September 17, 2014

Dining

Restaurants Making Cheese a Featured Attraction

Chris Sherman | 4/1/2010
Opus 39
Point Reyes blue cheese with roasted black
mission fig and greens served up at Opus 39
in St. Augustine.

Countries and regions have made infinite kinds of cheeses since learning to herd and milk cows, goats and sheep and have made those cheeses a part of daily eating and big celebrations. When U.S. travelers return from France, Italy, Spain and Argentina, they remember with fondness the grand cheeses with great smells, nutty tastes — and textures that range from marble to almost liquid.

Some Florida restaurants are now making cheese a featured attraction.

  • At Opus 39 in St. Augustine, the star one night could be an aged mold-ripened goat cheese from Nettle Meadow goat dairy in upstate New York, perked up with a walnut-cherry confit and a crust of panettone.
  • At Tastings, its sister tapas bar, there’s certain to be a proud Manchego from Spain
  • At Sea Salt, Naples diners pick from a list that runs from luscious Italian Taleggio to a Wisconsin bucheron.
  • At Michael’s Genuine in Miami’s Design District, there’s a cheese of the week, perhaps Montegrappa, a nutty aged cheese from northeast Italy, served with honey and raisin bread.
  • Under the white umbrellas of Wish on South Beach, a selection of imported cheeses is the priciest treat after dinner.
  • At Tampa’s Bern’s Steak House, more than 50 cheeses are stored in its kitchens, sold through its wine store and paraded at SideBern’s for a new crowd of fromage fans.
Serving cheese is a challenge in Florida’s tropical climate. Since it can’t be left out too long, it often stays in the fridge, gets too cold and ends up being hard and lifeless when served. Cheese-savvy waiters and chefs know flavors and textures need 20 to 30 minutes to revive. “Our servers put the cheese order in first so it can be sliced’’ and then held before serving, says Kira Jefferson of SideBern’s.

Cheese-Only Shops
  • Bodega Blue, Vero Beach
  • C’est Cheese, Sarasota
  • The Cheese Shop on Park, Winter Park
  • The Cheese Course, Weston, Miami
  • Restaurants with a Good Selection of Cheeses
  • Sea Salt, Naples
  • SideBern’s, Tampa
  • Bern’s, Tampa
  • Pelagia Trattoria, Tampa
  • Opus 39, St. Augustine
  • Fratelli Lyon, Miami
  • Wish, South Beach
  • Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami
  • Groceries and Delis with Great Cheeses
  • Whole Foods, 16 locations around the state
  • Mazzaro, St. Petersburg
  • With what? Not just apples and grapes; more chefs now pair cheese with simple olives, quince pastes, trendy Marcona almonds, salumi, preserves and mustards. Or they invent compositions like SideBern’s Chad Johnson did for Asher Blue from Sweetgrass: poppyseed toast, pineapple, pepper and Spanish serrano ham.

    Also feeding and leading Florida’s cheese hunger are a growing group of cheese-centric places where you can shop or eat from a list of dozens of import and U.S.-made cheeses.

    Two former Ritz-Carlton chefs in Vero Beach, Lynne Persinger and Jeff McKinney opened Bodega Blue six years ago after an extended stay in northern California. They have built up a big inventory from cheesemakers in the eastern U.S.

    The foremost Florida cheesemonger may be Caroline Hostettler, a young Swiss who came to the U.S. in 1998 peddling handmade Emmenthalers and Gruyeres of Switzerland’s Rolf Beeler to Manhattan chefs like David Bouley and Mario Batali.

    She eventually moved the wholesale business to Fort Myers and two years ago went retail, opening 55 Degrees Cool Wine and Cheese with 300 wines and almost as many cheeses and took them on the road to farmers markets.

    Someone did move the cheese. Lucky us.

    Mazzaro Cheese Mazzaro in St. Petersburg sells more than 300 varieties of cheese from around the world.

    Tags: Dining & Travel

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