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Cheese

Whole Foods and Formaggio Kitchen seem to have the best cheese in Boston/Cambridge. Two questions from you experts out there: 1. Am I right? Am I missing something? 2. Which of the two is generally a better value? Both are pretty darn expensive.

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Formaggio Kitchen
244 Huron Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

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  1. you are right, but the wine and cheese cask - strange name - also offers a good cheese selection.

    No one would accuse either Formagio or Whole Foods as being bargains though Whole Foods does have sales.

    1. Can anyone chime on on the quality of cheese @ Russo's compared to the above two? I know that Russo's is cheaper than both the above.

      1. Russo's has an excellent selection and is generally less expensive. FK certainly knows how to age and handle cheeses better, depending on your palate. For a more plebian selection yet much better prices Trader Joes is decent.

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        Trader Joe's
        1427 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

        7 Replies
        1. re: trufflehound

          Russo's selection is very nice - similar to WF - but over time it seems to me that the prices have crept up to be not so different from what you would pay at WF. TJ's prices are generally a bit lower, but beware some of their less expensive stuff. For example, their cheap Brie is... well... cheese, but I would not compare it with even the lower priced Brie selections at Russo's or WF. OTOH, there are some great finds at TJ's, such as their Israeli feta. Yum!

          1. re: PinchOfSalt

            Trader Joe's 62% supreme French double cream Brie (look for the Supreme sticker on the cheese) is my "go to" Brie. It's a softer Brie (even more than their triple cream - which I didn't like), so it's easier to spread even just out of the fridge. At $9.29 a pound, it's not "cheap", but you can get a good size wedge for about $5. I pair it with their pita bite crackers, which have a great balance of salt/crunch to go with it without being overly "bready". They're a little salty on their own, so don't pair them with anything that's too salty to begin with.

            1. re: southie_chick

              i'm consistently underwhelmed by cheese at trader joe's, many are so bad as to be rubbery.

              in addition to whole paycheck and fk, i find very good cheeses at pace in the north end as well as harry's on blackstone st. his inventory varies moreso than the others, but the prices cannot be beat.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                Thanks, all, for your helpful comments. Now it's a matter of how many stores I can get to before the guests arrive! Violent agreement about the tasting issue. A trip to the North End (forgot about that, thanks hotoynoodle, wish I had thought of that yesterday!) is clearly indicated for Italian cheeses, but for the biggest selection I will probably hit Whole Paycheck near Symphony and (loved that) and TJ's on Boylston for the Brie someone mentioned. TJ's also appeared to have a nice sheep's milk cheese from Spain that was NOT Manchego, very nice. Will see if Russo's fits into the geography.

                1. re: curiousfood

                  The cheese monger at Russo's worked for many years at Formaggio, if I remember his story correctly. He's really helpful and knows his stuff. Generous with the tastings, too.

              2. re: southie_chick

                I'm a fan of the goat's milk brie at TJ's, creamy and subtle. It comes as a small round for $2.50, a great value in my opinion.

                1. re: southie_chick

                  Trader Joe's also has real French Roquefort for a very reasonable price. I agree that some of the cheeses are underwhelming; just have to try what looks good. Comte there is also good and good value.

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                  Trader Joe's
                  1427 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

            2. Formaggio is my favorite place to shop for cheese, but Central Bottle on Mass Ave near MIT also had a small but well chosen cheese selection. I don't recall the prices, but I don't think they were a bargain. Sherman Market in Union Square also has a very small be nice selection of cheeses. Not worth a trip, but worth stopping in if you are nearby.

              The prices on some of Formaggio's imported cheeses have come down a bit recently due to the weakening Euro, but they are still pretty pricey.

              I have to admit I've never been overly impressed by the cheese selection at WF (at least the one near Alewife) compared to Formaggio or other top cheese shops (Farmstead in Providence is another favorite).

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              Central Bottle
              196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

              1. A huge advantage of shopping at Formaggio is the ability to taste almost every cheese before buying it. The staff are knowledgeable and ask for feedback if you don't like what you've tasted so they can help you find something you do like. I know some of the staff have a heavy hand so be sure to stress what amount you'd like so you don't come home with more cheese than you intended to purchase.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Velda Mae

                  Actually, the advantage is that the cheese is out, all over the place, accessible to customers (which kind of makes me cringe, but I digress...) Most any cheese shop, and all of the Whole Foods, will let you sample anything you ask to try...The River St Whole Foods used to be my #1 in the chain for cheese, but I think the fresh Pond branch is actually starting to overtake them...

                  1. re: Velda Mae

                    Having worked as a cheesemonger, I can say that if you're shopping for decent cheese (i.e. something you'll be eating on its own rather than cooking with) you should *always* taste first, and any reputable cheese shop should let you try just about anything they're selling. Good cheese, even when handled perfectly, varies enormously from wheel to wheel and over the course of time - a cheese you might like at one time of year or at one point in its maturation process may be less to your taste at another time. I know WF and Formaggio will let you try anything, and I imagine Russo's would as well. Personally, I wouldn't buy higher-end cheese at a shop that wouldn't let me taste.

                    As for the Formaggio staff having a "heavy hand," I would suspect that any instances in which you've received a bigger piece of cheese than expected are due to the inherent uncertainty in measuring pieces to order by sight (trust me, it's hard!) rather than deliberate upselling. But again, a reputable shop like Formaggio will ask for your approval if the piece cut is significantly lighter or heavier than the order, and you can absolutely ask for another one if you see fit.

                    1. re: zach272

                      I rarely buy cheese at Whole Foods because the staff at the Newtonville store always give me a hard time when I ask for a smaller piece than is available in the case.

                      As for zach272's comment about slicing, I know it's an art and not a science but I've been shopping at Formaggio long enough to have noticed patterns among staffers, several of whom I know by name, and some seem to be very consistent at getting the portion just right and others are consistently on the heavy side.

                  2. I went into The Spirited Gourmet, Belmont, MA on a whim a couple of months ago just to check it out and ended up getting some AHHH MAAAAY ZING cheeses that I had never seen before. One that I chose had dried apricots and ginger zest in it and it was so delicious.
                    Vast selection and they let you try anything you'd like.

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                    Spirited Gourmet
                    448 Common St, Belmont, MA 02478

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: BellatrixStar

                      Is this the same as the Spirited Gourmet in Winchester? Have they moved? No longer in Winchester? How sad, and yes, they had very nice cheeses, as well as some nice pates and caviars.

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                      Spirited Gourmet
                      448 Common St, Belmont, MA 02478

                      1. re: justbeingpolite

                        I don't want to say positively, but I believe it may be the same owners.

                      2. re: BellatrixStar

                        They have a small selection of generally excellent cheese. Not cheap, either.

                      3. Wasik's Cheese Shop in Wellesley is family run for 30+ years. They have a special cellar for ageing, many unusual cheeses and very generous tastes. The family is very nice. I challenge you to find a better place for cheese (although I assume Fromaggio is very close or equal). Very friendly, lots of recomendations etc.They have special items for holdiays, including yummy things for the Jewish holidays (like chopped liver from Brooklyn), keilbasa and other specialty food items. They also make lots of spreads in house, like a very spicy yummy Mexican spread, and many breads. (used to be B&R but not sure from where now). Try it but you may become addicted. Right in Wellesley Center near Rosie's Bakery.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: emilief

                          Another rave for Wasik's. The service cannot be beat and the cheese selection is extremely broad. They give you tastes of everything without your having to ask to sample first. Plus, everything is cut to order so you can get small amounts if you want.

                          1. re: emilief

                            I like that place a lot, too - they are very nice, and non-pretentious (despite being located in Wellesley) and have a great selection. Got an Epoisse from them that was at the very peak of ripeness - knocked my head back with its putrescent deliciousness. I have gotten it disgustingly past peak at some other joints, with that horrible ammonia smell. I saw a sign in the window a couple months ago saying they had been flying baguettes in from Paris - is that still the case, and are they any good?

                            1. re: nsenada

                              "putrescent deliciousness. putrescent deliciousness. putrescent deliciousness."
                              I love that phrase. I'm gonnah steal it. If anyone ever sells you cheese that smells like ammonia, you should bring it back; no fair....

                              1. re: nsenada

                                I fourth the rec for Wasik's - they are super friendly and nice, and their cheese is amazing, although I was pretty bummed when they stopped carrying the same line of gutten kaas (sp?) cheese... Their baguettes are wonderful.

                                1. re: nsenada

                                  Their baguettes are delicious but as far as I know the bread that is flown in from Paris is the Polaine bread. It's expensive but really is delicious bread. Polaine ships their bread to 20-30 countries if I remember correctly and although it sounds crazy the bread actually takes 2-3 days to achieve optimal flavor according to the bakery. These are massive round wheat loaves with a sourdough starter and they are cut into quarters once they arrive in the shop and you buy a quarter for (if I remember correctly) around $8.

                                  If you've never seen this video on Polaine done by CBS Sunday Morning and Dorie Greenspan, I highly recommend watching it.

                                  http://doriegreenspan.com/2010/03/cbs...

                                  1. re: nsenada

                                    Just went on Saturday to pick up some last minute cheese - quite a line out the door, but the service in that place is the best I've experienced anywhere, let alone for cheese. The older fellow (is that Brian?) took the time to ask when and with what I would be serving the cheese, and gave me a free chunk of Beaufort that had come in recently (the wheel was the size of a monster truck tire). I stupidly forgot to pick up some smoked salmon they had in that looked amazing. I also noticed their spreads for the first time - they have a ridiculously huge selection of cheese accoutrements, such as fig jams, pepper jellies, mustards, etc. I must try Formaggio for comparison purposes.

                                  2. re: emilief

                                    And if you're looking for a great party idea, check into Wasik's cheese tastings. For a fee and cost of food, Brian Wasik did an in home guided tasting that was educational and phenomenal. Not cheep, but tasty fun!

                                  3. Daves Fresh Pasta in Davis has a pretty nice selection of cheese.

                                    1. I'm partial to Formaggio... the variety of cheeses and helpfulness of the staff (as well as the ability to try anything) are outstanding. I don't usually buy a crazy, large amount. I tend to stick to around a 1/3 of a pound of each cheese, get three different cheeses and go home quite happy.
                                      Re. TJ - I enjoy their feta, chevre, and goat milk gouda, but some of the cheese tastes a little plastic to me. Arax Market in Watertown has a *fabulous*, creamy, sheep milk, French feta.
                                      Off the beaten path (and more for the northern New England Board I guess), is the Hanover/Lebanon NH Food Co-op, where they have a great selection of local (NH/VT) cheeses.

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                                      Arax Market
                                      585 Mount Auburn St, Watertown, MA 02472

                                      1. Bizarrely, the best feta I've had is the Bulgarian feta from Shaw's/ Starmarket in Chestnut Hill. I don't recommend any of their other cheeses, but that feta is simply wonderful. Second (but not so close) is the feta at Arax. For other cheeses, Formaggio is by far the best and priciest, but Russo's has generally been v. reliable. I personally think the cheese at TJ tastes like plastic, and unfortunately, have tasted it far too many times -- usually at other people's homes.

                                        tb

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: trueblu

                                          i have found WF prices to be comparable (sometimes more) than Formaggio but the cheeses are not handled with the same care. *disclaimer* I used to work at formaggio but not in the cheese department. I continually find underripe cheeses at WF and the wine and cheese cask . Formaggio scrapes down and rewraps their cheeses with fresh wrap every morning and builds that giant cheese wall from scratch. they also put out product only when its ripe as they can hold onto it in their cave until ready . Not only can you taste all any cheese at FK, but no one is as knowledgeable as their mongers. its pricey but the quality can't be beat.

                                          1. re: pocketgarden

                                            I don't disagree with you, and I didn't actually mention WF in my comments -- or do you mean Russo's?

                                            tb

                                            1. re: pocketgarden

                                              didn't know that formaggio was so diligent about their cheeses! (tho i suppose i shouldn't be surprised)

                                              fwiw, i agree that WF and russo's sometimes puts out cheese before they are ripe. even though FK is pricey, i think they have the best cheese selection in the boston area and i never run into the problem of the cheeses being underripe. FK is always very friendly about letting me taste cheese, while at WF sometimes i feel an undercurrent of annoyance when i ask to taste a cheese (depending on who is working the cheese counter)

                                              sometimes the cheese at russo's isn't quite ripe yet, but otoh i never get the sense that i'm an inconvenience or a nuisance when i ask to taste. and their prices are better than FK.

                                            2. re: trueblu

                                              I love Bulgarian feta! It's a little strong (as in "tastes like a barn"), but absolutely delicious on its own. Not always so good in things--it can be a little overpowering.

                                            3. I go to The Cheese Shop in Concord center when ';m out that way, and it's pretty good. Very helpful staff.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: catsmeow

                                                I love The Cheese Shop in Concord. In fact I've been known to manufacture reasons to go there. The staff knows their stuff and they're happy to share their knowledge, offer samples, and make suggestions.

                                                1. re: bugsmum

                                                  Their cheese dips/spreads are very good too.

                                                  1. re: catsmeow

                                                    I love the sandwiches at the Cheese Shop, esp. their veggie....I know; no cheese, even!

                                                    Their cheese totally rocks...Everyone there is trained to offer you a cheese tasting of your own. People are willing to wait in line, knowing how well they will be treated when they get to the front of the line...Oh, and while you're waiting, they seem to make sure you get a nibble, as well, of whatever they're cutting for the peop0le in front of you.

                                                    1. re: galleygirl

                                                      Also if out that way for the Cheese Shop, its not much further to stop in to Idylwilde. They claim to have over 200 types of cheese and have alot of other great gourmet foods and produce.
                                                      http://www.idylwildefarm.com/cheese/o...

                                              2. The Boston Cheese Cellar in Roslindale offers a nice selection.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: TheScribe

                                                  I've been there twice. Unfortunately, their cheese doesn't seem to last very long before I have to start trimming mold from it. On both visits(2 months apart), their premade dips were outdated. On the first visit, I hadn't noticed the expiration date, and the counter person stopped me from buying it. On my second visit, I checked the dates myself, and they had just expired previous week. It's too bad they aren't busier. It's a nice little shop.

                                                2. This doesn't reply directly to the OP, but I just had to share. i bought a teeny piece of Lil Ziggy, a goat cheese pyramid that Cypress Grove made for Whole Foods' 30th Anniversary...i was actually looking for anything other than goat cheese (sometime, even I crave a cow or a sheep..) but when I tasted this, I HAD to have it. Rind a little thick, but oh, the layer of paste under the rind, and the body of the cheese were amazing. SO SO sharp, a burn on the back of the palate, but no ammonia or kitty litter...You gottah go get you some....

                                                  1. I put in a vote seconding Sherman Market in union Sq, Somerville. As someone else said, small but excellent selection and they treat it right. I go in every week to get a small portion of "Ewe's blue", from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. in eastern NY, right at western Mass. Everything locavore here and that becomes more crucial when our farmers market season ends.

                                                    And a first for Capone, in Union Sq and also in No Cambridge on Mass Ave. Not locavore but good prices on imported cheeses. Al's Spanish manchego and cabrales go up and down with the euro, but always fair pricing well below whole foods. I lived in Spain for a while and in my opinion, the cabrales blue is superior to the blue valdeon sold at WF.

                                                    1. Years back, I loved teh cheese at Cardullo's in Harvard Square. And there was a really nice selection of cheeses in somerville just over the line from cambridge on whatever the continuation of kirkland st is called. Across the street from the tapas bar (dali's? picasso's? it's been a while).

                                                      I think it's on Washington st just east of beacon.

                                                      anyone?
                                                      OK just looked it up - the Wine and Cheese cask on Washington st.
                                                      407 Washington St
                                                      Somerville, MA 02143-3832
                                                      (617) 623-8656
                                                      as I see - has been mentioned above. But not cardullo's which is a fixture. GO figure.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                      1. re: Jerome

                                                        City Feed in JP has an excellent selection of cheese as well. Pretty sure it's all domestic - just had the Jasper Hill blue and the Clothbound cheddar - both excellent - and the cheddar might be one of the best I've ever had.

                                                        1. re: AmbigEthnic

                                                          Um, City Feed is a nice local place, but it doesn't hold a candle to either of the two the OP mentioned...

                                                          1. re: galleygirl

                                                            Never said City Feed had the selection of Formaggio or WF - it is a pretty small store - just saying the 2 cheeses I recently had there were excellent and on par with what I've had at Formaggio.

                                                      2. Yes, Formaggio is great, though I tend to get cheese at WF more often, mainly because it's more convenient for me/

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: hiddenboston

                                                          I am a HUGE Formaggio fan. In fact in the whole USA they are really top tier, but must confess I hit TJs near work last week cause I was in a hurry to get munchies with my folks in town and was pleasantly surprised. No freshness issues, and prices at literally 1/3 Formaggio.

                                                          I got a great goat brie that they have regularly.

                                                          Raw milk French Tomme (aged the requisite 6 months) that was killer.

                                                          1 Year aged Gouda was on sale for $4.99 a pound.

                                                          Triple Creme Delice de Bourgogne.

                                                          I probably bought 2-3 pounds of cheese for $22.

                                                          Of course NOT Formaggio quality by a long stretch. Even the same cheeses at Formaggio would have been better due to far superior handling. But we certainly would have been talking North of $50 for the same amount.

                                                          It really is apples to oranges, but if you are careful, nice stuff can be found at TJs. And from a corporate perspective it is certainly no worse than Whole Foods.

                                                          1. re: StriperGuy

                                                            The attraction to me of Formaggio is not just that they have a wide selection, or that they handle cheese with respect, but that they think. You can pose challenges to them that they'll rise to. You can ask for advice, for example, on a newworld-oldworld faceoff and put together an interesting matchup where Cabot clothbound goes head-to-head against Keen's, Bayley Hazen sings the blues against Gorgonzola, and Hooligan attempts to outstink Epoisses. Or you can put together a sampler just from Vermont. Or a sampler from sheep. Once (twelve years ago) they put together a selection of 7 or 8 different Roqueforts, each ripened in a different cave. It's the ability to talk to someone intelligently about food that primarily keeps me hooked on the place.

                                                        2. I visited FK for the first time last weekend. The cheese was fantastic, but I found the store itself to be disappointing. Unbelievably crowded. I found it impossible to spend any quality time looking over the selection, or spending quality time with any of the cheesemongers.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                            1. re: kstone129

                                                              Weekends are a bad time, as are certain times on weekdays (lunchtime, and between 5 and 6:30 p.m.). I suggest going mid-morning on a weekday and explaining that you want to talk cheese. Much of the staff is knowledgeable, and should be willing to spend time with you. Ask for Gemma, if she's available, or for Kurt, the owner's son and the general manager. (I assume we are talking Huron Village.) The store is well worth cultivating.