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A Great Cheesemonger in the City

Hi Chow Friends -

We're about to embark on two weeks of relatives visiting, and would like to stock up on artisanal cheeses for snacking between the huge meals we have planned. We're in Lincoln Park . . . but any suggestions would be great.

I hope that all of you and your families have a wonderful Thanksgiving planned. We're looking forward to our first Chicago Thanksgiving (complete with brined turkey from Gepperth's). All the best.

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  1. That's an easy one. Go to Pastoral, they'll have everything you need.

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    Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine
    2945 N Broadway, Chicago, IL

    1 Reply
    1. re: jesteinf

      I had never heard of Pastoral either between you and nsxtasy you got it all covered. I just found this place today what a find. and I think you are the two go too guys.

    2. I've always been impressed with the cheeses (and pretty much everything else) at Fox and Obel. www.fox-obel.com

      I suppose I should mention that I'm not familiar with Pastoral, but I trust Josh's recommendations.

      7 Replies
      1. re: nsxtasy

        nsxtasy, I'm surprised you're unfamiliar with Pastoral! You seem to be the local guru and I pretty much always agree with you and am impressed with your insight :) So let me return the favor by saying GO TO PASTORAL! They have cheeses (and other goodies) that are hard to find in Chicago. For example, it is one of the few stores in the Midwest that June Taylor sells her conserves/james to, maybe only 2 retails stores in Illinois sell it, I believe. It's the only store that sells cheese from Pholia Farms in Oregan (incredible) and Andante Dairy from CA (seriously great). They've always had Burrata whenever I have come in lately. They have great products, sandwiches, olive bar, salads, etc., if you want to take some food to go. The bread is great (the new location carries Bennison Bakery bread, my favorite), and they support the local farmers who come to the Green City Market. I love going in there just to browse the items, and the staff is always so friendly and knowledgeable.

        Hope I convinced you, I'd be curious to hear what you think!

        1. re: ShikaSfrn

          Thanks for the recommendation! I'll check it out the next time I'm in the neighborhood.

          As for the breads, I should mention that I greatly prefer the quality and variety of the breads and other baked goods at Fox and Obel to those at Bennison's (based on dozens, if not hundreds, of visits to each). Not that Bennison's products are bad - they're not, they're decent - but I've found that some of their breads are on the bland side, with nothing really to compare with Fox and Obel's best breads like their brioche loaf, their crusty rustic breads (raisin pecan, yum!), or their excellent rye. I also find the croissants and cinnamon swirl rolls at Fox and Obel to be far superior to those at Bennison's. (But for whole wheat, D'Amato's trumps both!)

          So when I get to Pastoral, it sounds like I should just concentrate on the cheeses... ;)

          1. re: nsxtasy

            Surprisingly, I've only been to Fox and Obel once, so I definitely need to go back. I see what you're saying about Bennison's-- I have had better bread, but coming from the farmers market with fresh bread is always the best. I have to admit, though, it's not quite as good the next couple of days later. Though Bennison's does make some of the best muffin's I've ever had...
            All in all, Pastoral doesn't have an enormous selection, certainly not as large as Fox and Obel, but what they do have, I really enjoy.

            I'd also be curious to know (now that I've got your attention ;)) what are some of your favorite bakeries? As a recommendation, I love the "Take a Hike" scone at Bleeding Heart Bakery. I've been trying to tell everyone about it!

            1. re: ShikaSfrn

              I hope folks don't mind if we talk about bread and bakeries at the same time as cheeses. After all, they go together. ;)

              For bakeries, you really need to split it between "breads" and "pastries". Some places do well at one, some at the other, and a few at both.

              I like Fox and Obel a lot for both categories. I mentioned their breads. Some of the pastries I enjoy there include their bread pudding and chocolate brut (basically chocolate bread pudding) - pop 'em in the microwave briefly before serving warm - mmmmm. They used to have great panna cotta but I haven't seen it there in quite a while. Good fruit tarts, too. Oh and you mentioned muffins; F&O has the very best bran muffins on the planet - very moist, but beware, they fall apart easily. They have a lot more baked goods than the ones I've mentioned, but these are my favorites. Especially their cinnamon swirl rolls. ;)

              I mentioned D'Amato's for their whole wheat bread, also great French or Italian bread. If the May/Grand area isn't convenient to you, they sell it other places too, including Market Place on Oakton in Skokie.

              I think the pastries at Vanille on Clybourn are excellent. I especially like their entremets. Good croissants too.

              And of course Pasticceria Natalina in Andersonville is just a wonderful, wonderful place, specializing in Sicilian pastries (not breads though). Just about everything there is great, and often unusual. And I like Swedish Bakery just down the street, not so much for their Swedish breads (although they're good, if you like them), but for their pastries. They have small boat-shaped "marzariners" (simple almond-paste-based cakes) that I just love.

              There are a couple of places in the northern suburbs I like a lot, and both do a nice job with both breads and pastries. One is Three Tarts Bakery in Northfield. Good breads (I like the cranberry nut bread) and excellent pastries (great pear-almond tarts). They have small, fairly simple cookies, like linzer cookies, cinnamon cookies, shortbread-ish cookies, etc, that are excellent. The other is Gourmet Frog, the carry-out adjunct of Froggy's restaurant in Highwood. Excellent French breads, excellent French pastries - again with the great pear-almond tarts, also excellent soups, quiches, etc. Good cookies there, too.

              One other place isn't really a bakery, but I like it a lot, partly for their baked goods. There's a little hole-in-the-wall primarily-carry-out sandwich place in Evanston called Al's Deli. The sandwiches are excellent, and so are the breads they use. But the real baked treat is their cookies, especially their chocolate chip cookies. If you can think of the very best homemade chocolate chip cookies you've ever had in your life - from the recipe on the Nestle's bag, of course - that's what these are like. Note - they're only open for lunch (11-4, I think) and closed Wednesdays.

              I haven't been to Bleeding Heart or Red Hen, although I've seen them recommended here often. Same for a place in the Gold Coast called Sarah's, for pastries. I'd like to check out all three, one of these days.

              1. re: nsxtasy

                As long as you're talking about bakeries, try Patisserie P on Argyle -- a nice fusion of French and Asian with great croissants and I love their buns (various fillings include bbq pork, green bean paste, red bean paste, etc.). Peter, the owner, is amazingly talented and very friendly. This place really flies under the radar.

                1. re: BRB

                  I've been to Patisserie P! I'm not really fond of savory buns or of authentic Asian baked goods, so I didn't get any. The French pastries I tried were quite good. IIRC the croissants were pretty good, too (although I like the ones at F&O and at Vanille better).

                  It's also worth mentioning that there are bakeries of various ethnic stripes. I checked out the Mexican bakery across the street from M. Henry in Andersonville a couple of weeks ago and I thought it was quite authentic, although again, that's not really something I crave.

                  1. re: nsxtasy

                    Cheese, breads, pastries... this is my kind of thread! Thanks for the recs. I actually live in Highland Park, so I'm excited about those suggestions. I've been to Froggy's, and in fact our family has been going there for quite a while. Il Mulino's bakery in Highwood, by the way, is great if you get a chance to go.

                    I've been to Sarah's, and I must also recommend it highly along with what others have said. I love this bakery... a small charming place, and I really love all of their treats.

                    I've pretty much been to all the Andersonville bakeries, and they are just great. I'll have to check out Patisserie P and Al's Deli for the under-the-radar places... I love those little places that are authentic and where you can just tell so much love goes into the food.

                    Oh! Another rec- Letizia's Natural Bakery (2144 W Division). I take back my comment about muffins at Bennison's... these are by far the most superior muffins I've had. Not to mention the cookies, oh lord the cookies. They do more unsual combinations of flavors than most, I've found. They mix it up, so I enjoy coming there and seeing what they'll have. Aside from other pastries, they also do quality soup, pannini's, pizza's, etc. Great place.

      2. I'll start by saying that I'm a big fan of Pastoral. Fox & Obel is good too, although the level of service is certainly not the same level as you will get at Pastoral, in my opinion, and the prices are generally a bit higher.

        One place not mentioned here is The Cheese Stands Alone, which is my personal favorite. Matt, the owner, is very helpful and is fantastic at choosing the right cheeses for whatever meal or wine you plan to serve. The level of service is outstanding, as is the variety. It's located at 4547 N. Western Avenue, just south of Wilson, and parking is generally not too difficult in front of the store. Here's a link to their website:

        http://www.cheesestandsalone.net/

        And while you're in the neighborhood, why not stop in for amazing Thai food at Spoon Thai, across the street.

        2 Replies
        1. re: BRB

          Both excellent recs as well! Matt from "The Cheese Stands Alone" turned me on to some of my absolute favorite cheeses. Not a huge selection, but a great one. He has two cases, one for domestic and one for imported. And please, do stop into Spoon Thai, I sometimes wake up craving it...

          While you're in the Lincoln Square neighborhood, another small but lovely cheese shop that carries great products (Red Hen Bakery bread, if you wanted to know ;)), is Bouffe on 2312 West Leland Avenue. Again, probably the smallest selection of the three, but they seem really dedicated to getting the best cheeses, and they also mix it up and change their selection, which I personally love. Friendly service, too.

          1. re: ShikaSfrn

            Actually, Bouffe is gone and it's now Provenance . . . still very good though . . . in fact, a little better in my opinion.

        2. Thanks to all of you for the wonderful recommendations - I look forward to checking them out - all the best.

          1. Regarding Pastoral...note that they opened another shop in the Loop now at Lake and Wabash. It is bigger than the original shop in Lakeview and has an even bigger selection. Staff could not be more helpful. Really a very special store. Sandwiches are great too!

            3 Replies
            1. re: NDJ

              By the way, the sandwiches now being offered at the downtown branch will also be sold at the Broadway store.

              1. re: BRB

                They've had the sandwiches for a while now at the Broadway store!

              2. re: NDJ

                Thanks for the tip. I am at Jackson and LaSalle; will try to get by this week. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving.

              3. One more suggestion would be Artisan Cellar located in the Merchandise Mart -- right inside the south (river) entrance. It's not a huge cheese selection, but a great one. And the guys can make some pretty great suggestions for what you're looking for -- also have a great wine assortment, and small but great little specialty foods section.

                1. Ooh, I'm so glad you asked. I meant to post something on the Marion Street Cheese Shop in Oak Park after I went last week (it might not be particularly handy for the OP, but for future searchers...).

                  I loved this place. They were so gracious about letting me have tastes, and about the fact that I bought very small proportions of each cheese (poor grad student). I'm just starting to learn about cheeses, and they were very patient and informative. And, most importantly, everything they recommended was delicious.

                  1. The Great American Cheese Collection, an artisanal cheese broker, has begun opening its warehouse, 4727 S. Talman, on alternate Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon. The next dates are Nov. 24 and Dec. 8.

                    Further details here: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi...

                    For more information, call (773) 779-5055 or (773) 519-5055 in advance or (773) 835-5055 on the morning of the sale.

                    -----
                    Great American Cheese Collection
                    4727 S Talman Ave, Chicago, IL 60632

                    1. Visiting from out of town and I wanted to say thank you for the Pastoral recommendation. I stopped in today and checked out their very nicely edited cheese selection. The guy who waited on me was knowlegable, knew his stuff, and wrapped my selections neatly. I splurged and bought porchetta (thinly sliced and gloriously tender), three tapenades (artichoke, sundried tomato, and olive), and a few cheeses (Grafton cheddar, aged gouda, and a chevre with green peppercorns [Zingerman's maybe?]). I also bought a loaf of their multigrain and their California bread, which I wish was actually sold in California. The multigrain is very tasty with a nice solid crust and the California is great. It has cranberries, apricots, and walnuts. There might be raisins and figs too. Excellent with the cheddar. We had some very tasty hors-d'oeuvres tonight.

                      Now I just have to find somewhere that sells fruit in the loop. I'm running out of apples and tangerines! Suggestions would be welcome since it looks like I've missed all the farmer's markets, preferably within walking distance to Wacker and Michigan.

                      Oh, completely off the topic, but we went and had deep dish pizza at Gino's East tonight and it was mighty tasty and thankfully not doughy.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: YSZ

                        Fox and Obel is maybe a five minute walk from Wacker and Michigan. They are a complete upscale gourmet food store, including top quality produce as well as cheeses, meats, prepared food, baked goods (as mentioned above), etc. www.fox-obel.com

                        1. re: nsxtasy

                          Thanks for the recommendation. I'll head over once the baby wakes up from her nap. I look forward to trying their stuff - looks impressive!