As sisters who grew up in a progressive Southern California dairy family, we weren’t your typical kids. We were the weird students at school who were asked to leave our stinky (cheese-containing) lunches in the hall and had to explain to classmates why we drank raw milk and ate homemade yogurt. One of our greatest joys was convincing skeptical friends to give uncommon cheeses a chance.
Now that we have a shop called Cheese Cave in our hometown of Claremont, California, and a brand new stall called DTLA Cheese opening this fall in downtown Los Angeles’s historic Grand Central Market, it is our goal and delight to introduce more people to great cheeses. It’s a wonderful feeling to see the “cheese light” ignite in a customer who claims to be “not really a cheese person.”
Here are our recommendations for the newly cheese-curious or the cheese-hesitant, a few “gateway cheeses.” We hope these picks will inspire—or confirm—a lifelong love of cheese.
- Maker: Gioia Cheese Company
- Origin: South El Monte, Calif.
- Milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk
- Rennet: Microbial
Burrata is essentially a thin pouch of hand-pulled mozzarella containing curd with a touch of cream. It’s wildly satisfying, with a sweet, milky, tender mouthfeel. This cheese is not meant to be saved; the fresher the burrata, the better, so look for a local maker when selecting your ball of joy. Cheese Cave is lucky to be just minutes away from Gioia (which means joy in Italian!), so we order Gioia’s burrata fresh each week. If you have trouble tracking down Gioia’s burrata, look for versions made by Vermont’s Maplebrook Farm or Wisconsin’s BelGioioso.
- Maker: Various
- Origin: Navarra, Spain
- Milk: Raw sheep’s milk
- Rennet: Animal
To us, Idiazábal is like the summer cookout that you never want to end. Made from sheep’s milk, it has more protein and butterfat than cheeses made from either cow’s or goat’s milk. At room temperature, its surface glistens, and it tastes subtly smoky, like a warm, glowing bonfire. A DOP (name-protected) cheese, Idiazábal is made in the Basque region of northern Spain. It was traditionally stored near nightly fires, which explains its porky, smoky flavor.
3. Honey Bee Goat Cheese
- Maker: Cheeseland Inc.
- Origin: Holland
- Milk: Pasteurized goat’s milk
- Rennet: Vegetarian
So you think you don’t like goat cheese? Give this convivial guy a try! The gouda-style Honey Bee Goat Cheese is just as approachable as it sounds! It’s more sweet than tangy, thanks to the incorporation of honey into the recipe. This cheese can fit in at almost any occasion, whether it’s an after-school snack or a fancy pairing with your favorite apple cider. Honey Bee has a semi-firm, bone-white paste and a slightly smooth, chalky finish that makes you want to go back for more.
- Maker: Käserei Tufertschwil
- Origin: St. Gallen, Switzerland
- Milk: Raw cow’s milk
- Rennet: Animal
We have yet to meet someone across the counter who isn’t in love with the super-flavorful Chällerhocker at first bite. Walter Rass, who makes this Cheese Cave favorite, also makes the widely known Appenzeller, but Chällerhocker is his baby. It’s rich, creamy, and nutty. Its kooky-sounding name translates to “sitting in the cellar,” which it does for 10 months as it ages, gaining wonderful, tiny, crunchy crystals that seem to leap toward your teeth as you nosh on its toothsome paste.
Not to be mistaken for a pickled relish, Tabitha Stroup’s chow chow is a little different from typical takes on the Southern condiment. Imagine all your favorite cheese accessories (cherries, cranberries, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and more) suspended together in a glorious mix of wild Delk honey, vanilla, and bourbon.
A mother-son team crafts these crisps from local ingredients (one outpost of their business is in California, and another is in Wisconsin). Carrots add sweetness, while ginger gives refreshing flavor.
photographed by Andrew Purcell, styled by Carrie Purcell