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Jul 12, 2009 05:19 AM

Birmingham Cheesehounds

Ok, Bham Cheesehounds: What are you favorite cheeses that are available locally? Where do you buy them? What wine, beer, fruit, nuts, preserves/jams, or whatever, do you pair them with?

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  1. I should learn more about local cheese makers. My latest addiction is Shropshire blue from Whole Foods, spread on (hopefully warm) French bread with a nice Argentine Malbec.

    1. My only experience with local cheese is what I pick up at Pepper Place market. They have had local goat cheese since I started going about 4 years ago. It is tangy and good. I like a bit on some toasted crusty bread with some honey for desert. I have also used it as part of a stuffing (squash blossoms).

      This year a new cheese has arrived as well. It is from Wright Dairy in Alexandria (Anniston Al area)...I have some in the fridge. They have had quite a few different types of cheese so far, maybe 5 or 6 selections. All raw cow's milk cheese :-) They have a web site too.

      I consider myself a bit of a cheesehound, and I will greatly miss the cheese counter at Tria. I usually go to VRichards for cheese now, and feel satisfied by the quality, service, and selection. (I have an aversion to Whole Foods, and I have not been there enough to say anything about there cheese, but I am sure it would be fine


      This is clearly just going to be a collection of my thoughts on the cheese scene in the Ham...sorry for the ramble ;-)

      5 Replies
      1. re: birminghamvisitor

        Best bet, since the demise of Tria's, is V richard's. Great selection and they mostly cut from the wheel.
        Problem with Whole Foods and Fresh Market: Too much precut cheese. They have the bulk, but precut it for convenience. But they have good selections, although Whole Foods is pricey.
        Continental Bakery in English Village has a few cheeses that go well with their breads (best in town).
        Once upon a time, Classic Wine Co. in downtown Homewood, carried a few select cheeses. I must admit I haven't been there for years because I never really liked the atmosphere.

        1. re: Big Daddy

          V Richards is just too far out of the way for me...Whole Foods has a great selection, and in my experience will fresh-cut and permit you to sample any cheese you ask them to. Another benefit (no one has mentioned this in reference to V Richards, but I can't personally comment) is very interested and informative folks behind the counter. Fresh Market started out pretty strong (FM is actually located closer to me than WF or VR), but their cheese selection seemed to rapidly flag during their first year....When some local wine shop decides to embrace cheese, we may have something! Regular wine and cheese tastings would be awesome, no?

          1. re: Big Daddy

            Just out of curiosity....A lot of people complain about "pre-cut cheese". Yet I, for one, often refrigerate cheese for a few days at least, so that if the cheese was pre-cut the morning I bought it, "shelf time" is not the longest post-cut interval. Plus, I believe most "big" cheese purveyors have cut cheese out on display (think Murray's in NY) when they expect fairly rapid turnover.

            Just a quick poll: How long to y'all typically hold cheese in your fridge? Do you invariably eat it the day you buy it? If not, how do you recommend storing different cheese types? That latter is an issue I hoped to cover in our tasting Chowdown, but it never came up. I store all hard or semi-hard cheeses (i.e. those without "live" rinds) in a baggy! I only wax or parchment-paper washed or bloomy rind cheeses. What do you guys do? Cheese lasts about 3-5 days from purchase in my house. I am the only one who really scarfs it (my wife is not a cheesehound) and I invariably buy too much (typically 4-6 cheeses per store visit). I'm interested in your feedback.

            1. re: curej

              When I lived in NYC, I used to take a lot of cheese courses at Artisanal. Max McCalman, their fromagerie, recommended that people wrap their cheese in parchment paper and then wrap it in plastic. He also recommended that people not buy more cheese than they could eat in three days.

              1. re: mahalan

                Yeah, I've heard that. Just saw Jenkins (Cheese Primer guy) on Rachael Ray a couple of days ago and he wrapped the cheese loosely in wax paper, then loosely in foil, then put it in an unsealed ziplock bag. That's a lot of trouble, if you ask me. I usually just wrap loosely in wax paper loosely for hard or semihard cheeses. I put real stinkers in one or more ziplocks to keep my wife from throwing them (and me) out, though. Your last point is perhaps the best one...if you don't overbuy, you don't have storage issues. Unfortunately, I never remember that when I'm at the cheese counter....."Oh I want that, and I guess that, and some of that, too".....

        2. I'd agree with the other posts here. V. Richard's is the best bet since Tria's gone. We do buy cheese at Whole Foods; the selection is larger, but it's generally pre-cut. You can ask for samples, and if you really want them to cut it fresh they will do it.

          3 Replies
          1. re: bhamdining

            I recently went to V. Richards.....Really, their cheese selection is pretty inferior to Whole Foods' selection. I really can't justify driving past WF to go there, considering where I live. I think the pre-cut argument is kind of silly if a store has rapid product turnover. As I've pointed out before, unless you're going home to eat ALL of the cheese immediately, it's going to be in your fridge longer than it was cut and in the cooler at WF. If you ARE going to eat it immediately, or if you want "a fresh cut wedge", they will cut it for you anyway, so "whatever". They have happily cut the cheese for me several times ;)

            They treated us very well at the tasting we had there, too, so I continue to support them. A lot.

            1. re: curej

              Did you do any price comparisons per lb for the same cheeses? VR is so close to me that I rarely make it to WF.

              1. re: Dax

                VR tends to be a little lower-priced than WF on same or comparable cheeses. WF has the better selection. Both have knowledgeable staff that can help you select.

          2. My Mom had been telling me about Belle Chevre being at the Costco in Birmingham. It's made in Elkmont, AL. They recently did a demo at the location where we shop in ATL. I really like it. Thinking about making a goat cheese insalata caprese with the loads of Sungold cherry tomatoes coming in from our garden.

            4 Replies
            1. re: ted

              Belle Chevre is an excellent goat cheese, but there is another (surprisingly much less expensive) French-produced chevre sitting next to it at Costco that, for my money, is quite good. I like to support local industry, and do buy Belle Chevre, but the price differential doesn't make it an easy choice. By the way, a disc of goat cheese on a black pepper or garlic Carr's with several slivers of ripe avocado on top and a grate or two of black pepper is hard to beat.

              A few of my faves:

              1. Lagrein (firm and garlicky) with a good red of your choice. Kapow.
              2. Campo de Montalban (mixed source cheese) very similar to Manchego, maybe a little mellower
              3. Humboldt fog (you all know that one)
              4. Valdeon (not too expensive blue that I keep coming back to). Love that Shropshire blue, too, and most any Neal's Yard Stilton offering
              5. Sottocenere (with truffle slivers-awesome stuff)
              6. St. Andre... very "accessible", rich, buttery, (even my non-cheese-loving wife likes it)
              7. Morbier (easy to find), a great melter. Not too different from Raclette.

              Feedback and suggestions welcome!

              1. re: curej

                So what is the less-expensive French chevre you prefer? While I am a huge fan of Belle Chevre, and try to keep my goat cheese money local, I'm always open to options.

                And on the local discussion, I've been impressed with the Wright Dairy cheeses I have purchased this summer at PP. Really like Wanda.

                Also, I have posted on this before, but if you find yourself in the Elberta area of Baldwin County or near the Alabama Gulf Coast, Sweet Home Farm is producing some excellent cheeses. It's actually worth a field trip. The store is only open on Saturdays, and currently they aren't making enough to sell outside of the farm. Go early in the morning, and try to get the place to yourself. There are so many to taste. Here is some info from the Southern Cheesemakers' Guild.

                1. re: eatyourveggies1

                  Sweet Home Farm's blue was in the Saveur 100 in the first or second year (about 10 years ago). It's been about that long since I had a buddy pick some up on the way to meet us at the beach. Great stuff.

                  1. re: eatyourveggies1

                    Hope I'm not mistaken...I'm not home right now, but I think it's called Couturier.....I'll get back to you after I check!!

              2. Just a clarification...I'm not restricting my question to cheeses that are produced locally, just cheeses that can be purchased locally....I occasionally read about a "fantastic cheese", but can't find it in Birmingham. I'm mainly interested in your favorite cheeses (that are available locally) so I can learn some new cheeses to try. Hopefully I haven't posted this on the wrong board....


                23 Replies
                1. re: curej

                  Abondance: a hard, French alpine cheese with an inedible rind and a sharp flavor with hints of olive. This is the favorites in our house.
                  I hope to find some delice de bourgogne somewhere around here. We used to get it pretty regularly at Tria's -- a decadent triple-creme cheese with a soft rind.
                  Another favorite: aged gouda, especially if you can get the five-year. V Richard's has the boerekaas variety, an aged farmhouse gouda.

                  1. re: Big Daddy

                    Pretty sure I've seen delice de bourgogne at Whole Foods. I agree with your fondness of Beerkase, if that's the same as boerekaas....The guy in "Cheese Primer" was not fond of Beerkase, but he and I often disagree!

                    1. re: curej

                      Yes, Steven Jenkins is quite the opinionated fellow.

                      1. re: Big Daddy

                        The wife and I had a super yummy, deep caramel-y, 3-year-old Gouda from Whole Foods Saturday night before dinner.

                          1. re: curej

                            I've noticed more and more top-notch cheeses the last year or two that are not mentioned in Cheese Primer. That's especially true for domestically produced artisan cheeses.

                            1. re: Big Daddy

                              Well, The Cheese Primer is 13 years old now...I'm sure there are lots of new cheeses since its publication, including domestically artisanal ones. I like and use Laura Werlin's book (Cheese Essentials, 2007) frequently. How do you find out about new cheeses, BD?

                              1. re: curej

                                The old-fashioned way: If it looks good, taste it.
                                That's one of the things I miss about Tria's. They were generous with the samples and the woman who worked the counter knew her cheeses. She never steered me wrong.
                                I also take advantage of the samples at Whole Foods, but they tend to pimp the same cheeses all the time.
                                This talk of newer artisan cheeses reminded me: Anyone tried the Sweetgrass Dairy cheeses out of Georgia? The tomme is especially good. Their goat-milk cheese also are good.
                                I've also become quite fond of the Wright's Dairy raw-milk cheddar.

                                1. re: Big Daddy

                                  Ever tried Lagrein? Garlicky wonderfulness.

                                  1. re: curej

                                    Where is it made and where do you buy it? What kind of milk? I've had the raw milk garlic cheddar frm Wright's and loved it. Might be interested in trying the Lagrein.

                                    1. re: Big Daddy

                                      I recently picked up a soft goat's milk cheese from V Richards. I cant remember the name...Li Capprini or something like that, but I am SURE I butchered was on the Left side in the front, and comes portioned from the cheese maker in about 8oz portions. It has a 1/2 slice of black truffle in the middle. Creamy, smooth, garlicky, earthy, and delicious!

                                      On a sad note, I have moved away from the Ham, and now live in So MS, and my cheese selection has been reduced to Kraft American and Cheddar. Tear ;-(

                                      1. re: Big Daddy

                                        Lagrein is an Italian cow's milk cheese. It's discussed here (sorry for the cut and paste in lieu of a little work on my part):

                                        I get it at Whole Foods. Love it.

                                    2. re: Big Daddy

                                      I am a fan of the Greenhill soft-ripened cow's milk cheese from Sweetgrass Dairy in Thomasville. If you enjoy Brie, you will love this one!

                                      1. re: The Food Bee

                                        The Green Hill is really tasty. I have been enjoying this week with the Thomasville Tomme (also Sweetgrass).

                                        1. re: eatyourveggies1

                                          Saturday I purchased some Nevat goat cheese (Spain) at Whole Foods. Soft luxurious texture, almost citrus notes. Really amazing. I bought all they had (sorry!). Hopefully they will be getting more in.

                                          Here is a link I found from SF Gate on the cheese.


                                          1. re: eatyourveggies1

                                            Well, I bought some Nevat last night. I don't think it was ripe. It was really pretty bland (my wife agreed). The center was crumbly/chalky. The edge, just deep to the rind, was not gooey or soft but kind of like a dense opaque white gel. I looked up the article about it (@eatyourveggies1) and it said to avoid buying when the rind is snow white...that you should wait until the rind is "dappled with golden molds". I guess I should have read that first. Anway, it will never ripen now. I've made that mistake more than once. I don't think knowledgeable cheese mongers (lookin' at you Whole Foods) should cut and sell cheese that is unripe. But I guess it's a "buyer beware" situation. Sadly, I've made the mistake before. There's a cheese called Caerphilly (which the Nevat actually reminded me of) that I purchased at WF in the past. Also unripe and flavorless, though it is supposed to be a great cheese. Maybe I'll be smarter next time.

                                            If you like washed rind cheeses and don't mind a stinky fridge, I've recently tried two that were both good: Grayson (made in VA, USA) and Adrahan (from Neals Yard Dairy). Worth a shot if you like wash rinds.

                                            1. re: curej

                                              Usually my husband hosts an Oscar party. For him this is his "super bowl" party, and we usually have assorted typical finger foods/appetizers. This year though we're thinking of having a wine and cheese party with the Oscars. I may be calling on your expertise and experience of shopping for cheeses in town. Aside from places listed above, have you found any other unique shops around town for cheeses?

                                              1. re: Jannae

                                                I go to Whole Foods most of the time as it is the closest spot with a good cheese selection (Fresh Market started well but seemed to really downgrade their cheese selections over time). You have to be careful at WF (see my above tale of woe). They will not warn you off a bad selection. People seem to really like V. Richards for cheese, but it's way across town from me. I am very tempted to try ordering from Murray's as their prices seem good. I have not done this to date, but was just looking at their web page before logging in here ( @Big Daddy they have Delice de Bourgogne on sale there right now. We could organize a Chowdown at Whole Foods at the cheese department! They would probably cooperate.

                                                1. re: curej

                                                  I think we're on the same side of town as you Curej. Easier to get over to WF than drive over to V.Richards. Though one Saturday, I probably need to make the trip over there just to see what they have.

                                                  1. re: Jannae

                                                    Cheesedown does sound good! I agree about WF; and I think they overcharge, too. Decent cheeses, but please cut to order.
                                                    That's why:
                                                    (1) I really, really miss Tria Market. I'venot been to do-di-yo's, so don't know if the cheese counter survived the cut during the conversion. But Tria's was the best place to buy and they both knew and knew how to take care of their cheese.
                                                    (2) It is worth a special trip to V Richard's. If you like things like Berkshire pork, or house-made sausages they do have some sales on those items fairly regularly that makes it more than worth the trip -- say on a Saturday, or during lunch on a weekday if you work intown.
                                                    I agree about Fresh Market -- although along with noting its decline I have to say the way they handled their cheese never was too great in the first place. Odd, considering I really like their butcher shop and seafood counter.

                                        2. re: The Food Bee

                                          I have had mixed experience with Green Hill. Once it was wonderful. The next time it tasted like Elmer's glue. (Yeah, I know, I know, how do I know that.....). I think I may have been tasting strong grassiness, but it was in the winter, and I would have expected the cows to be on hay/sileage that time of year. I dunno though.

                                        3. re: Big Daddy

                                          Eating some Sweetgrass Dairy Thomasville Tomme this morning for breakfast. Loving it. Thanks for the recommendation. Great with thin slices of salametto. I know, I know, NOT a healthy breakfast. Have you tried any Meadow Creek cheeses? I think you'd like Appalachian. You might try Landaff, too (from Landaff creamery in NH).