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Meet Me in St. Louis

St. Louis

You might be more inclined to head to the Gateway city for a beer jaunt than for a cheese-eating adventure. After all, locals have embraced their beer culture ever since Anheuser-Busch began brewing Budweiser here in the nineteenth century. For a long time, the only hometown cheese product was provel, a processed white loaf created for shredding atop St. Louis–style thin-crust pizzas. But now, with a recent influx of chefs committed to supporting local farmers, St. Louis has experienced a rebirth of its dining scene—with cheese playing a major role. The influence of artisanal cheese is evident not only in restaurants but also at metro-area farmers’ markets at which Missouri and Illinois cheesemakers sell their products. A crop of specialty shops also employs veteran cheesemongers who are happy to cut samples while discussing perfect pairings, including local beer. Don’t be surprised if a cheesemonger hands you an herb-rubbed goat cheese from nearby Baetje Farms and points you not to a Bud but to a farmhouse-style ale from one of the city’s award-winning craft breweries.

Cheese Shops and Farmers’ Markets

Clayton Farmer’s Market

People mill around tents in the street

Clayton Farmer’s Market

A small mix of urban and rural farmers congregate here on Saturday mornings from May through October. For a larger selection, go inside Straub’s market (the farmers’ market is held on Straub’s parking lot), which has more than 30 specialty cheeses at its counter. The grocer ships many of them, too, including (if you insist) Provel.

Clayton Farmer’s Market 8282 Forsyth Boulevard Clayton, MO 314.725.2121

Di Gregorio’s Market

A second-generation family grocery in the heart of St. Louis’ Italian-American Hill neighborhood, Di Gregorio’s stocks imported Italian kitchen staples, homemade pastas, and more. Especially popular are the beef- or cheese-stuffed ravioli, which are breaded, fried, and served with marinara sauce as a St. Louis favorite, known as “toasted ravioli.” There’s almost always a line of patrons at the deli counter waiting for ricotta salata, taleggio, and sheep’s milk caciocavallo, as well as for links of Dad’s Italian Salsiccia, a fresh, mild sausage made from a Di Gregorio family recipe.

Di Gregorio’s Market 5200 Daggett Avenue St. Louis, MO 314.776.1062

Maplewood Farmer’s Market

Fans of craft beer and slow food converge at this market on Wednesday evenings between April and November, staged on the parking lot of Schlafly Bottleworks, one of two brewpubs operated by the St. Louis Brewery, which makes a line of craft beers branded Schlafly. Shoppers stroll by the stalls while drinking beer, listening to live music, and sampling local cheese, chocolate, fruit, and honey. Schlafly also hosts occasional beer and cheese events at Bottle- works and its downtown Tap Room.

Maplewood Farmer’s Market 7260 Southwest Avenue Maplewood, MO 314.241.2337

Soulard Farmer’s Market

A man and woman behind a stand sell cheese.

Steve and Veronica Baetje, owners, Baetje Farms

Less than a mile south of downtown, the laid-back Soulard neighborhood is home to the oldest farmers’ market west of the Mississippi, open year-round Wednesday through Saturday. Dozens of vendors sell both local and out-of-state produce—look for the Mushroom Man stand for Missouri- foraged hen of the woods, oyster, and shiitake varieties. A handful of cheese vendors includes the Baetje Farms stand. Steve and Veronica Baetje produce artisan farmstead goat cheese in their 1912 barnyard in rural Bloomsdale, Missouri, about an hour’s drive south of St. Louis. Their goats drink spring water and, in the winter, warm organic tea. This pampering produces creamy-crumbly chèvres with a delightful tang, that pop up on the menus of most of the area’s best restaurants; some are available only at Baetje Farms’ market stands.

Soulard Farmer’s Market 730 Carroll Street St. Louis, MO 314.622.4180

Tower Grove Farmer’s Market

Tucked between grass tennis courts and an outdoor yoga class, this peaceful market is open Saturday mornings from May through the end of October. Highlights include grass- fed Missouri beef and lamb as well as fresh produce from within an hour’s drive. Stroll around Tower Grove Park while nibbling on goat cheese and fresh-baked bread with a cup of fair-trade coffee. Or head across the street to the lush Missouri Botanical Garden.

Tower Grove Farmer’s Market 4256 Magnolia Avenue St. Louis, MO 314.772.3899

The Wine and Cheese Place

It’s no secret when this beer, wine, and liquor store with three locations gets a new cheese that excites its friendly employees. That’s because manager Paul Hayden of the Clayton shop is quick to update in-the-know customers through the Wine and Cheese Place’s blog and Twitter feed. Hayden, a 20-year employee, knows the flavor characteristics of every cheese and libation in stock—and the stories behind them—so he’s the perfect guy to help you find the right pairing.

The Wine and Cheese Place 7435 Forsyth Boulevard Clayton, MO 314.727.8788

The Wine Merchant Ltd.

A man holds a LOT of cheese

Big Cheese at The Wine Merchant

Cheesemonger Simon Lehrer found his home behind the cheese counter here more than a decade ago and has built a reputation for sourcing both buzzworthy new releases from domestic producers and favorite standbys from Europe. Missouri producers Goatsbeard Farm and Heartland Creamery also find a place among the 250 cheeses at Lehrer’s counter. None of the cheese is shrink- wrapped, and it’s always available to sample, especially during the classes Lehrer teaches three nights a week. “We love helping people take their knowledge and enjoyment of cheese to the next level,” he says. Lehrer’s wife, Annie, keeps in touch with the cheese community through her blog, The Cheesemonger’s Wife. Simon says he’s looking forward to a sheep’s milk Camembert from Star Thrower Farm in Minnesota set for release in late spring.

The Wine Merchant Ltd. 20 S. Hanley Road Clayton, MO 314.863.6282

Eating Out

An American Place

Larry Forgione, long considered the godfather of American cuisine, ushered in a new era of chef-farmer relationships in St. Louis when he opened his outpost inside the downtown Renaissance Grand Hotel in late 2004. An appetizer plate of American farmstead cheeses ($14) rotates accord- ing to chef de cuisine—and St. Louis native—Nick McCormick’s tastes. The kitchen usually includes domestic cheese on its five-course tasting menu ($55), such as a recent “crispy” Wisconsin brie with spiced chutney and port reduction.

An American Place 822 Washington Avenue St. Louis, MO 314.418.5800

Eclipse

As the hip Delmar Loop part of town added music venues, bars, and shops, entrepreneur Joe Edwards realized the strip needed a hotel to fit the neighborhood’s eclectic vibe. Last year he built the Moonrise Hotel, which houses a whimsical first-floor restaurant called Eclipse and a rooftop bar with a ten-foot revolving moon. Eclipse sources its cheeses through Simon Lehrer at the Wine Merchant, and the restaurant’s chefs sometimes invite the cheesemonger to their monthly Full Moon Foodies Dinners. At a recent dinner, Lehrer brought a treat: local goat cheese whipped with mango honey and Scotch bonnet peppers. The group coined it the Goat Fireball.

Eclipse 6177 Delmar Boulevard St. Louis, MO 314.726.2222

Five Bistro

An empty dining room with an art deco painting of a woman

Five Bistro dining room

Fans of chef Anthony Devoti and his parents, Bonnie and Joe, who run the front of the house at their son’s restaurant, happily followed last year when the Devotis moved Five Bistro a few short miles from the Tower Grove neighborhood to the Hill. The talented young chef is committed to reworking his menu every day based on what’s available from area farmers, and he proudly gives them credit for their bounty on that night’s menu. His cheese list is one of the city’s best, highlighting a changing lineup of 15 or so domestic and foreign choices, priced at $9, $12, or $15 for generous cuts of two, three, or five cheeses, served with accoutrements. You’ll know when a cheese especially strikes Devoti’s fancy— he’ll incorporate it into a appetizer or entrée, like when he tops a mixed salad of local lettuces and radishes with Fromager d’Affinois and dresses it lightly with a lemon vinaigrette.

Five Bistro 5100 Daggett Avenue St. Louis, MO 314.773.5553

Niche

A chef stands against a wall

Niche’s Gerard Craft

After Food & Wine magazine named Niche chef-owner Gerard Craft a Best New Chef in 2008, he used the momentum to open two new restaurants in 2009: Taste, a small-plates spot, and the French-inspired Brasserie. All three are thriving, but you’ll most often find Craft at Niche, hopping between the dining room and kitchen. He likes to keep local goat cheeses on hand to toss onto composed salads or to whip up his own fromage blanc for an updated twist on a Bavarian dessert. You can’t go without noshing on an order of Dia’s Cheese Bread ($4)—meltingly warm, addictive morsels just like Craft’s grandmother Dia used to make.

Niche 1831 Sidney Street St. Louis, MO 314.773.7755

Terrene

This dark, sleek eatery is also St. Louis’s greenest—menus and tables are made from recycled materials and the kitchen offloads its used fryer oil to a local woman who uses it to power her biodiesel car. The sustainable-but-sophisticated atmosphere attracts grad students from nearby Washington University and environmentalist-minded citizens alike. The $13 cheese plate comes with a chunk of honeycomb and three artisanal offerings from domestic dairies, such as Appalachian, a Jersey cow’s milk cheese from Virginia’s Meadow Creek Dairy; Tomme de Brebis, a semi-firm, buttery, sheep’s milk cheese with a mold-specked rind from Vermont’s Hope Farm; and the Classic Blue Log goat cheese from Westfield Farm in Massachusetts.

Terrene 33 N. Sarah Street St. Louis, MO 314.535.5100

Tony’s

A St. Louis fine-dining institution, Tony’s excels at delicate, luxurious Italian food paired with an impressive wine list and molto attentive service. Fresh mozzarella salad with roasted red peppers and mascarpone-filled smoked salmon are popular antipasti dishes, and a cheese plate is often an apt segue from prime-aged beef to dessert on the chef’s five-course tasting menu for two ($105 each with wine, $90 each without).

Tony’s 410 Market Street St. Louis, MO 314.231.7007

Vin de Set

A waitress sets the table in a dark dining room

Dining room, Vin de Set

Besides offering one of the best views of the city from its trendy rooftop dining area and bar, Vin de Set’s French–New American menu includes a popular cheese program that allows guests to choose 2 of 11 cheeses for $12 (extra selections are $4 each), served with pickled Brussels sprouts, stone-ground mustard, and fruit jams. French wines are often complemented by a Spanish Manchego, English Sage Derby and Cotswold, and domestic blues.

Vin de Set 2017 Chouteau Avenue Lafayette Square St. Louis, MO 314.241.8989

Bars and Cafes

33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar

TVs and hot wings are absent in this joint; instead, friendly locals and a guy behind the bar—usually owner Jeff Stettner—help customers focus on a thoughtful selection of wines and draft beers. Of course, Stettner knows that great cheese elevates good wine and beer, so he offers a $9 cheese- and-cracker plate as the house snack. Like the wines he pours, Stettner’s cheeses are sourced mainly from Spain, France, and America, each with enough creamy smoothness to cut through crisp whites or adequately earthy funk to complement Belgian ales.

33 Wine Shop & Tasting Bar 1913 Park Avenue Lafayette Square St. Louis, MO 314.231.9464

Baileys’ Chocolate Bar

A dessert-and-drinks spot with a simple, fun menu it is, but that simple, fun menu also happens to take its cheeses very seriously. They’re split among three tiers, ranging from $7 to $10 à la carte or $4 to $7.50 for a plate of three or more. The middle category ($8 each; $6 each for three or more) offers the widest selection, from triple-cream Delice de Bourgogne to a nutty, crumbly Methuselah from Missouri’s Heartland Creamery. In the same category is a young, bright-orange Mimolette described on the menu as “the beer cheese,” as Baileys’ offers some excellent craft beers in addition to its selection of chocolate-focused drinks and martinis. Baileys’ Chocolate Bar Chocolate Ale, a wheat ale brewed locally by O’Fallon Brewery with real chocolate, is light and refreshing, pairing nicely with mildly funky cheese.

A bright red room

Baileys’ Chocolate Bar

Baileys’ Chocolate Bar 1915 Park Avenue Lafayette Square, St. Louis, MO 314.241.8100

Taste by Niche

Rising-star chef Gerard Craft opened this 18-seater next door to his critically acclaimed Niche in mid-2009. Home to an ever-revolving menu of crave- worthy small bites and top-shelf retro cocktails, Taste is one of the few places in St. Louis with a proper late-night cheese plate. For $8, pick three of five cheeses from a blackboard list updated nightly (accompaniments to these—poached pears or jam from local stone fruit—change just as often), including such options as Wisconsin’s barnyard-delicate Pleasant Ridge Reserve and a goat’s milk blue from Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy.

Taste by Niche 1831 Sidney Street St. Louis, MO 314.773.7755

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