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The Big Cheesy

Scenics in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Kristy May)

A sultry, vibrant place on the muddy banks of the Mississippi River, New Orleans is unique among American cities because of its Creole culture and tradition, which predate anything considered colonial America. As a local, I see how that early Creole foundation continues to define New Orleans’s own way of doing things. Whether it’s our cuisine, our music, the way we talk, or even the way we make Creole Cream Cheese, New Orleans is a place to find something truly unique in a world that is quickly becoming homogenized.

Walk the streets of the French Quarter; get out into the neighborhoods, such as Fauborg Marigny, Mid City, Uptown, or the Garden District; and look and listen for what makes this place one of a kind—including our own local appreciation for cheese. A great place to start is the St. James Cheese Company on Prytania Street, the epicenter of all things cheese in New Orleans.

And don’t miss an opportunity to visit the farmers’ markets—held every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday throughout the city—to talk directly with cheese and food artisans. Our many restaurants are another source of cheese selections, ones that especially complement the local seasonal produce and seafood harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not hard to find a cheese dish built upon all things grown, caught wild, or produced in Louisiana. In New Orleans our culture stands behind everything we do, so enjoy it, y’all.

Cheese Shops

Large pile of hard, yellow cheeses

Cheese at the St. James Cheese Company in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Bittersweet Plantation Dairy

Cajuns are renowned for doing most anything they set their minds to, and creating outstanding cheese is no exception. Chef John Folse is a true Louisiana entrepreneur, exporting Cajun food and culture around the world, including cheese. His Bittersweet Plantation Dairy produces a number of outstanding varieties, including the Bayou Blue Louisiana Blue Cheese, the triple cream Holy Cow–Vache Santé, and the Feliciana Nevat, which is based on the Catalonian Nevat from Spain. You can find John’s cheeses and other Cajun food products in supermarkets and restaurants around town, but I recommend the short drive upriver from New Orleans through the sugarcane fields to Bittersweet Plantation in Gonzales, Louisiana (“Jambalaya Capital of the World”), to experience a true Cajun cheese destination.

Bittersweet Plantation Dairy 2517 South Philippe Avenue Gonzales, LA 225.644.6000; 800.256.2433

Central Grocery

This small Italian grocer makes a living off the muffuletta sandwich. Be sure to get there early before they run out of bread and close the doors for the day. The muffuletta was created in the early 1900s to feed many of the Sicilian market vendors at the French Market. It was a typical Sicilian lunch of salami, ham, cheese, and olive salad stacked inside a 10-inch bun for convenience. No trip to this market is complete without the sandwich, but tourists often miss many of the imported Italian delicacies, meats, and cheeses that line the shelves. Try the Primo Sale, a sheep’s milk Pecorino in the early stages of maturation, or the Auricchio, an aged provolone with a sharp bite that is excellent with the shop’s famous olive salad.

Central Grocery 923 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 504.523.1620

Martin Wine Cellar

Martin Wine Cellar is a family-owned select wine and gourmet food shop that was started by David Martin in 1946. It has grown over the years to four locations and has also become the go-to retailer for specialty wines, cheeses, and other delectable food items that include olives, oils, caviar, foie gras, specialty meats, mustards, and preserves. Look for their small shop on Magazine Street near Mahoney’s Po-Boy Shop, and expect a very informative staff that can help you select a signature American artisan cheese, such as an unpasteurized blue cheese from Buzzard’s Bay or Ossau-Iraty from the Pyrenees. Take a day off from the adulterated playground of the Vieux Carré, fill a basket at Martin Wine Cellar, then find your way to Audubon Park. Look for the Sara Lavinia Hyams Memorial Fountains under centuries-old oaks near the end of Magazine Street. Sink your feet into that cool water, treat your palate to something that’s less than 190 proof, and refresh yourself in a place that is the other side of New Orleans.

Martin’s Wine Cellar 3500 Magazine Street (corner of Magazine and Aline) New Orleans, LA 504.894.7420

Nor-Joe Import Company

Just ten minutes outside the city in the heart of Metairie is a small Italian import company with a nondescript storefront. They carry a number of international cheeses but boast the largest Italian cheese selection in the area. Some of the more interesting selections include the smoked scamorza, the caciocavallo cheese loaf, and Grana Padano. It’s another great place to fill a basket for an al fresco lunch while traveling to Cajun Country or the bayous along the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain.

Nor-Joe Import Company 505 Frisco Avenue Metairie, LA 504.833.9240

St. James Cheese Company

Machego-topped salad

Manchego, pear, almond, and arugula salad with a quince vinaigrette at the St. James Cheese Company in New Orleans, Louisiana. Available year round.

Danielle and Richard Sutton have bestowed upon New Orleans the opportunity to access quality cheese selections from around the world. They have also influenced almost every menu in this city renowned for its Creole cuisine. Their cheese case features over 150 cheeses at any given time, with about 450 different varieties over a year. They also smoke their own blue cheese at this small shop and specialty grocery located in the heart of Uptown New Orleans. The shop is an off-the-beaten-path jewel where you can enjoy a healthy salad and a sandwich (named for its cheese, of course) on a Sunday instead of waiting in line elsewhere for the more traditional jazz brunch. Many of the best chefs in the city are often found lining up at the counter, picking up orders, and checking up on the availability list. They depend on Richard’s knowledge of cheese, which he honed during his time working at Paxton and Whitfield, a two-hundred-year-old cheese shop in London.

St. James Cheese Company 5004 Prytania Street New Orleans, LA 504.899.4737

Stein’s Market and Deli

Dan Stein gave up a career as an attorney to follow his passion for food and a life in New Orleans. Most people believe that Dan Stein and the City of New Orleans were made for each other, and his “men serving meat” mantra is something to be taken very seriously if you know how important the tradition of flavor is to him. His Jewish- and Italian-style deli is located in the Lower Garden District and offers a great selection of over 50 specialty cheeses and a number of cured meats and salamis. There’s space to eat inside and a small picnic bench outside. His sandwiches, the fresh-baked bread, and a large selection of imported beers are a huge hit with locals and visitors alike. I recommend the Southern Animal Foundation sandwich made with honey turkey, choice of cheese, Nueske’s bacon, avocado, and cucumber on wheat or the Muphuletta (Philly Style) with mortadella, Molinari sopressata, Tuscan ham, aged provolone, and house-made olive salad on ciabatta with garlic vinaigrette.

Crowded dining area

Interior of Stein’s Deli in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Stein’s Market and Deli 2207 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 504.527.0771

Farmers’ Markets

Alberto’s Cheese at Historic French Market

The French Market is located along North Peters Street in the French Quarter and represents the oldest existing public marketplace in the United States. It was originally a Native American trading post on the muddy Mississippi River until the French built the first official market in the 1700s. It’s a place where for centuries Native Americans, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Creoles, and free men of color all found coffee, sugar, wild and domestic meats, fruit, the Creole tomato, rice, and filé for gumbo. Following Hurricane Katrina, produce is still hard to find here, but what you can get is a great selection of Spanish cheese. Alberto’s is a small stall inside the market serving a number of international cheeses, lunch plates, wine, and dessert. With co-owners Juan Hernandez and Antonia Sereno in charge, Alberto’s is a great place to experience the flow of the market, have a glass of wine, and sample traditional Spanish cheese varieties, such as a tangy Manchego, a savory Mahón with a paprika-scented rind, a mild Tetilla, or a robust Cabrales.

Alberto’s Cheese 1008 North Peters Street New Orleans, LA 504.522.2621

Belle Ècorce Farms/Red Stick Farmers Market

Wanda Barras owns and operates Belle Ècorce Farms in St. Martinville, Louisiana, where she produces fresh, ripened, and aged goat cheeses using old-world French-Acadian artisanal methods. She milks Nubian, LaMancha, and Saanen dairy goats and produces several chèvre cheeses. Barras also welcomes visitors to the farm by appointment. If you can’t make it out to the farm, you can find her delicate cheeses at the Red Stick Farmers Market in Baton Rouge.

Belle Ècorce Farms 201 South Main Street St. Martinville, LA 337.394.6683

Ryals Rock

Man in front of a tamales sign

Tamales for sale at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Bill Ryals and his family are true American ranchers and clever entrepreneurs in the world of food. They have diversified their farm over the years from growing row crops to breeding Boer goats, making cheese, and breeding specialty pigs for a pork-oriented restaurant group in New Orleans. Anyone familiar with local cheese in New Orleans will know the Ryals Rocking R Dairy, located just over the Louisiana state line in Tylertown, Mississippi. The dairy produces 600 to 700 pounds of cheese each week, including chèvre, feta, aged goat and cow cheddar, and Asiago. Their cheese can be found in a number of local restaurants, including Herbsaint and Restaurant August, and at the Crescent City, Baton Rouge, and Jackson farmers’ markets.

Ryals Rock Cheese 42 Airline Highway Tylertown, MS 601.876.6328

Restaurants

Commander’s Palace

Commander’s Palace has been a New Orleans culinary landmark since 1880. There’s no doubt that Mark Twain and Jefferson Davis knocked back a few drinks and upscale dinners here. There was even a time when a riverboat captain could be fed downstairs and find a warm bed and a partner upstairs, but today its pleasures are entirely gastronomic, serving the best haute Creole cuisine in the city. The family-run enterprise has been honored with a plethora of James Beard awards that include Lifetime Service, Lifetime Achievement, Lifetime Outstanding Restaurant, and Best Chef Southeast Region, among others. It all sounds too good to be true—but it’s the real deal. Oh yeah, cheese: you won’t find it on the menu, but ask for it and you will get one of the best overall cheese experiences offered in the entire city.

Commander’s Palace 1403 Washington Avenue New Orleans, LA 504.899.8221

Delachaise

Bright orange building with iron grates

Pontalba apartment building.

Located on St. Charles Avenue near Toro Hospital, Delachaise is a classic New Orleans late-night bar with a reputation for goose-fat fries, an extensive and affordable wine-by-the-glass list, and an amazing cheese selection. Ask David Aman from the kitchen about the menu and I bet you get a recommendation for the spicy frog legs glazed with remoulade sauce. Go early on a beautiful evening, sit outside among the flowers, watch the streetcars roll by, and enjoy a cheese plate paired with wines recommended by the relaxed staff. There are a number of cheese selections offered from the various categories: The Softer Side, Firm & Nutty, Blue, Authentic Cheddars, and the famous Stinky & Funky. Don’t let the simple categories fool you—the cheese selections are outstanding. Not to steer you in any particular direction, but the Honey Goat is a great chèvre that pairs well with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a humid New Orleans afternoon.

Delachaise 3442 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 504.895.0858

Domenica

Domenica is an Italian restaurant in the central business district with a great list of house-cured meats and cheeses. Chefs John Besh and Alon Shaya have created this gem in the Roosevelt Hotel with the idea that every day in the restaurant should be like an Italian Sunday. The food is outstanding, and the wood-fired rustic Quattro Formaggi pizza is a winner. For $25 you could try the Affettati Misti, the chef’s selection of assorted salumi, imported cheeses, marinated olives, and roasted vegetables.

Domenica 123 Baronne Street New Orleans, LA 504.648.6020

Emeril’s New Orleans

Chef Emeril Lagasse’s career was launched in New Orleans following more than seven years as executive chef at Commander’s Palace. He opened his first restaurant in the Warehouse District of New Orleans in 1990 and quickly became a national personality, with 13 restaurants, television and radio shows, 15 best-selling cookbooks, and the establishment of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation that supports young people in the culinary arts. Emeril’s New Orleans is where it all started, and it’s a place that you should visit for many reasons—including the cheese selection. You can find a number of U.S. artisanal cheeses on the menu, including Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Wisconsin; Appalachian from Virginia; and my favorite, the Oregonzola from Oregon.

Emeril’s New Orleans 800 Tchoupitoulas Street New Orleans, LA 504.528.9393

Herbsaint

Beignets covered in powdered sugar

Beignets are a New Orleans specialty.

Chef Donald Link’s Herbsaint is located on the streetcar line in the Warehouse District of New Orleans. It is here that you can experience the confluence of real Cajun cooking and a passion for local ingredients. The owner, the Link Restaurant Group, actually employs a local food forager, Ashley Locklear, to help support local growers and fishers and to connect its patrons with the best ingredients available in south Louisiana, including the cheese selections.

Herbsaint 701 St. Charles Avenue New Orleans, LA 504.524.4114

Il Posto Italian Cafe

Just upriver from Napolean Avenue on the north side of St. Charles Avenue Il Posto Cafe sits in a quiet neighborhood. Off the beaten path, it’s a beautiful Italian cafe that most visitors never find. It looks as if it was built specifically for the neighborhood, but it attracts those who have a passion for simple flavors and has an atmosphere that is a direct extension of its spirited owner, Madison Curry. Find this bright, cheerful place and enjoy a number of Italian cheeses, olives, fresh fruit, and a bottle of wine. If you’re lucky, you may get an opportunity to hear Madison sing to her customers while she’s doing what she loves best.

Il Posto Italian Cafe 4607 Dryades Street New Orleans, LA 504.895.2620

Restaurant August

Restaurant August is the flagship of the food empire built by Chef John Besh in New Orleans. It is located in the central business district and is undoubtedly one of the best upscale restaurants to hit New Orleans in some time, offering local seasonal ingredients with a Louisiana southern flair. Try the Lacquered Berkshire Pork Belly with Louisiana Crawfish, Olives, and Blood Orange. This is also the place to experience a Southern cheese plate that includes Bittersweet Plantation’s Fleur de Teche, Ryals Rocking R Dairy goat’s milk feta, and Meadow Creek Dairy’s Grayson and Mountaineer.

Restaurant August 301 Tchoupitoulas Street New Orleans, LA 504.299.9777

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