Side Dish

C'est fromage as the cheese craze reaches St. Louis

"You can imagine Evel Knievel propelling his Harley over the display should he ever get it into his head to jump over a lot of cheese," quipped Jonathan Gold in his recent Gourmet review of Artisanal, a new Park Avenue brasserie with a cheese-centric menu that includes Gruyère puffs, fromage tarts and fondue. The restaurant also ages and sells more than 250 varieties of bûches and bricks, drums and domes, cubes and cones. The cheese craze sweeping New York City has arrived in St. Louis, where enthusiasts have always stocked up at the Wine and Cheese Place when they yearned for a triple-crème Brie or a Shropshire blue. Chef Steve Scherrer, of Grenache, admits that having the shop next to his restaurant (under the same ownership) has spoiled him. Every day he designs a board showcasing several cheeses, which customers order as a separate course before the meal or in place of dessert.

Although the Wine and Cheese Place has a broader selection, the Wine Merchant has a more intriguing assortment of handmade cheeses. Owner John Nash carries such frivolities as mutton buttons and drunken-goat cheese (a Spanish cheese imbrued with red wine). He also has a larder of domestic farmstead cheeses such as Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog, a goat's-milk cheese striped with a thin edible layer of ash, and Sally Jackson's raw-sheep's-milk cheese, fetchingly enveloped in moist chestnut leaves.

Artisan-made cheeses are best appreciated when eaten out of hand rather than cooked or shaved onto salads and pastas. Although Scherrer is tempted by the lovely cheeses next door, he doesn't partake of them. "I'm lactose-intolerant," he confesses, chuckling ruefully. But the wine? Well, that's a different story.

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