Destination Denver: Cheese Steps up to the Plate in the Mile High City
There’s a cheese scene in Denver?” It’s not an unlikely question.
Only in the past few years has Colorado’s growing network of small farms, dairy operations, and artisanal cheese producers fed a proliferation of specialty cheese shops, boutique purveyors, and farmers’ markets, all of which supply the capital’s burgeoning restaurant scene. The locally grown movement is in full force, and high-end supermarkets such as Whole Foods—which boasts eight branches in the region—offer access to domestic and imported cheeses as never before. Another sign: the American Cheese Society, that venerable king of curds, is headquartered here; and Leprino Foods, originally a cozy, family-owned grocery located in what is known as the Highlands neighborhood, is now the world’s largest producer of mozzarella. Here are our top picks in the Mile High City to feed your need for cheese.
The Cheese Company
A sign above the cheese case here says it all: “Cheese: milk’s leap toward immortality.” Clifton Fadiman’s quote reminds shoppers to focus on what’s important: its solid selection from foreign and domestic producers, including Carr Valley, Collier’s Welsh Cheddar, and Black Diamond, plus house-made mozzarella and pâté, cheese curds from Iowa’s Milton Creamery, Colorado Mountain Jam, Danish fried onions, French cornichons, New England cranberry relish, and Irish butter, as well as tools and fondue pots. Best to avoid the lunchtime rush: The Cheese Company is also a full-service delicatessen, serving sandwiches, salads, and meals to go.
The Cheese Company, 5575 E. Third Avenue Denver, CO 80220, 303-394-9911
Cheese Importers Warehouse and Market Europa
A quick day trip from Denver, this 7,000-square-foot warehouse in Longmont has been luring enthusiasts to its massive, refrigerated Market Europa, which boasts the largest inventory of cheese and cured meat in Colorado, since 1976. Call it the Epcot Center of cheese: aisles are demarcated by country—France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Norway—and by style, and sample platters are scattered throughout; printouts offer pairing suggestions. (Browsers may choose to don a cooler jacket to beat the chill.) A panoply of cheese accoutrements is stocked in a loaded-to-the-gills retail shop— Provençal olives, oils, condiments, spices, knives, books, biscuits, chocolate, tea, linens, glassware, and crockery galore—with plans for an on-site bistro serving light fare, including homemade quiche and a killer grilled cheese.
Cheese Importers Warehouse and Market Europa, 103 Main Street, Longmont, CO 80501, 303-772-9599
Recently opened in the LoHi district in June, this branch of the hip artisanal cheese shop, specialty foods boutique, and tasting room in Edwards, Colorado, might as well be a shrine to cheese: owners Chris Irving and Pollyanna Forster cut through more than 4,500 pounds during the winter holiday season alone. Take selections to go or stick around for a “Choose Your Own Adventure” experience and assemble a plate of one, three, or five cheeses from 100 or so domestic and imported varieties. Also on the menu is a burrata plate, panini—try the “Fromage Lover”—an olive bar, house-made Sicilian cannoli, and an impressive selection of wines by the glass.
eat! drink!, 1541 Platte Street Denver, CO 80202, 303-477-3288
Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy Creamery Retail Store
In the front office of the company’s production facility in Longmont—it sold the farm in Boulder in 2008 and now sources milk from several local dairies—is a cooler stocked with Haystack’s award-winning pasteurized and raw goat cheese: Snowdrop chèvre, feta, Camembert, and Queso de Mano. Aficionados, however, seek the limited-supply stash of experimental cheeses not available anywhere else, such as an Alpine Emmentaler–style cow and goat cheese, green chili Jack, collaborations with Breckenridge Brewery, and Haystack’s first and only dessert chèvre, studded with dried apples and cinnamon.
Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy Creamery Retail Store, 1121 Colorado Avenue, Longmont, CO 80501, 720-494-8714
St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop
“People are always going to see me— it’s very personal,” says owner Jon Marsh, who bought this diminutive shop in the Highlands with his wife, Veronica, in November 2011. Dedicated customers for nine years prior to that, they now carry the torch, choosing 60 cheeses from Europe and the United States, including Le Charmoix, a washed rind from Belgium; Croatia’s award-winning sheep’s milk Paški Sir; a flight of Manchego and Idiazabal; and careful selections from France and Italy. Cured meats from Boulder-based Il Mondo Vecchio join the ranks of Spanish olive oils, Italian pastas, Brooklyn pickles, Mexican chocolate, and baguettes from the bakery two blocks away. “It’s a neighborhood place,” Marsh says, “and we share a wall with a wine shop.”
St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop, 3211 Lowell Boulevard Denver, CO 80211, 303-477-0374
The Truffle Cheese Shop
“We always make sure we have the lowest price on Parmesan—everyone should have fresh-cut Parm,” says Karin Lawler, co-owner, with her restaurant-veteran husband, Rob, of this cheery 600-square-foot cheese mecca that has garnered a cultlike following. The pair is constantly wrapping and rewrapping some 120 farmstead cheeses from around the world, including those from five Colorado farms, and they shape the cheese plates of many of the best eateries in town. Sampling—and dialogue—is encouraged.
A mainstay at the Cherry Creek and City Park farmers’ markets, the Truffle also offers workshops, prints recipe cards, and arranges lectures and tours at regional farms. (A partnership with Ugly Goat Milk Company in Parker allowed the operation to purchase its first cow, which just happened to be named Truffle.) Imported meats from Salumeria Biellese in New York City (caviar, foie, and bottarga available upon request); artisan salts, condiments, and tools; and a cheese of the month club keep curious palates ever challenged.
The Truffle Cheese Shop 2906 E. Sixth Avenue Denver, CO 80206, 303-322-7363
Cook’s Fresh Market
On a busy street corner at the 16th Street Mall, this upscale urban market offers a modest variety of cheeses cut to order and priced by the half pound. A curated menu of meats, olives, and artisanal grocery items, plus a comprehensive list of hot and cold sandwiches, homemade soups, and salads for takeaway, make Cook’s a quick-stop spot for city folk preparing for a picnic in the park or a party at home.
Cook’s Fresh Market 1600 Glenarm Place Denver, CO 80202, 303-893-2277
Denver Urban Homesteading
On Saturdays farmers flock to this 8,000-square-foot 1936 warehouse-turned-homesteading-headquarters at the edge of the Santa Fe Arts District, where they sell organic and other high-quality foods. Shoppers might find aged cheeses, grass-fed beef, and shares of certified-organic raw milk from Windsor Dairy; goat’s milk chèvre and raw-milk cheddar from Mini Moos in Cañon City; and pantry staples such as locally- grown grains and nuts, homemade salsas and soups, and biodynamic wine from Jack Rabbit Hill in Hotchkiss. A small retail shop opens on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays; classes on backyard beekeeping and dairy goat keeping are ongoing.
Denver Urban Homesteading, 200 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80223, 303-572-3122
Marczyk Fine Foods
Savvy shoppers often spot it after wandering through this nine-year- old full-service market: a custom- built cheese cave, which ensures that bloomy-rind beauties and the like are stored at peak ripeness. House mozzarella is stretched every morning; certain cheese wheels are washed on-site; and one need only consult detailed chalkboard descriptions to discover creamy new favorites from locales ranging from Colorado to Corsica. (The spacious grocery boasts a selection of locally- made products, and it has partnered with Fruition Farm in Larkspur—try the nutty aged Cacio Pecora.) Make room in your basket for Hungarian- style salami, Niman Ranch roast beef hand-rubbed with marjoram, Macedonian and African peppers stuffed with Greek feta, artisan breads, and Pete’s Mom’s Potato Salad, then finish your shopping at Marczyk Fine Wines on 17th Ave.
Marczyk Fine Foods, 770 East 17th Avenue, Denver, CO 80203, 303-894-9499
Marczyk Fine Foods II, 5100 E. Colfax Avenue, Denver, CO 80220, 303-243-3355
Formerly Sunflower, these “supermarkets inspired by farmers’ markets” offer a practical alternative to higher-end natural foods chains, with a solid cheese selection to boot. The brightly lit delis showcase up to 125 domestic and imported varieties, many of which are bulk-cut on-site to ensure freshness. Shoppers will also find a variety of organic cheeses and the Southwest chain’s own brand of cheddar, Monterey Jack, and provolone, among others.
Sprouts, 2880 S. Colorado Boulevard, Denver, CO 80222, 303-758-4400 and 4700 W. 38th Avenue Denver, CO 80212, 303-433-2350
Beatrice & Woodsley
To cross the threshold of this four- year-old rustic American haunt is to step into a woodland forest, what with the dozens of white aspen trees running through the warm, 100-seat dining room and a menu of old-world- inspired dishes flaunting produce foraged from area gardens. (Amber glass imbues the space with light the color of an early morning sky.) Ideal for sharing, the cheese plate features a trio of soft, hard, and blue styles paired with fresh fruit and homemade accompaniments such as carrot marmalade, smoked onion jam, and pickled fennel and cucumber, along with bread baked with blood orange and fig. Fresh chèvre and mozzarella from Ugly Goat Milk Company make frequent appearances here and in creamy risotto, along with, on occasion, a lush cheesecake made with goat’s milk ricotta.
Beatrice & Woodsley, 38 South Broadway, Denver, CO 80209, 303-777-3505
Colt & Gray
When the expansion of this intimate, fancy-casual establishment is complete in October, a USDA charcuterie facility and speakeasy will help solidify its leadership in the local craft movement. House- cured meats—pork salami, duck prosciutto, and porchetta di testa—are the specialty at this European-inspired haunt; eight daily offerings play nicely with three cheeses that have crowd appeal, such as buttery triple-cream Brillat-Savarin, semisoft Ossau Iraty, English Stilton, or mild Manchego. Strawberry rhubarb chutney, stone-ground mustard, and a mélange of pickled vegetables typically round out the board; Italian and French wine pairings are plentiful. If you’re lucky, the menu might also feature the ultimate cheesy bar snack: flash-fried Gruyère and Swiss gougères dusted with powdered Gorgonzola.
Colt & Gray, 1553 Platte Street, Denver, CO 80202, 303-477-1447
Call it hyperlocal sourcing: rest- aurant cofounders Alex Seidel and Paul Attardi opened the ten-acre Fruition Farm in Larkspur, Colorado, to grow ingredients for their menu of inventive comfort food—and to craft cheese. (Former sous-chef Jim Warren is now partner, shepherd, and cheesemaker at the creamery and aging cave.) Chef Seidel creates one thoughtfully composed dessert featuring a single farmstead offering, such as his buttery, bloomy-rind Shepherd’s Halo with savory thyme and brioche French toast, pickled rhubarb, and roasted golden beet and marinated fennel salad. Who craves crackers when faced with an artful finale of fresh-off-the-farm cheese, olive oil–pistachio cake, blood orange marmalade, and mâche salad? Not us.
Fruition, 1313 E. Sixth Avenue, Denver, CO 80218, 303-831-1962
Choose cheese at this intimate 55- seat candlelit trattoria and you may feel swept away to Sicily. Superstar restaurateur Frank Bonanno (who also curates cheese programs at Osteria Marco and Mizuna) is passionate about his homeland— and curds. House-made ricotta and mozzarella pulled fresh every morning stand up to selections straight from Italy: Robiola, Taleggio, and Gorgonzola dolce, plus gems such as Capra Stagionata in Foglia, a raw goat’s milk wheel wrapped in chestnut leaves, and Pecorino Ginepro, a sheep’s and cow’s milk cheese soaked in red wine and juniper, served with orange marmalade, fig mostarda, and pickled cipollini onions. A “sucker for burrata,” Bonanno pairs his with cured Arctic char, Uruguay caviar, and toast points made from a freshly baked semolina loaf.
Luca D’Italia, 711 Grant Street Denver, CO 80203, 303-832-6600
An ever-changing cheese plate at this sleek Mediterranean spot in the LoDo district usually offers a quartet of imports with simple, satisfying accompaniments: Torta Peghera with apple chips; Pecorino Foglie de Noce with toasted walnuts and Castelvetrano olives; rich and creamy Toma Blu di Lanzo laced with orange marmalade; and Bûche du Poitou with sweet pear jam. Save room for a main dish of chef Jennifer Jasinski’s handmade hazelnut ravioli stuffed with ricotta and queso de mano mousse.
Rioja, 1431 Larimer Street Denver, CO 80202, 303-820-2282
Solera Restaurant & Bar
Turophiles will find a kindred spirit in chef-owner Goose Sorensen, who rotates 15 to 20 cheeses on his Spanish tapas menu as often as he changes chef’s whites. The Wisconsin Cheese Board ambassador thrills to introduce diners to the charms of Carr Valley, Widmer’s, and Crave Brothers; he paired Roelli’s Red Rock, a funky white aged cheddar inoculated with blue veins, with sour cherries pickled last year. (Sorensen roasts Marcona almonds and makes membrillo, too.) Sorensen’s dessert of choice? Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue with a snifter of Bulleit Bourbon and a scoop of vanilla bean from Ice Cream Alchemy in Boulder. Soon, “a sushi-style menu of cheese” might lead diners to check off choices from as far away as Tasmania, New Zealand, and Australia.
Solera Restaurant & Wine Bar, 5410 E. Colfax Avenue Denver, CO 80220, 303-388-8429
When this farm-to-table restaurant, revered in Boulder since 2004, opened in the LoDo district this past spring, foodies and farmers celebrated. The Denver location’s restrained cheese platter has featured culture favorites from home and abroad, such as Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog at its spring peak, with candied almonds, and French Fourme d’Ambert blue with local honey—but if Boulder is any indication, an expanded menu of more obscure offerings, such as Dutch-import Ewephoria, awaits. Colorado-grown ingredients reign supreme at this community-minded joint, such as Haystack Mountain chèvre atop roasted beet salad, and breads by Udi’s Artisan Bakeries, apt vehicles for bruschetta of Gioia burrata and anchovy tapenade.
The Kitchen, 1530 16th Street, Denver, CO 80202, 303-623-3127
View Denver, Colorado in a larger map
Written by Amanda Rae Busch
Photographed by Barry Gutierrez