Like sommeliers discussing '95 Petrus, cheesemongers weigh in on Appenzeller with a deep level of flavor knowledge, an authority that translates to sandwiches. That’s why LA cheese shops have become my new sandwich temples.
A good cheese shop puts thought into which protein, spread, or vegetable pairs well with any given cheese on a sandwich, even a strong blue (think Asian pear and honey). "Our whole point is to complement the cheese," says Maggie Ehler, one of the cheesemongers and managers of The Cheese Store of Silverlake. It's all about finding the right notes, and knowing when to show restraint.
The Cheese Store assembles its rotating set of sandwiches ($8) on ciabatta from Bread Lounge. The large air pockets keep the bread pliant over time, so no worries about short shelf life.
The other day they offered pastrami with sauerkraut, Gruyère, Dijon, and pickles, which gave the illusion of a Reuben. "What's nice about the cheese is that it has a nutty quality to it, and a lot of floral undertones, which works well with the vinegary sauerkraut." The faux-Reuben ended up with a balance of acid, nuttiness, and spice. Other days they'll pair veggies (cucumber, say, with red onion, tomato, and avocado) with chèvre. And the muffuletta is a standout.
Andrew's Cheese Shop in Santa Monica serves some really ambitious sandwiches. Here you can find the beloved salmon sandwich, an ode to owner Andrew Steiner's former Sunday lox and bagel tradition in New York City. The salmon is cured in-house, combined with house-made pesto, capers, red bells, and crème fraîche from Vermont Creamery to give it a hint of bagel-and-schmear.
With the PLT, Steiner replaces the bacon with thick and juicy pancetta from Zoe's Meats in Northern California. It comes with romaine dipped in blue cheese. He’s also experimenting with Cowgirl Creamery’s St. George, a cheese with cheddar characteristics and a mustard flavor, pairing it with smoked turkey and tarragon aioli.
(Andrew's has some cool cheeses to check out too, including one I couldn't wrap my mind around: Grise des Volcans, a grayish raw-milk cheese from Southern France with flavors of shellfish, butter, black licorice, and ham. Whoa.)
At Cheese Cave in Claremont, Marnie Clarke offers affordable sandwiches ($6) that switch daily, simpler than the ones at Andrew's. "A flavorful, handmade cheese gives you a sense of eating a delicious protein," Clarke says. Sandwiches are on Vietnamese-style baguettes, crunchy but not too dense or hard. One featured Roncal, a sheep's-milk cheese from Spain similar to Manchego. The bread was buttered, and the cheese was topped with arugula and olive-oily artichoke tapenade. "The artichoke spread has a zesty quality,” Clarke says, “and pairs well with a cheese that's a little bit sharp and with a drier consistency."
Back in December, Marnie's sister Lydia opened a shop and lunch counter called DTLA Cheese at the bustling Grand Central Market, which just goes to show the transformation local cheese shops have experienced. The funk of artisanal cheeses and a good cheese sandwich are now right at home with the smoke from brisket at Horse Thief BBQ and the sound of pounding cleavers chopping carnitas at Tacos Tumbras a Tomas, all in the same vicinity. You've got to love it.
The Cheese Store of Silverlake [Silver Lake]
3926 W. Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles
Andrew's Cheese Shop [Santa Monica]
728 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica
Cheese Cave [Claremont]
325 Yale Avenue, Claremont
DTLA Cheese at Grand Central Market [Downtown]
Stalls A7-A8, 317 S. Broadway #45, Los Angeles
No phone available
Photo by Justin Bolois