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When I moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1991, I couldn’t understand why LA seemed so lacking when it came to gourmet provisions, including serious cheese. The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills was the exception, but it was beyond my grad student budget; I couldn’t find much else.

Twenty years later everything’s changed. Neighborhoods throughout the city have their own cheesemongers. High-end restaurants have dedicated cheese bars and amazing plates but also feature gussied-up grilled cheese sandwiches. Though some LA food experts swear cheese hasn’t yet captured the local imagination, my recent cheese-focused return convinced me otherwise. What follows is a decidedly personal guide to places that wowed me on a recent curd crawl. To enjoy this bonanza I recommend working your way from one side of the city to the other to minimize traffic frustrations; the places I visited are listed loosely from west to east. On the other hand, if you stock provisions in your car—say, a baguette and some amazing bloomy rind—the gridlock might not seem so bad.

Master Mongers

Andrew’s Cheese Shop

Andrew Steiner opened his eponymous store in 2008, after years masterminding the cheese program at one of Los Angeles’s finest restaurants, Patina. The opinionated monger stocks an eclectic selection of cheeses, mostly international. Highlights include Bleu de Termignon, made by an elderly cheesemaker in the French Alps who produces just 35 wheels each year from the milk of her nine Abondance cows; Andrew can’t bear to waste even a morsel. “There are cheeses I get so attached to I get afraid to have people try them,” he admits. Indeed, some are so precious they’re hidden in a back cooler; be sure to ask for the Seguin family’s mild, earthy Grands Causses, which Steiner describes as “perhaps the greatest sheep’s milk cheese I have ever tasted.” Andrew’s offers classes (“Cheese 101”) and grilled cheese and beer nights. He carries a selection of wine and beer, breads, artisanal chocolates, and condiments. The shop has no seating but sells sandwiches to go.

Andrew’s Cheese Shop 728 Montana Avenue Santa Monica, CA 90403 310.393.3308

Wally’s Cheese Box

Piles of cheese at Wally's

Part of the international cheese selection at Wally’s

Wally’s has been selling wine in Westwood since 1968 but opened its freestanding cheese shop just last year. Cheesemonger Jenny Knotts offers a carefully curated selection of domestic and imported cheese, with a special focus on hard-to-find cheeses, such as those made by Barbara Backus at Napa Valley’s Goat’s Leap Cheese. Her case displays around 200 cheeses and changes all the time. The day I visited, assistant monger Sophie Mosgrove highlighted a small-production Marzolino, a cow and sheep’s milk blend from Italy, its rind rubbed with tomato. The Cheese Box sells sandwiches to go and has an outstanding selection of artisanal condiments and rare small-production chocolates. Wine staff are trained in cheese to help facilitate excellent pairings.

Wally’s Cheese Box 2107 Westwood Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90025 310.475.0606 888.9.WALLYS

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills

Norbert Wabnig’s beautiful shop, arguably LA’s top cheese destination, reflects his meticulous and joyful approach to selling cheese. Wabnig bought the shop (open since 1967) in 1978. He has a particular affection for sheep’s milk cheeses, and he parried my first request for something special with earthy Basque-style Txiki from northern California’s Barinaga Ranch, then an exotic imported Pecorino wrapped in olive leaves and packed in a terra cotta jar. Beyond sheep, he steered me toward Grevenbroecker, a knockout Belgian blue. On a different day, he’s quick to note, he might pick something else. While most of the Cheese Store’s epic inventory (around 600 cheeses) is European, Wabnig describes his selection of American artisanal cheese as “ever expanding.” He also sells a top-notch selection of wines and condiments, as well as custom made cheese-aging cabinets to take home. Curiosity goes hand in hand with pleasure, says Wabnig. “It isn’t just about cheese; it’s about a lifestyle of enjoyment: cheese, wine, olive oils. It’s a constant adventure.”

Beverly Hills Cheese Store Staff

The hands-on staff at The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, including owner Norbert Wabnig (far right)

The Cheese Store of Beverly Hills 419 N. Beverly Drive Beverly Hills, CA 90210 310.278.2855 800.547.1515

Surfas Culinary District

Twenty years ago Surfas, a family owned restaurant supply wholesaler with a (then) tiny retail shop, was unknown to all but professional cooks and hardcore amateurs. A recent expansion made room for a café and a massive selection of ingredients and equipment. David Rozansky, who presides over its in-house cheese shop, has an easy laugh and an eclectic background— he’s worked as a chef, as a sommelier, and in a dairy in Israel. He loves fresh chèvres and washed rind cheeses, such as Meadow Creek Dairy’s Grayson. Laughing, Rozansky says that he’s not afraid to admit he loves flavored cheeses as well, like English Harlech Horseradish and Beemster Gouda flavored with fresh wasabi juice. He also stocks beautiful charcuterie, such as lomo and jamón serrano; wines for pairing; and such serving equipment as knives and boards.

Surfas 8777 Washington Boulevard Culver City, CA 90232 310.559.4770 866.799.4770 surfasonline.com

The Cheese Store of Silverlake

With a focus on finding new, artisanal products, the Cheese Store of Silverlake is a perfect fit for its hip, artistic neighborhood. Owner Chris Pollan spent 25 years working in the music business as a tour manager before learning cheese on the job at the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills, and then striking out on his own in 2001. Pollan offers a range of domestic and international product. He and fellow monger Leah Park Fiero have vetted a diverse group of hard-to-find favorites, including Swiss Andeerer Traum, a Gruyère-style raw cow’s milk cheese; biochemist-turned-cheesemaker Soyoung Scanlan’s Andante cheeses; and popular Stracchino, a creamy Italian classic made right in Los Angeles. Pollan is passionate about supporting American producers. This is reflected not just in his cheese case but also in the selection of wines, olive oils, and condiments that line the shop’s high shelves. “More and more,” he smiles, “I like to support the home team.”

The Cheese Store of Silverlake 3926-28 West Sunset Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90029 323.644.7511 877.644.7511

Block Busters

Bay Cities Italian Deli

This deli and market, renowned for its overflowing sub sandwiches, has been open since 1925 and is packed at lunch, every day. On Thursdays it offers one of LA’s best traditional mac ’n’ cheeses, with a crunchy, garlicky top and a perfectly gooey mix of cheeses.

Bay Cities Italian Deli 1517 Lincoln Boulevard Santa Monica, CA 90401 310.395.8279

Food Truck Frenzy

Grilled Cheese Food Truck

Hungry Angelinos line up by the Grilled Cheese Truck

Los Angeles’s streets are full of food trucks, some great, others best forgotten> A good selection appears at Venice’s “First Fridays” street fair/mob scene held on Abbey Kinney Boulevard the first Friday night of every month. Cheese lovers should investigate the Grilled Cheese Truck, the Poutine Truck, or Frysmith, which offers a range of cheese fries, including a bizarrely fantastic kimchi version.
Venice First Fridays First Friday of every month, 5–10 p.m. (roughly), food trucks congregate in the parking lot of the Brig. 1515 Abbot Kinney Boulevard Venice, CA 90291

Pupusas

The Latin American answer to grilled cheese, El Salvadoran pupusas are flat cakes of corn masa filled with mild white cheese (meat and vegetables are also options) and griddled until crisp outside, melty within. They’re served with a light tomato salsa and curbito, a typically spicy cabbage slaw. Two favorite places to indulge on a budget are La Pupusa Loca, a family joint in a Hollywood strip mall, and Delmy’s Pupusas, a stand within the Sunday- morning Hollywood Farmers’ Market.

La Pupusa Loca 5716 Santa Monica Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90038 323.957.2967

Farmers’ Markets

Farmers’ markets operate throughout Los Angeles. Santa Monica’s Saturday market features Jersey cow’s milk cheeses from Spring Hill Cheese Company in Petaluma, California. On Sundays, Julian and Carol Pearce of Soledad Goats sell at the Hollywood Farmers’ Market. Their lavender and lemon fresh goat cheese is outstanding. Also on Sundays the Larchmont Farmers Market has mobile monger Laurent Bonjour. The ebullient Frenchman (unmistakable in his giant hat) sells an improbable range of cheese from his tiny, super efficient truck.

Hollywood Farmers’ Market Sunday 8:00 a.m.–1:00 p.m. Ivar Avenue (between Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard) and Selma Avenue (between Vine Street and Cahuenga Boulevard)

Delmy’s pupusas usually on Selma, west of Ivar, at the intersection of Cosmo Street.

Soledad Goats is usually at the intersection of Selma and Ivar.

Santa Monica Downtown Farmers Market Saturday 8:30 a.m.–1:00 p.m. Arizona Avenue (between 4th and 2nd Streets) Wednesday 8:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m. Arizona Avenue, (between 4th and Ocean)

Larchmont Farmers Market Sunday 10:00 a.m.–2:00 p.m. 209 Larchmont Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90004 South of Beverly Boulevard, in the parking lot on the west side of the street

Laurent Bonjour is usually at the northern end of the market. 310.678.6898

Restaurant Hits

Mélisse

Reviewers often pick Josiah Citrin’s Mélisse as the home of Los Angeles’s best cheese cart; it’s also known for its pricey tagliatelle with Parmesan foam and white truffles (only available in season).
Mélisse 1104 Wilshire Boulevard Santa Monica, CA 90401 310.395.0881

The Tasting Kitchen

Andrew Steiner of Andrew’s Cheese Shop provides the cheeses for this arty Venice restaurant run by expatriated Portland, Oregon, chef Casey Lane. On a recent menu, choices tended toward European cow’s milk cheeses, many from the UK.
The Tasting Kitchen 1633 Abbot Kinney Boulevard Venice, CA 90291 310.392.6644

Comme Ça

Chef David Myer’s West Hollywood brasserie serves a great combination of Hollywood scene and comfort food. Killer mac and cheese and deservedly famous cheeseburgers are both made with artisanal domestic cheddar; fromagier Anthony Tyser puts together a solid “5 for $25” cheese plate.

Interior of Campanile

The dining room at Campanile

Comme Ça 8479 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90069 323.782.1104

Campanile

Chefs Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton get credit for starting LA’s grilled cheese craze with grilled cheese nights (every Thursday) at this Italian institution. Peel now runs the show (Silverton operates Mozza), and his menu offers different options according to the season; my pick is the classic with grilled onions and whole-grain mustard.

Campanile 624 S. La Brea Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036 323.938.1447

Cube Cafe, Cheese Bar & Marketplace

The strange signage on the street doesn’t give a clue to the elegant and hip interior of this restaurant. At tables and at the bar, Cube serves a thoughtful selection of domestic and international cheeses. Try the Cheesemonger’s Choice plate with cheeses, salumi, and condiments. Paired with a couple of salads, this was more lunch than a hungry friend and I could finish.

Cube Café, Cheese Bar & Marketplace 615 N. La Brea Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036 323.939.1148

The Foundry on Melrose

Chef Eric Greenspan packs in customers for the food and the scene at his Melrose Avenue hot spot. He offers a bombshell of a grilled cheese sandwich made with taleggio, apricot-caper puree, and, if you like, short ribs; it was a winner at the 2008 Grilled Cheese Invitational.

The Foundry on Melrose 7465 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90046, 323.651.0915

Mozza

Angelenos just call it “Mozza,” but the joint venture of restaurateurs Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joseph Bastianich is really two restaurants. Pizzeria Mozza is next door to the much fancier (and pricier) Osteria Mozza, with its now-famous mozzarella bar. Both offer many cheese tastes, using a range of house-produced and imported cheeses, and the Pizzeria is a great option for late-night dining (hard to find in Los Angeles).

Pizzeria Mozza 641 N. Highland Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90036 323.297.0101

Osteria Mozza 6602 Melrose Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90038 323.297.0100

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