly delicious and cheap ($9.99 for four balls in a tub) compared to other places. There have been a shifting small variety of bloomy rind, triple-cream and washed-rind cheeses in addition to the perennially available aged gouda, goat gouda, manchego, comte, grana padano, reggiano, P'tit Basque and others. At Costco it's possible to find some really good stuff at great prices, if you are a savvy shopper.
I've been getting that mozzarella as well. It's a great deal. I've been temporarily doing most of my Costco shopping out in Leesburg--just because I've been out there regularly--and have found some really nice cheeses. I'm still making my way through a hunk of Dubliner the size of a small country. I haven't been to the Pentagon City location in the last month or so but have seen the good selection there too.
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I need a block of parmigiano reggiano, nothing more.

What place offers the best quality-to-price ratio among Trader Joe's, Wegman's, Whole Foods, The Italian Store, and Vace?

its on sale at Calvert Woodley this week for $9.99 a pound.....just up the street from Vace

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I need a block of parmigiano reggiano, nothing more.

What place offers the best quality-to-price ratio among Trader Joe's, Wegman's, Whole Foods, The Italian Store, and Vace?

I've seen discussion of price, not not of quality. Do these stores all sell parmigiano reggiano of similar quality. I understand that not all parmigiano reggiano is created equal. For instance, does anyone in town sell the "red cow" variety?
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I've seen discussion of price, not not of quality. Do these stores all sell parmigiano reggiano of similar quality. I understand that not all parmigiano reggiano is created equal. For instance, does anyone in town sell the "red cow" variety?

Not sure if it is the "Red Cow" version, but WF, Wegman's, and Cheesetique all sell authentic Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Is this at a particular WF, or at all of them? I've never seen parm for anywhere near that little at the WFs I shop at (the three in DC, mostly).

That was the price yesterday at the WF in Fair Lakes.

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not sure of their price, but near the italian store is arrowwine with a killer queso selection

QUOTE(silentbob @ Feb 28 2007, 10:33 AM)

I need a block of parmigiano reggiano, nothing more.

What place offers the best quality-to-price ratio among Trader Joe's, Wegman's, Whole Foods, The Italian Store, and Vace?

I just recently received an e-mail from Arrowine offering Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.C on special this week for $10.99/Lb. I have found the cheese at Arrowine to be of a consistently high quality.

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QUOTE(silentbob @ Feb 28 2007, 10:33 AM)

I need a block of parmigiano reggiano, nothing more.

What place offers the best quality-to-price ratio among Trader Joe's, Wegman's, Whole Foods, The Italian Store, and Vace?

I just recently received an e-mail from Arrowine offering Parmigiano-Reggiano D.O.C on special this week for $10.99/Lb. I have found the cheese at Arrowine to be of a consistently high quality.

It is the same cheese and of equal quality with that offered at WF, Wegman's, and Cheesetique. My suggestion, go to which ever one is closest.

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Reggiano deiffers due to the zone of production, the quality of the banco where it is aged, the quality of the caseficio where it was made etc. There are several levels of quality supported by the consorzio which tried to say the differences are minimal.

Prima Scelta is the best, first selction. Due Scelta is a little less quality. This is quality determined by hammering of the cheeses to check density and to check for minor cracking which affect final quality. There is also Export Quality which is an additional grading after a cheese is deemed Prima or Due Scelta.

There is also a 3 or 4 digit number on each cheese. THis number indicated where the cheese was made. The original zones of production are those cheeses numbered under 999. Cheeses numbered in the 3000 and 4000 range are typically made at quite a distance from Parma and Reggio nell'Emilia. They tend to be richer in fat content of the milk and thus have less flavor in the resultant cheese.

But I feel the most important determinant is who is marketing the cheese. The consorzio watches over the cheese carefully for the first 10 minths when the grading is done. After that it goes to a marketing company who gives it further aging. How this aging is done determines the final quality of the cheese relative to its potential. If the cheese is truend every 3 days, rubbed regularly, held at the proper temperature, it can retain all of its potential as it ages. At some point, cheeses destined for the US are sealed in cryovac and packed in boxes. At this point, the aging process is pretty much ended and the cheese is now just getting older. When in cryovac, the cheese cannot gas off so the chemical reactions that lead to aged characteristics slow to a halt. Also, once boxed, most cheese as a matter of course is then put in cold storage. It is this marketing agent who is determining the quality fo the cheese offered later. It is their buyer who is the guarantee of quality at this point.

The cheeses at WFM came at one point from Sini Fulvi and I am not a fan of their cheese handling process and their committment to quality. I am not certain that Wegman's is any better.

There are boutique parmigiano available: red cow is from a consorzio that only uses a special breed of cow. It is expensive and supposed to be really good but I remian unconvinced. I have a source for 6 year reggiano where the cheeses are specailly selected for long term aging and then are hand tended until shipping to the US. It is pretty amazing. There are also some smaller producers like Fanticini who select nice cheeses.

But definitely, all reggiano is not the same.

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apparently, WF is now offering that cheese (shudder) in the green can...

anyway, if you are buying parm (especially if its pre-cut), a big factor is how the shop cared for the cheese (i.e. temp fluctuation, drafts, regular cleaning and attention, how long its been sitting in plastic wrap). That will definitely affect the quality-to-price ratio. If you buy from a shop that takes better care of the cheese (maybe a shop that's smaller, or a shop with a dedicated cheese staff), you'll get more use out of it because it'll last longer, so you won't have to buy as frequently. So while you might spend a dollar or two more at first, it will result in spending less money overall.

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I've seen discussion of price, not not of quality. Do these stores all sell parmigiano reggiano of similar quality. I understand that not all parmigiano reggiano is created equal. For instance, does anyone in town sell the "red cow" variety?
That red cow reggiano is amazing, no?

I've found vendors online but none in NoVa.

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apparently, WF is now offering that cheese (shudder) in the green can...
Are you kidding me? :lol: They already sell real grated parm in the cheese section, what is the point? Do people who prefer the green can really shop at Whole Foods?

I'm going to look for it today and see what the ingredients are. :o

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At what point does in end up in the green can?????????

Back in about 1988, I worked with a woman who had previously worked QC for a certain Large Food Manufacturer (she refused to say which one). One day at lunch the subject of Parmesan came up (I had some with me), and she told me exactly how the green can stuff is made, and from what.

As ol_ironstomach says, you don't want to know.

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Reggiano deiffers due to the zone of production, the quality of the banco where it is aged, the quality of the caseficio where it was made etc. There are several levels of quality supported by the consorzio which tried to say the differences are minimal...
Dean, when are you going to open Dino's wine and cheese shop? :o

I said upthread that Balducci's seemed to be handling their cheeses well. Strike that, at least for the Bethesda location. Time to try Spring Valley and see what their cheese counter looks like these days. I have completely given up on the Silver Spring Whole Foods.

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I'm going to look for it today and see what the ingredients are. :o

I'll save you the trouble by consulting ... the green can of Kraft parmesan cheese that is in my refrigerator. (A hush overtakes the crowd.)

Parmesan cheese (pasteurized part-skim milk, salt, less than 2% of enzymes, cheese culture, cellulose powder to prevent caking, potassium sorbate to protect flavor) aged six months.

There is a big to-do on the front of the container about it being "100% Real Grated Parmesan" with "No Fillers." Also, right below the ingredients -- presumably because so many people look there to see what is going on -- it says: "No fillers means we use only real parmesan cheese, not imitations or substitutes."

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