Las Vegas Sun

December 19, 2014

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Can we have some cheese, please?

What's a cheese lover to do?

Las Vegas has several stores that stock good cheeses. But we have nothing to compare with the Cheese Shop, in Beverly Hills, or the Pasta Shop, in Oakland, where a wondrous variety of ripe cheeses great and small from all points around the globe await hungry cheese enthusiasts.

So the chances of your spouse angrily removing that powerfully musky raw milk Reblochon, or stingingly overripe Alsatian Munster from the fridge are miniscule for cheese lovers who reside here. Those cheeses, and many more like them, are not sold here.

Instead, we have to content ourselves with boutique cheeses from small producers wherever we find them. Or a small selection of raw milk cheeses -- in other words, cheeses made from Grade B milk, which is nonpasteurized, but must be aged at least 60 days, to conform with National Food and Drug Administration standards.

Jim Hogan of Environmental Health, in the Nevada State Health Division in Carson City, explains further: "Cheeses sold commercially are regulated by County Health, through periodic inspections." He goes on to say how all commercially sold cheeses made from Grade B milk are subjected to rigorous finished products testing, for potentially lethal bacteria such as listeria, salmonella and e-coli.

A visit to several local stores yielded a few surprises, good and bad.

The logical place to start was a local supermarket, since that is where the overwhelming majority of us do our shopping. Paula Heatwole is Deli Service Manager at the Vons on Windmill and Pecos. She says that all cheeses that her market sells are ordered by Vons corporate offices in El Monte, Calif., and a search of her stock revealed that the store sells no raw milk or nonpasteurized cheeses whatsoever.

There was, however, a nice Gruyere imported from Switzerland, sold at $8.99 per pound, a delicious hickory smoked Butterkase at $10.99 per pound, an Italian imported pecorino, or sheep's cheese, for $13.99 per pound, and a few other interesting choices: Laura Chenel's Sonoma County goat cheese, a Danish Havarti and a nice Double Gloucester, to name just three.

From there, it was on to Costco, a place reputed to have lots of cheese. This turns out not to be the case; the choices are relatively few. Prices here, however, do live up to what one expects from a membership store. They are low.

Costco sells Norwegian Jarlsberg skim milk cheese, which has a nice, nutty flavor and a color that resembles a Swiss cheese, for only $4.59 per pound, lower than anyone else in town. Paper-wrapped Dubliner, a semi-hard, wonderfully flavored and nicely pungent Irish cheese, is $4.59 per pound, a terrific price.

Cacique queso fresco, two wet, milky 16-ounce pieces wrapped in plastic bubbles, are only $6.99 for the two. If this sounds too good to be true, it is. Many of the plastic bubbles seemed to have sprung a slight leak.

Wild Oats Market is another good place to stop for cheese. The new store on Stephanie and Warm Springs has just opened, and the managers at the old store on Flamingo Road insisted that the cheese selection in the chain's newest store will be bigger than ever.

At the Flamingo Road store, though, (now closed) there was that same Dubliner Irish cheese for $7.49 per pound, far pricier than the same cheese at Costco, and Organic Valley raw milk cheese, produced without hormones, antibiotics or pesticides, at $4.79 for only eight ounces.

The store also had Cappello braided mozzarella, a pasteurized cheese marinated in olive oil, garlic, red pepper, parsley and salt. It's tasty, but what wouldn't be with all these additional ingredients? Oh, and yes, this cheese is kosher for Passover.

Village Meat and Wine, at 5025 S. Eastern Ave., is one more interesting option. This is a wonderful little store owned by a charming couple named Tim and Chemaine Jensen. Tim is a trained butcher, and the specialties here are prime Angus beef, Shelton Farms poultry and a variety of homemade sausage.

But the Jensens also keep a handful of good boutique cheeses around, and a stop here is practically a must for serious cheese eaters. This is probably the only place in town for the delectable Old Country Store White Cheddar from Woodstock, Vt., a cheese which many would say puts Tilamook to shame. The cheese is $9.95 per pound, and you'd better buy it soon. "Old Country doesn't like to ship their cheese to Nevada when it gets hot," Jensen says.

Here you will also find an authentic Roquefort from central France, $15 per pound, a good English cheese called Stilchester, from Surrey, Saga blue, a Canadian goat cheese, and Huntsman's cheese, a layered combination of two English cheeses, Stilton and Cheddar, at $9.95 per pound. But what you won't find here anymore is Iowa's Maytag Blue. "I got all my customers hooked on it, and now I can't get it anymore," Jensen laments. Perhaps later.

Every day is a winding cheese road, but all roads here lead, eventually, to Trader Joe's. The Trader has the biggest, best, and most reasonably priced selection in town, usually around three dozen. The only downside is that this store is so dynamic that you'll never be quite sure just what will be on hand.

At the Sunset store, there was a selection to make a cheesehead sing. Cabot Vermont cheddar, $3.99 per pound, and Bellwether Farms fresh farmer's cheese and fromage blanc, $2.69 for 7.5 ounces.

Smoked gouda from Holland, a measly $2.99 per pound. The hard, pungent, ideal for grating or eating Spanish cheese Manchego, $6.99 per pound. And miracle of miracles, actual raw milk cheeses from France and Switzerland, Morbier, only $5.59 per pound and Raclette, $5.79 per pound.

If this doesn't totally satiate your appetite for raw milk cheeses, there is one more option. Go to the website www.fromages.com, and you'll find a wealth of seasonally produced, raw milk cheeses from France, at top dollar prices.

Arriving at my door in two days, from UPS, were five cheeses, each of them beautifully wrapped in foil and wax paper, surrounded by bubble wrap and kept properly cool. One of these cheeses was that sought-after Reblochon, just ripening, another a triple cream St. Andre, so soft it could be eaten with a spoon.

The cost, more than $90, for what amounted to less than one kilo of cheese, all told. What's more, these are cheeses that may not even have been subjected to that same rigorous testing that the cheeses on local shelves get with regularity. FDA spokeswoman Ruth Welch implies that the waters get muddy when it comes to personal consumption.

You could make enough grilled cheese sandwiches to feed a small army for that kind of scratch, if you spent it at Trader Joe's.

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