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Cheese Plate: You Say Tomato


cheese plate with tomatoes

“When we taste tomatoes, we taste summer,” say Marnie and Lydia Clarke. Growing up in California, the siblings plucked the ambrosial orbs from backyard vines. Gardening has always been important to their family’s fabric, as have milk and cheese—the Clarkes spent their formative years visiting Alta-Dena Dairy in Southern California, owned by their grandfather, Harold Stueve, and his brothers from 1945 to 1989. So when the women opened their first shop together in 2010—Cheese Cave in Claremont, Calif.—it almost seemed predestined. The store stocks 150+ cheeses, plus natural wines, craft beers, accoutrements, and more, while the sisters’ second location, four-year-old DTLA Cheese in Los Angeles’ historic Grand Central Market, offers a more tightly edited selection of wheels and wedges. (The latter also has a quick-service kitchen under partner and chef Reed Herrick’s watch turning out salads, toasts, and—what else?—seasonal grilled cheeses.)

The Golden State is the country’s top tomato producer, and come warmer months, the Clarkes have pairing on the brain. “Cheese complements tomatoes because it curbs and rounds out the acidity,” Lydia says. “Tangy cheese gets your taste buds salivating, and a juicy ripe tomato comes in and quenches them.” Just ahead, their top tomato-curd pairings are the stuff of mid-summer night dreams.

cheese plate with tomatoes

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  • Origin: Paso Robles, Calif.
  • Milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk
 

“Let’s face it: The garnish on a bloody mary is just as important as the drink itself,” Marnie says. Adorn a bloody made from McClure’s peppery mix with speared cherry tomatoes and cubes of buttermilky Big Rock Blue for an enviable afternoon sipper.


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  • Origin: Ambasmestas, Spain
  • Milk: Pasteurized goat’s milk
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Pickled currant tomatoes

 

This ash-ripened log is fresh and tangy with a fluffy mouth-feel. “We love pairing that cooling flavor with the pop and bite of pickled currant tomatoes [made by DTLA Cheese chef Reed Herrick],” Marnie says. “The flavors complement each other while the textures contrast.”


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  • Origin: Valley Ford, Calif.
  • Milk: Raw cow’s milk
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Fried green tomatoes

 

Blend grated Estero Gold Reserve—a Montasio-style wedge aged around 18 months—into the fry batter coating to contrast the zesty snap of underripe tomatoes with roasted-pecan sweetness and a salty bite.


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  • Origin: Sonoma County, Calif.
  • Milk: Pasteurized cow’s milk
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Amen Heirloom Tomato Focaccia

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Nicole Rucker is the baking queen of Los Angeles, and her heirloom tomato focaccia is the perfect crust for a “pizza” topped with crisped slices of Charlitos Chorizo Seco and Crescenza in all its piquant, runny glory. “Totally crave-able,” Lydia says.


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  • Origin: Hélette, France
  • Milk: Pasteurized sheep’s milk
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Sqirl Shady Lady Tomato and Toasted Coriander Jam

 

Tomato jam can be sweet, but this Cali-made one is on the savory side. Match it with an aged Basque sheep’s milk wheel and the flavors will transport you to a picnic in the Pyrenees—the combo is “floral, herbal, and rich,” according to the sisters.

Courtney Hollands

Former editor Courtney Hollands came to culture with more than a decade of experience writing and editing for magazines, newspapers, and the web. She started her career as a small-town reporter and has covered everything from fashion and travel, to music and beer for Boston magazine, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, even Rolling Stone.