So, I’m standing behind the counter of Venissimo, the Mission Hills cheese shop, sampling and photographing cheese and chatting with owner Gina Frieze when a slender young woman comes through the door clutching a piece of yellow paper. She looks prepared for disappointment but states her case. “I’m looking for a rare cheese,” she says. “It’s from
I laughed. Just half an hour before I had come in with a similar quest, only mine was for a gorgeously runny artisan cheese made by Bellwether Farms called Crescenza. I had been introduced to it many years ago at a cheese course I took at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in
What were the results? Well, Gina beamed when she told me that Venissimo does carry Crescenza but then she had to break the news that they didn’t have it at the moment. So, pleasure delayed, at least temporarily.
And, the young woman’s Reblochon? Success. Venissimo can’t carry the unpasteurized version that her mother-in-law would recognize, given
As for the Reblochon, we both sampled some and sighed. A creamy cheese, its herbal flavor comes first, followed by a nutty aftertaste. Reblochon literally translated means “to pinch a cow's udder again.” It comes from the Savoie region of
In the hour or so I spent at Venissimo on a Wednesday afternoon, customers flowed in almost continuously. And, Gina greeted almost all by name and knew what kinds of cheeses they were coming for, offering samples of others she thought they might enjoy.
It’s that kind of place. Around for three-and-a-half years, Venissimo is the result of a lifelong passion Gina has had for cheese, that comes from her Austrian mother and their family visits back to
On average, the shop carries 120 cheeses at any one time and has carried some 800 varieties in over three years. The shop also sells a variety of cheese implements—knives, planers, spreaders, cheese wrap paper, French paper leaves, cheese boards, flags and holders.
And, there are packages of crackers, jars of olives, tapenade, honey and jams. Gina also carries Bread & Cie breads, chocolates and little cakes—fig chocolate, date walnut and fig almond. It’s a picnic or cocktail party in the making all in one place.
And, what about the cheeses? You name it and she probably carries it. I tried a number of them and here’s just some of what I found:
Roaring Forties Blue from
Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar. Looks like any old cheddar, but this
Il Boschetto. This is Gina’s favorite. It’s well deserved. It’s a semi-soft cheese blending sheep and cow’s milk with, get this, white truffle shavings. In short, total decadence.
Cahill Porter. Visually gorgeous with flavor to match. From
Cathare. From Languedoc-Rous, this ash-covered goat cheese has that subtle tang you expect from a goat cheese, but with a richness that comes from aging. The “occitane” cross stamped on the top is a symbol of the
Mimolette. Another happy discovery for me since my first sight of it—and it’s a gorgeous pumpkin orange—was at a
Lemon Stilton. This is one of several fruit cheeses Venissimo carries. I also tried the Blueberry Stilton and Cranberry Wesleydale (similar to Stilton). Venissimo carries a popular Mango Stilton, but didn’t have it in that day. I ended up buying the Lemon Stilton with some ideas of how to use it. It’ll be perfect crumbled over an arugula salad with toasted walnuts and a lemon-olive oil dressing. Already I crumbled it on asparagus, which I had sautéed in olive oil and garlic and finished with lemon juice and toasted pine nuts. It was a great pairing. (Below, l to r, are the Blueberry Stilton, Lemon Stilton and Cranberry Wesleydale.)
Pecorino Foglie di Noci. Brushed in olive oil and wrapped in sheets of walnut leaves, this hearty cheese is great over pasta and Gina swoons with thoughts of it drizzled with honey. A crisp dry white Italian wine is the perfect pairing.
Speaking of pairing, when you buy cheese from Venissimo, save the register receipt. It is filled with information about the cheese, its provinence and food and wine pairing suggestions. Very smart. And, if you like, the store will keep track of your favorites and send you a newsletter and information about when they’re in stock.
Venissimo sells cheeses to restaurants like Café Chloe in downtown
Venissimo is located at 754 W.
Have some thoughts about Venissimo or other cheese purveyors in