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Buying high quality cheese outside of Formaggio

CatalinaCupcake Dec 11, 2006 01:02 AM

Is there any place that anyone can recommend other than uber-popular yet often snobby Formaggio's to get great cheese? Love the Cheese Shop in Wellesley and their helpful staff, but was wondering about more places in Boston.


  1. t
    tomaneng Dec 14, 2006 12:03 AM

    Such shared passion for cheese bringss a tear to my eye. Terrence Brennan's website from his restaurant Artisinal in NYC is a cheese lovers nirvana. Not only is it edifying, you can browse and buy as well. They do ship properly and are as passionate about their wares as can be. http://www.artisinalcheese.com I'd like to give a shout out for the Clacbitou. If you haven't tried it it's worth the pricetag!

    4 Replies
    1. re: tomaneng
      StriperGuy Dec 14, 2006 01:09 PM

      A NYC boy myself, but on this one Boston takes the lead. Formaggio has been around for 10-15 years plus. Artisinal and I forget the other new foofy cheese place in NYC are both arrivistes in this game. No need for a Bostonian to go out of town for the best cheese in the U.S. Go Ihsan, Go Ihsan...

      1. re: StriperGuy
        yumyum Dec 14, 2006 01:13 PM

        Totally agree -- I went for the cheese tasting (5 cheeses of which I selected 3 and they chose the other two) at Artisinal last year and it wasn't all that. Murray's cheese shop is great, and the staff is knowledgeable, but I've never met people who just cold KNOW their cheeses like the folks at Formaggio. I've attended a few of the cheese classes and they are just great too. Mmmm. Cheese.

        1. re: StriperGuy
          passing thru Dec 14, 2006 01:29 PM

          though formaggio's opened an outlet on the lower east side in nyc, so now even those poor deprived big apple residents can get a taste of the place! ;)

          1. re: StriperGuy
            tomaneng Dec 14, 2006 08:26 PM

            No out of town implications. rather a virtual option. Artisinal's online selection is superior and if you don't have access to Formaggio it is a great alternative.

        2. r
          Redhohoho Dec 13, 2006 05:38 PM

          Russo's in Watertown.. I know it's not Boston byt Mark the Cheese man used ot be at Formaggio.. he is great they have a wonderful selection of cheese.. ANd where in Rosi will this cheese shop be?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Redhohoho
            alyssap99 Dec 13, 2006 05:48 PM

            it will be on beech street, right near sophia's grotto and solera.

            1. re: alyssap99
              Redhohoho Dec 14, 2006 12:04 PM

              That is right near me so that is cool but i don't know if I can cheat on my cheese man:) He's been so good to me....

          2. b
            BarryP Dec 13, 2006 04:34 PM

            Does anyone know when the new cheese shop in Roslindale is opening?

            1 Reply
            1. re: BarryP
              alyssap99 Dec 13, 2006 04:39 PM

              'any day now' is what i keep hearing. hopefully by the weekend!

            2. sailormouth Dec 12, 2006 10:40 PM

              I'm a fan of both Cambridge and SE Formaggio (and I think with forty posts in 24 hours they should host a free chowhounds only tasting!) but I am curious as to whether or not anyone has ever used their delivery/online gift thing. I have family who moved from a tony address in Manhattan to suburban Indianapolis and I'm hoping to send them some provisions for Xmas.

              So, does anyone know if the cheese et al. they wrap and mail is worth it for the price or would I be better off buying the items separately, fedexing it and crossing my fingers?

              2 Replies
              1. re: sailormouth
                beetlebug Dec 13, 2006 02:13 AM

                I've used their shipping service before. What's nice is that you can tell them what you are looking for and they will recommend a nice variety. Or you can choose your own. The shipping was pricey but it was next day air. You don't have to buy a pretty basket or anything, they will just ship in a standard box. Also, I gave them a card to insert with the box and that worked out great. I would do it again.

                If you go, go during an off hour so you can have even more personal attention.

                1. re: sailormouth
                  ptrefler Dec 13, 2006 10:31 PM

                  I too have used it and it worked wonderfully. I asked for suggestions on what would travel well and it arrived properly packaged and, I was told, delicious.

                2. b
                  bella_sarda Dec 12, 2006 09:41 PM

                  I strongly second the recommendations for both the Wine and Cheese Cask and Capone's. They are not up there in the league with Formaggio (and I'm not jumping into the fray on that one), but they both have extremely patient and knowledgeable staff, and a large selection of delicious, reasonably priced cheeses. I love that they are in my neighborhood, but this means I don't get to Formaggio as much as I otherwise might.

                  1. p
                    ptrefler Dec 12, 2006 08:59 PM

                    I love cheese and I would brave Formaggio before I wen elsewhere - I have tried elsewhere. I had to go a few times before I was comfortable, but once I started asking questions I found the staff to be very helpful. I actually think the clientele can be very annoying so I do my best to ignore the rude pushy ones, I took a cheese tasting class put on by Formaggio a few months ago and learned a lot. I would urge you to try it at least a few more times before you give up. It helps if you can stop by when it isn't jammed (the Cambridge store).

                    1. Bob Dobalina Dec 12, 2006 12:35 PM

                      I am not a "greated cheese" expert, but Capone's in Union Square also has a pretty good selection of at least Italian cheeses.

                      1. c
                        charlieg Dec 11, 2006 02:59 PM

                        I live walking distance to Wasik's, it is great, but I'd pick the Formaggio in Huron Village over it in a heartbeat. I have never encountered anything other than good service there, even when it is very, very busy, and the selection is unbeatable.
                        The customers are another matter, but I can't hold them to blame on that issue.

                        I have gotten some good cheese at the Whole Foods Markets in Fresh Pond and River Street as well.

                        1. BobB Dec 11, 2006 02:43 PM

                          The Whole Foods in Brighton (Washington St) has great cheeses and a knowledgeable staff. Reading through the previous responses, it sounds like most everyone likes their neighborhood Whole Foods. My cousin is married to a cheese dept. manager at a Whole Foods, and I know from talking to him that their corporate culture is very supportive of teaching the staff and encouraging the customers to learn more about the cheeses too.

                          1. a
                            alyssap99 Dec 11, 2006 02:01 PM

                            on a somewhat related note, there's a new cheese shop opening in roslindale village (on birch street). not sure when exactly they'll open--i keep hearing 'definitely next week' so we'll see! but it should be interesting--if it's even half as good as formaggio, i'll be happy!

                            1. kparke30 Dec 11, 2006 01:49 PM

                              Passing Thru - you can order just about anything on Formaggio's website to be shipped to you.....not the same as being there but at least access to the same inventory!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: kparke30
                                passing thru Dec 11, 2006 01:52 PM

                                thanks. though if all goes according to plan i'll only be moving an hour or so drive away--close enough at least for an occasional drive over to stock up. i'll still miss being able to walk there every sunday though...

                              2. passing thru Dec 11, 2006 01:45 PM

                                i might be moving out of the boston area very shortly, and i have to say that the single place that i'll miss most will be formaggio's on huron. the selection is amazing and the staff i have found to always be friendly, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. it sure isn't cheap, and yet i never feel ripped off.

                                1. StriperGuy Dec 11, 2006 01:40 PM

                                  Been to most of the places mentioned here.

                                  Russo's is a favorite of mine. And Whole Foods surprisingly good.

                                  Wine and Cheese cask, fine in a pinch.

                                  The places in Wellesley, excellent, be happy to have them on my block.

                                  All that said, the original Formaggio (not the South End branch) takes it to a level that I have seen nowhere else this side of the big pond, including NYC.

                                  Formaggio Kitchen to me is a special place, with special cheese, treated with loving care. I don't buy all my cheese there, but I don't think any of the other places mentioned here is even in the same ballpark.

                                  Ihsan Gurdal built that place himself with passion. Dang, the man built a cave in the basement in order to to justice to his progeny. And I use that term only half joking. Noone else, nowhere else that I have been in the U.S. takes the care for the product that he and his staff do. And they do it without pretense or attitude.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: StriperGuy
                                    rlh Dec 11, 2006 01:53 PM

                                    Spot on about Formaggio -- amen! You've had good luck at Russo's, eh? I LOVE the place...but not for cheese -- I don't think the tightly-wrapped plastic helps the cheeses -- I recently got a Langres on one visit that looked fine and ripe, but reeked (in a bad way) and tasted of ammonia -- similar experience with an Epoisses on the next try. Is there a particular PERSON to ask for help there? -- the counter always looks inviting and appears to have good turnover...

                                    1. re: rlh
                                      ScoobieSnack Dec 11, 2006 02:18 PM

                                      Ask for Mark at Russo's Cheese counter. Tell him your experence and I would be willing to wager that he will take care of you.

                                    2. re: StriperGuy
                                      beetlebug Dec 11, 2006 02:40 PM

                                      re: the cave. One of the coolest places and the smells inside always change, depending on what cheeses they have stored in the cave. The cheese people are happy to show you the cave. Also, be sure to ask to see the goat cheese fridge. The cheeses are really pretty, almost like little cakes.

                                      FYI, they are also looking to expand the cave, but they've been talking about that for awhile.

                                    3. c
                                      CatalinaCupcake Dec 11, 2006 12:38 PM

                                      Thanks for all your suggestions. I should add that its only the South End Formaggio I have a problem with, and I can honestly say I've never had a pleasant experience there. Perhaps I have had bad luck, but I have always been met with an unhelpful staff and a lot of attitude. I am of course always willing to give them another chance, but am grateful for the other suggestions too.

                                      And yes Limster, Wasiks is great.

                                      1. Karl S Dec 11, 2006 09:37 AM

                                        Snobby? I've never found the slightest whiff of that from the staff at either location of Formaggio; indeed quite the opposite. No High Rise Bakery syndrome.

                                        1. limster Dec 11, 2006 04:04 AM

                                          If you want an alternative, Wasik's in Wellesley is a great cheese store with knowledgeable and passionate counterstaff. For certain kinds of Italian cheeses, Purity Cheese on Endicott or Salumeria Italiana in the North End are worth checking out.

                                          1. c
                                            chowfamily Dec 11, 2006 04:03 AM

                                            I would highly recommend Esprit du Vin in Milton, if this is your area. They have exceptional cheeses in wonderful condition.

                                            1. r
                                              recky Dec 11, 2006 03:46 AM

                                              Well, I agree that a lot of the customers at Formaggio are rude and snobby and that decreases the enjoyment of your visit. They somehow think they have more of a right to be there than you.
                                              I am not sure where you live but if Concord is not too far or you are passing through, try the Cheese Shop in Concord Center. They are helpful, have a much more customer-friendly layout than Formaggio with a low counter where they give everyone a sample of a cheese they take out. Their selection may be somewhat smaller than Formaggio, but the service, the 500 wines they carry as well as a gourmet food counter may make it worth the trade-off.

                                              1. BarmyFotheringayPhipps Dec 11, 2006 03:22 AM

                                                I agree that the River Street Whole Foods is excellent, but my favorite is the cheese counter at Russo's. The quality is high, the turnover is fast, and the staff is both extremely knowledgeable and, most importantly, has a free hand with the samples. Just Friday, one of the counterwomen was cutting a large piece of prosecco into a smaller hunk for the customer next to me while I was waiting for my sandwich. She handed a piece to me just for the joy of sharing, and a few seconds later, a half pound of a very nice prosecco was in my basket.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps
                                                  Joanie Dec 11, 2006 11:17 AM

                                                  Pretty hard to cut into prosecco isn't it? (Smiley face here)

                                                2. MC Slim JB Dec 11, 2006 03:13 AM

                                                  I've never gotten any attitude at South End Formaggio; those folks are helpful and patient and knowledgeable. The Whole Foods in Symphony has great cheeses, and a French buddy of mine prefers it to Formaggio for its higher turnover and better prices.

                                                  1. j
                                                    Jesseve Dec 11, 2006 02:52 AM

                                                    Cardullo's cheeses are pretty darn good.

                                                    1. lissy Dec 11, 2006 02:09 AM

                                                      Lionette's has a cheese counter and I find the folks there to be extremely knowledgeable and friendly. I also like the cheese counter at the River St.Whole Foods.

                                                      1. beetlebug Dec 11, 2006 01:41 AM

                                                        I always found the Cambridge Formaggio cheese staff to be extremely friendly and helpful. I *do* find the patrons to be snobby with a sense of entitlement.

                                                        8 Replies
                                                        1. re: beetlebug
                                                          rlh Dec 11, 2006 01:49 PM

                                                          As a frequent and long-term patron (no comment on the second half of the post...just violent disagreement) and HUGE fan of Cambridge Formaggio, I second that the staff has ALWAYS been EXTREMELY helpful and accomodating, generous with sampling of ANYTHING, and never, EVER seems inclined to even dream of upselling. I don't think the prices are out of line, either -- it's premium stuff stored and handled very carefully, so yes, you pay a premium for it -- but you'll pay virtually the same prices if you go straight to some of their sources as a consumer. In fact, they carry a Spanish EVOO in a yellow can that is a GREAT value for everyday cooking use.

                                                          I have had BAD experience with nice cheeses poorly handled by Wilson Farms and Russo's, by the way -- I do think Whole Foods on River St and at Fresh Pond does a really nice job, but the selection is not quite as varied and deep as at Formaggio.

                                                          1. re: rlh
                                                            CatalinaCupcake Dec 11, 2006 02:02 PM

                                                            i think that good cheese is worth gold, and i would pay that much for it! there is nothing like the right cheese....

                                                            1. re: rlh
                                                              recky Dec 12, 2006 05:42 AM

                                                              Ok, everyone is entitled to their opinion on Formaggio, but let's be sensible adults here, do you really have to go to the point of "violently disagreeing" with someone? Remember, we are talking about food here, not the Middle East peace crisis. Take it down a notch!

                                                              1. re: recky
                                                                MC Slim JB Dec 12, 2006 12:15 PM

                                                                Okay, we're getting into "Not About Food" or "Site Talk" territory, but I think the level of civility and restraint on the Greater Boston board is pretty high, and the mods are good at zapping folks who don't quite get the polite-disagreement thing.

                                                                But CAPS LOCK can make you seem shout-y. And it's tough to convey irony and sarcasm and other nuances that are obvious with vocal inflections -- unless you use emoticons, which seem hackneyed, or "LOL", which makes you seem like you're twelve.

                                                                But I like reading posts where people have strong opinions that reflect passion about food, up to the point where they start calling other posters names.

                                                                1. re: MC Slim JB
                                                                  CatalinaCupcake Dec 12, 2006 12:59 PM

                                                                  thanks guys! i am new to this board and hope its not going to be some kind of fight if i say the wrong thing. i guess i personally have just never had a nice experience at Formaggio South End, but I will say again that I am willing as always to give another chance!

                                                              2. re: rlh
                                                                fenian Dec 12, 2006 02:30 PM

                                                                I just want to agree. What I love best is that Formaggio doesn't have a hint of the faux gourmet affliction infecting places like Williams and Sonoma. There are no low quality foods masquerading as luxury items. Quite the opposite. I know that anything I buy there is going to be the real deal.

                                                                1. re: fenian
                                                                  MichaelB Dec 12, 2006 07:59 PM

                                                                  That's exactly why I love Formaggio as well - everything is there because they know it's delicious, not just because it's nicely packaged or has a famous name. I know this thread is about cheese, but I'd also put in a plug for their wine selection -- it's very small and nothing is dirt-cheap, but they have lots of unusual and excellent bottles for between $10 and $30, and I've rarely been disappointed.

                                                                  1. re: MichaelB
                                                                    yumyum Dec 12, 2006 09:43 PM

                                                                    If we're branching out beyond cheese, then let's make a plug for the chocolate counter at the Huron Ave formaggio. I'm not even a sweets lover and I love the fleur de sel caramels.

                                                            2. r
                                                              Radiothomas Dec 11, 2006 01:21 AM

                                                              I agree, Formaggio is not at all snobby. Expensive, yes, very... but good cheese over here of that kind is alas that way. And I really like the idea of putting out all kinds of samples as you walk through the door. All they've need would be wine...

                                                              Whole Foods does have a good selection of cheese at their counter - I'd say the location on River St. is better than the one on Prospect. And aside from that, I don't have much to add... I haven't gone digging for good cheese much more.

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: Radiothomas
                                                                steinpilz Dec 11, 2006 12:52 PM

                                                                I agree that Whole Foods is pretty good. I'm trying to decide if one store is better than any other, I had some really good runny epoisses at Fresh Ponds once and that's biasing me! Cardullo's is ok, but I've gotten some old country pate there which makes me think they have a turnover problem.

                                                                1. re: steinpilz
                                                                  CatalinaCupcake Dec 11, 2006 01:24 PM

                                                                  ooh, nothing worse than old pate! yikes

                                                                  1. re: CatalinaCupcake
                                                                    steinpilz Dec 11, 2006 03:41 PM

                                                                    Yeah, battleship grey on the outside, though pink in the middle, with that funky going-old flavour, etc.... Don't think I'll be getting pate there again, though it is convenient and has some other good things (a little pricey though).

                                                              2. f
                                                                fenian Dec 11, 2006 01:11 AM

                                                                Wine and Cheese Cask in Cambridge/Somerville

                                                                Never found Formaggio snobby myself

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: fenian
                                                                  finlero Dec 11, 2006 01:44 AM

                                                                  Hmm...perhaps not snobby, but they're certainly well aware of their elite cheese-purveying status.

                                                                  Regardless, an enthusiastic second for the Wine and Cheese Cask. Very good cheese selection, very knowledgeable, laid-back staff, and perhaps a shade less expensive than Formaggio.

                                                                  I'd venture parallel comments for the two stores' wine selections and staff.

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