Best Cheese Counter - 2005
The Wine Merchant
Remember when cheese came in two colors, two shapes and either with or without holes? At the Wine Merchant, the days of "American or Swiss?" are long past. The three-year-old French Comté, to which weak-kneed sorts quickly become addicted, arrives on Thursdays or Fridays, and it's typically gone by Monday. Italian Pecorinos are well-represented, as are blues from around the world -- notably the Australian Roaring '40s. Lately the Wine Merchant is focusing more on domestic producers. "We're tasting new cheeses all the time," says cheese clerk Collum Lee. "We've got new domestic artisanal guys coming to us every month." That means Collum, Simon Lehrer and their fellow cheese slingers get to be extra-picky with their selections. They've made space on the shelves for big-ticket domestic producers, such as Cowgirl Creamery in California, but also smaller merchants, such as Sally Jackson Cheeses out of Washington state. There's frequently a free sample sitting on the counter, but by far the best approach is to point to something that looks appealing and ask, "That one any good?" Chances are you'll get a sliver and an invitation to decide for yourself. Penny pinchers, take note: 10 percent discount on Mondays.