Left Coast Cheese – A Monger’s Visit to LA’s Grand Central Market

LACheese

After 17 years of living in NYC, I am an unabashed New Yorker. The schlepping, the running around, the wonderfully frenetic hum of this insane city contents my soul. I’ve had the chance to visit LA several times, and though this midwestern transplant turned New Yorker could never live there, the city (especially in February!) has its charms.

This past weekend I had the chance to visit LA and poke around some of its cheesy corners – mainly in the form of DTLA Cheese in downtown’s Grand Central Market. Owners Lydia and Marnie Clarke opened their stall at Grand Central in 2013, building on the success of their first shop The Cheese Cave in historic Claremont village, which they launched in 2010. The Grand Central Market is a destination near and dear to my heart – I seek out all markets first and foremost among tourist destinations when traveling. In the middle of the up-and-coming yet still dingy and sparse downtown area of Los Angeles, it is an anomalous hive buzzing with caloric activity.

DTLA has an international coterie of cheeses, but their Cali selection is particularly strong. Marnie sits on the board of the California Cheese Guild, and both she and her sister are ardent supporters of California’s artisan cheesemaking community. Standing behind the counter tasting cheese with Lydia was like a cheesemonger’s right of passage – when fellow cheese folks come to visit our shop in the Essex Market, I often keep them there noshing and talking for far longer than they had anticipated staying. There is just so much cheesy goodness coming out of the northeast that doesn’t make its way out of the region – I have to share it all with my cheesy compadres so that they can get to know some of our weird and wonderful wheels, tommes, and loaves of curd.

Lydia’s selections were sublime – she took our tastebuds on a tour of the Golden State starting with a stop at Central Coast Creamery. Their Bishops Peak, a raw cows’ milk cheese aged for 8 months, was a sharp and butterscotchy mouthful – toothsome, aged, and wonderfully full flavored. When Marnie and Lydia tasted this cheese, they were bowled over – and promptly bought the only 19 wheels that the cheesemaker had. He’s currently making more, which when mature will grace the shelves of DTLA and the Cheese Cave. We then took a stop at Bellwether Farms for a taste of Blackstone – a young mixed milk cheese whose black exterior was rubbed with a cocktail of rosemary, peppercorns, vegetable ash, and olive oil, and whose interior was studded with Peppercorns. Then because I couldn’t resist – we picked up a butter-filled bomb of ripe Mt Tam from Cowgirl Creamery. When cut open, it unleashed a veritable tidal wave of pale yellow, puddling-like buttercream paste. And schmearing it on a crusty chunk of baguette under the warm floral-scented Angelino sunset, I was in cheesemonger’s heaven.

In the almost 10 years of Saxelby Cheesemongers’ existence, the number of artisan cheesemakers in the United States has ballooned exponentially. Many of the makers that we select and purchase cheese from were not in business when we began, and that refrain rings true throughout the rest of the country. Traveling to far flung cheese locales in America yields regional delights equivalent with what one would expect from Europe. You just have to know a monger to ask…

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