Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica is a veritable wonderland for the cheese-obsessed (like Andrew Steiner himself), but a minefield of nightmares for the lactose-intolerant. Thankfully, we fall into the former category. Or at least we’re wannabe cheese-obsessed. We’ve had cheese. We enjoy cheese. So we went to the Cheese Man to delve deeper into dairy. The consensus? That place stinks! In the best way possible.
If you’d like to tag along on this little cheese adventure, read on. Vegans, avert your eyes. This is about to get real.
With a solid four years of press surrounding his successful shop, Andrew’s back story is pretty well known. Back when he was a server at Patina, it all started with a cart, a bunch of books and strong feelings for cheese. Innumerable wheels later, Andrew was named Maitre d’Fromage (Cheese Man for us laypeople), and the rest is history.
Being decidedly on the ‘novice’ side when it comes to cheese, we had some questions for Andrew. And if you’ve got holiday plans that call for fancy cheese, we even have some of his seasonal recommendations and tasting notes below.
When people come in and don’t know anything about cheese, where do you start? What’s a good entry-level cheese?
Well, usually I ask what they like, and most of the time the answer is, “I don’t know,” or they lead off with, “I really don’t like…” which is fine. I mean, it’s funny how many people think they do or don’t like something, but they don’t actually know. So if I’m really starting off with no information, I’ll have them try a mild cheese first, something rich and buttery, because those tend to be crowd-pleasers. It’s fun to get someone excited about something new or different. But it’s important to remember that the whole point is to enjoy what you’re eating. So when people come in and just ask for what my favorites are, I really encourage them to go through some samples. My taste could be totally different from their taste. You try some and find what you like. And then pair it with what appeals to you. It’s really pretty simple.
What about the other side of the coin? How do you deal with the folks who think they know it all?
They’re a little trickier. I’ve had people come in and tell me about some great cheese they had in France and they’re so sad when I tell them they can get that cheese at Von’s. Or someone will come in raving about a cheese and I’ll order a sample to try it, because I love it when I can learn something new. But it comes in and I’ll taste and it’s just terrible. Then these people will call me or come back in asking, “Hey, what did you think of the cheese?” or “So when are you going to start selling it?” and I have to tell them no. ‘No, I did not enjoy that,’ which is really the key factor.
Then what does it take to get you excited about stocking a new cheese? And how often does that happen these days?
There’s definitely a lot of tasting involved – I get samples all the time. I’d say that as far as being surprised by a cheese, it comes down to complexity of flavors and the length – how long it stays with you. And I only find a new great one maybe once or twice a month, so it’s pretty rare. There was a cheese recently that I tried and wasn’t blown away at first, but the flavor just extended and the more it lingered, the more I liked it. I had read a review that really ripped it, and that really sucked, because I don’t think the reviewer knew what he was talking about. But that was a good one. I wrote them a letter saying I disagreed with the review. (laughs)
This is probably like asking you to choose a favorite child, but if you had to pick your favorite cheese-producing animal, is it cow, goat, or sheep?
It’s funny you ask about the favorite child because like parents would probably tell you, it depends on the day. (laughs) But if I really had to choose, I’d probably say sheep. Their milk is higher in protein and fat, so you can really pack a lot of flavor in there. Even more specifically I’d say a certain breed called Lacaune. Their milk is used for Roquefort cheese. It’s really phenomenal.
This time of year tends to involve a lot of hostess gifts and finger food for parties. What are your seasonal recommendations?
This first one is a work of art. It’s a Grevenbroecker from Belgium. It’s really stunning on a platter. It’s made differently than a typical blue cheese, so it develops all these “fingers” going all the way through the cheese. It’s really rich, with some sweetness and a peppery zing. It’s a wonderfully complex treat, but also really accessible for everyone. Definitely one of my top picks.
This next one is Brin d’Amour, from Corsica. It’s a sheep’s milk cheese covered in rosemary, savory, juniper berries and chili peppers. Obviously, it’s really herbaceous, but also a little sour. It’s rich enough so all those herbs really complement the flavor instead of being overpowered by it. As far as wine goes, it’s made to go with big reds, but I prefer a grassy Sauvignon Blanc for a pairing.
Oh man, this Vacherin Mont d’Or is one of the finest achievements of human civilization. It’s made from raw milk way up in the Swiss Alps. It’s this precious, high-altitude winter milk, and they wrap it in the bark of a spruce tree. The flavor is just incredible – scrambled eggs, butter, and wood. So, so good.
Thanks, Andrew for your time and cheese-pertise (exper-cheese? …too much?) After all this cheese talk (and sampling, we’re not gonna lie), we couldn’t walk out without some treats. We picked up 3 cheeses to snack on back at the office and some awesome hard-to-find beers to pair with them. And we got one of these bags to cart our loot off in.
If you get a chance to swing by Andrew’s Cheese Shop in Santa Monica, we strongly suggest you stop in. Just don’t let the smell stop you.
Andrew’s Cheese Shop
Monday – Friday
11:00 AM-7:00 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Sunday 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM