Despite being a hot, tropical locale, Miami is virtually the cheese capital of the South. Restaurant menus and specialty food markets stock selections from around the globe, and you can find cheese at every turn, in sandwiches, salads, and even sushi. One local chef serves a risotto-like dish made with quinoa and Manchego cheese, while an Italian-born restaurateur makes fresh mozzarella fiore di latte right here in South Florida. Cheese lovers visiting the Magic City can enjoy everything from a griddled arepa (corn cake) oozing melted cheese ordered at a street stand to a cheese course inside a palace of high cuisine. Cheese has always been a food for both sophisticates and those who eat simply; Miami is living proof of that.
Cheese Shops and Markets
Founded by the Thal brothers in 1945, the upscale, ethnic Epicure Market is a Miami Beach icon that has expanded over the years, carrying not only homemade matzo- ball soup and gefilte fish but a dazzling array of global goods, from Tuscan chestnut cream to spicy Tunisian olives. The award-winning cheese department managed by Harald von Oertzen features carefully tended goat cheeses from small producers in various stages of ripeness; pear-shaped, schnapps-bathed cheddar candles (light the wick and eat the cheese when the wax coating melts); Yarra Valley Dairy Persian Feta; Pecorino with peppercorns; and Irish Ardrahan, plus an in-house spread made with fresh goat cheese, orange syrup, mascarpone, and candied orange rind. On Saturday, “cheese lady” Betsy Goldman dons one of her hundreds of signature hats and passes out samples. If you’re in luck, it might be the truffled brie, made in-house. Cheese accompaniments here include Muscatel raisins on the stem, caramelized walnuts, and sweet onion confit.
Epicure Market 1656 Alton Road Miami Beach, FL 305.672.1861
Laurenzo’s Italian Center
Located in north Miami Beach, this sprawling, family-owned market was founded in 1951. Patriarch Ben Laurenzo stops in every morning while his son David runs the place. Wolfgang Puck comes here when he’s in town for the blistered brick-oven pizza; regular Joes come for the mozzarella bread and pasta al forno. There’s an extensive cheese aisle opposite a deli counter, facilitating pairings of Gorgonzola Dolcelatte with sweet Peppadew peppers or Prima Donna aged Dutch Gouda with acorn-fed black-foot Jamón Ibérico. You’ll also find Academia Barilla’s best-of-the-year selections of Pecorino grand cru and Parmigiano Reggiano, packaged with tiny jars of Chianti jelly and spicy fig compote. Lioni Latticini of Brooklyn provides fresh basket cheese (mild, milky, and lightly salted), some with herbs and sun-dried tomatoes, plus others wrapped in proscuitto.
Laurenzo’s Italian Center 16385 W. Dixie Highway N. Miami Beach, FL 305.945.6381
Delicias de Espana
This is where locals go for Spanish cheeses, cured sausages, and wine. Owner Ernesto Llerandi is from the Asturias region in northeastern Spain. For a taste of this terroir pick up some Cabrales, the famous name-controlled, aged blue cheese, or buttery mixed-milk Peñamellera, named for the peak that rises behind the village where the cheese is made. There’s also Mahon, Manchego, Tetilla, and rustic goat’s milk Queso Ibores from Extremadura rubbed with a mixture of olive oil and sweet paprika. Try the daily specials, which include dishes like roasted piglet and white beans with clams.
Delicias de Espana 4016 SW 57th Avenue Coral Gables, FL 305.669.4485
Sunset Corners Fine Wine and Spirits
Cheese expert Jamie Lee Futscher oversees a large international selection of cheeses at the deli attached to this beverage shop. There are more than 350 cheeses curated by the down-to-earth, self-taught Futscher, with 75 to 100 featured at a given time. Wine and cheese tastings are hosted every Saturday from noon to four p.m., with unusual selections including sheep’s milk Brin d’ Amour from Corsica (great with the tea and rose- petal preserve sold here) and Knolle, hard Swiss-made cheese balls covered in dried herbs that resemble giant truffles, meant for grating over pasta. Since the shop is a drop-off point for a local CSA (community supported agriculture), Futscher plans to add an option of full and half shares of cheese with wine for the 2010 harvest season.
Sunset Corners Fine Wine and Spirits 8701 Sunset Drive Miami, FL 305.271.8492
The Cheese Course
Stocking 150 cheeses from around the world, The Cheese Course hosts educational tastings and creates cheese platters that include washed-rind, bloomy-rind, blue, semihard, hard, and fresh cheeses from the United States, France, Spain, Italy, and the United Kingdom. Owner Enrique Altamarino from Mexico City also offers boutique wines and hand-selected foods that complement cheese; he is slated to open another place in midtown Miami soon.
The Cheese Course Weston Town Center, 1679 Market Street Weston, FL 954.384.8183
Au Pied de Cochon
A spinoff of the original stand opened by butcher Clement Blanc in the Les Halles market of Paris in 1947, Au Pied de Cochon (“at the foot of the pig”) keeps late hours and serves a cheese plate composed by sommelier Eric Larkee. The selections include Camembert, Reblochon (derived from reblocher, meaning “to pinch the cow’s udder again,” a practice that creates creamier milk and saved dairy farmers taxes in the old days), Port-Salut (a monastery cheese), a Loire Valley goat’s milk cheese, and Roquefort, each paired with wine or beer.
Au Pied de Cochon 81 Washington Avenue (at 1st Street) Miami Beach, FL 305.674.1844
Located in the Mandarin Oriental hotel, Azul is one of the top fine-dining venues in Miami. And it boasts a white-marble open kitchen exposing all the creative action. Chef Clay Conley’s cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean flavors with Asian influences: think braised lamb shank with feta and ravioli in Parmesan foam. Choose a cheese course (to enjoy along with stunning views of Biscayne Bay) of three or five selections ranging from mellow Spanish Drunken Goat to pungent Roaring Forties Blue from Australia.
Azul 500 Brickell Key Miami, FL 305.507.8525
Restaurateur Laurent Tourondel recently brought his stylish and pricey BLT brand to the Betsy Hotel, a luxury boutique property. His signature oversized Gruyère popovers are hard to resist, and a meal can start or end with cheese cart service accompanied by advice from sommelier and fromager Hakan Balkuvvar, who keeps the American artisanal cheeses at proper temperature and cuts them tableside. Balkuvvar pairs, for example, the meaty, creamy Red Hawk from Cowgirl Creamery in California with pinot noir. A wedge of delicately fruity, semihard Tumbleweed cheese from Five Spoke Farms in Port Chester, Pennsylvania, gets an accompaniment of port-marinated figs.
BLT Steak 1440 Ocean Drive Miami Beach, FL 305.531.3934
Café Prima Pasta
Pastas, gnocchi, and ravioli with various cheese sauces and fillings are the stars here in this warren of clubby rooms featuring framed photos of famous customers. Fresh mozzarella di bufala is used in the signature salads and pizza and filet mignon carpaccio is served with lemon oil and hand-cut Parmigiano Reggiano shards; an all-Italian cheese platter is a house specialty. The owner’s son Gerry Cea, who built the place, is there every night, schmoozing with customers and offering cheeses and wine pairings.
Café Prima Pasta 414 71st Street Miami Beach, FL 305.867.0106
DiLido Beach Club/Bistro One LR
In the beach club at the Ritz Carlton, chef de cuisine Jeff McInnis uses local, organic produce in cheese-focused dishes such as heirloom tomato salad with goat cheese sorbet, fried halloumi with sautéed hazelnuts on beet purée, and ricotta salata and grilled peach slices wrapped in prosciutto, all served with views of the ocean. Every month, on the night of the full moon, a party (considered the best in town) draws revelers to telescopes for viewing the big cheese in the sky. Sunday brunch by the pool from the on-premise Bistro One LR offers a selection of French and Spanish cheeses, plus a choice of Raclette made with mild Mahon cheese, accompanied bread and crudités.
DiLido Beach Club/Bistro One LR One Lincoln Road Miami Beach, FL 786.276.4000 ext. 0044
Fratelli Lyon Driade
Serving vivid flavors in fashionable style, Fratelli Lyon Driade transports diners to a sleek glass-and-steel, Milan- style showroom in Miami complete with furniture samples. Cheese plates are assembled by Aniece Mienhold and matched with wines. Try the plate with Robiola, cannellini beans, roasted beets, prosciutto, and asparagus with Pecorino.
Fratelli Lyon Driade 4141 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Design District, Miami, FL 305.572.2901
Johnny V Restaurant
Chef Johnny Vinczencz is a die-hard cheese head and takes pride in his innovative cheese course. The Caribbean cowboy has wrangled up forty international cheeses including buttery Pierre Robert double-cream, and white Stilton served with mango, ginger, pear- hazelnut paste, berries, and red-hot candied pecans. Many folks order a cheese course as an appetizer with drinks, but others start with an amuse-bouche of smoked tomato soup with cheese toasts and end with breadfruit cheesecake.
Johnny V Restaurant 625 East Las Olas Boulevard Fort Lauderdale, FL 954.761.3495
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink
Chef Michael Schwartz offers pizza from a wood-burning oven and house-made organic ricotta with apricot-thyme jam crostini. There’s a cheese of the week, such as creamy Brillat-Savarin with walnut bread or triple- milk La Tur from Piedmont with local Paradise Farms honeycomb.
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink 130 NE 40th Street, Atlas Plaza, Design District, Miami, FL 305.573.5550
When celebrating special occasions, Miamians splurge at this classic dining room inside the historic Biltmore Hotel (silver-screen star Esther Williams used to do laps in the pool when it was the deepest in the world). Chef Philippe Ruiz fuses American cuisine with French sensibilities in a sophisticated setting. End a meal here with a beautifully plated classic course of all-French cheeses served with marmalades on dainty spoons, or enjoy the cheese as part of an ever-changing degustation menu.
Palme d’Or 1200 Anastasia Avenue Coral Gables, FL 305.445.1926
Pascal’s on Ponce
Fans of contemporary French fare flock to this address, where chef Pascal Oudin works deftly at the helm. His cheese cuisine includes a twice-baked upside- down Gruyère soufflé with Parmesan sauce, haricot salad with goat cheese tartine, and potato gnocchi with mascarpone. Diners may choose from a cheese tasting plate or individual cheese selection with accompaniment.
Pascal’s on Ponce 611 Ponce De Leon Boulevard Coral Gables, FL 305.444.2024
Sushi Samba Dromo
At this Jetsons-style Japanese–South American hybrid, you’ll find dishes like the El Topo roll (salmon, shiso leaf, and melted fresh mozzarella) and quinortto (like risotto), made with quinoa cooked until creamy with Manchego cheese, fresh herbs, and mushrooms; it’s matched with a Kanazawa Junmai sake made with wine yeast for a subtle, sweet finish. Salads are liberally garnished with shaved Manchego or chunks of Cabrales blue, served with a decadent side of fries with cheese and yellow aji (chile) sauce.
Sushi Samba Dromo 600 Lincoln Road Miami Beach, FL 305.673.5337
Timo Restaurant & Bar
Timo’s food maestro, Tim Andriola, creates a seasonal menu fortified by a cheese plate with a selection of about a dozen types from California, Canada, Italy, Spain, France, and the Netherlands. He encourages customers to try signature cheeses such as Mimolette, Humboldt Fog goat cheese, and aged farmstead Gouda, paired with wine, sherry, or port. The regular menu offers cheese dishes like goat’s milk Bucheron and yellow tomato salad, served stacked with arugula and finished with aged balsamic, as well as rigatoni and lamb meatballs with truffled Pecorino.
Timo Restaurant & Bar 17624 Collins Avenue Sunny Isles, FL 305.936.1008
Bars and Casual Spots
River Oyster Bar
At this boisterous, urban hot spot anchored by a huge central bar, you’ll find fresh, unpretentious seafood and a savory dessert menu of cheeses. Chef-owner David Bracha serves artisanal cheeses sourced by Susan Garrett of Culinaire Specialty Foods, including tartufo made by a couple in Italy that mixes local truffles in the cheese. It’s paired with a sister ingredient—Sicilian blood orange jam.
River Oyster Bar 650 S. Miami Avenue (near Brickell Park downtown) Miami, FL 305.530.1915
Pizza Volante & Mozzarella Parlor
This popular spot is the creation of chef Jonathan Eismann, owner of nearby Pacific Time, his flagship restaurant famed for his gnudi (skinless ravioli made with barely cooked ricotta, brown butter, and speck ham). The parlor offers mozzarella di bufala, burrata (mozzarella stuffed with a lush core of cream-enriched curds), nodini (little knots), and ovaline fleur de latte with a choice of two accompaniments such as macaroni pesto and zucchini fritta. Have your cheese of choice drizzled in aged balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.
Pizza Volante & Mozzarella Parlor 3918 N. Miami Avenue, Design District, Miami, FL 305.573.5325
El Carajo International Tapas & Wines
A tapas nook in a faux-Moorish courtyard, El Carajo (the crow’s nest) is carved out of the inside of a wine shop at the local CITGO gas station. Fill your tank, join friends, and share tapas, ending with a cheese plate with membrillo. There are also more than two thousand bottles of wine; corkage fee is $10.
El Carajo International Tapas & Wines 2465 SW 17th Avenue Coconut Grove, FL 305.856.2424
Vinisimo Wine Bar & Shop
Take a seat at this industrial-chic tavern with cement floors, exposed ceiling, and wine barrel tables offering tapas and tablas—wood boards with flights of Spanish cheese and tasting platters paired to wine from the Old and New World.
Vinisimo Wine Bar & Shop 2960 SW 22nd Street (Coral Way) Coral Gables, FL 305-648-2964
Vito Volpe, who grew up on a farm near Bari, a city in Puglia, the southern “boot” of Italy, brought fresh mozzarella to South Florida after hiring his friend and master cheesemaker Mimmo Marchittla, also from Bari. Using cow’s milk from Dixie Fresh Dairy near Tampa, they produce fiore di latte (cow’s milk mozzarella), ricotta, burrata, and nodini, best eaten within a day or two. The cheese is sold at Whole Foods Market.and from Mozzarita during the week, as well as at area weekend farmers’ markets.
Mozzarita 5392 NE 13th Way Pompano Beach, FL 954.426.5115
Redland Mediterranean Organics
Lebanese-born Hani Khouri makes organic goat cheese and ice cream (flavored with seasonal tropical fruits), according to a family recipe, using lemon juice or vinegar rather than rennet. Khouri raises goats on his farm in the Redland and also buys milk from other local producers.
Redland Mediterranean Organics 21725 Redland Road Miami, FL 305.562.3202