According to the USDA, the average American eats about 30 pounds of cheese a year. The French have us beat -- closer to 45 pounds per person, per year -- but then again, they've got fromageries on every corner and often eat cheese after the meal, when Americans are grabbing an ice cream cone.
Cheesemongering is a growing industry in Los Angeles. We now have close to 40 shops selling the best of what cows, goats and sheep have to offer (that doesn't even count the upcoming vegan cheese shop from Tal Ronnen). Far beyond cheddar and Brie, you can sample unique curds from Tasmania, nibble on funky goat milk blues or find that perfectly oozy Reblochon for your picnic.
Unlike France, though, you don't need to wander from fromagerie to boulangerie to patisserie to get a full meal. Here's our list of the five best places to go for some cheese, and stay for some really fantastic food. Add a glass of wine and you've got the ideal European lunch ... if only you could take a nap after.
At first glance, Andrew's appears to be a cheese shop, nothing more. But then you notice the handwritten menu on the back wall, and you order a $9 sandwich that sounds relatively straightforward. And then you unwrap it.
Excellent bread, the perfect ratio of meat, cheese, toppings and crumb; these guys'll have you coming back for more. The Italian (mortadella, ham, salami, pepperoncini and cheddar) is a perennial favorite, but the house-cured salmon, scattered with capers and smeared with crème fraiche, is a real stunner. It's practically an entire filet of sushi-grade fish hitting every salty, creamy note you could want. Of course, the cheese selection is top-notch (with the prices to match), but the employees are excellent guides for the uninitiated, and there are shelves of wine, crackers, chocolate and beer to pair with your purchase. 728 Montana Ave., Santa Monica; (310) 393-3308.
Tucked in upper Hollywood next to the UCB Theatre, the Oaks Gourmet is a great one-stop shop for a picnic. It has a small but satisfying cheese case full of Drunken Goat, sheeps' milk Etorki and hunks of chipotle cheddar. On the shelves around the store you'll find an interesting selection of wine, chips, dip and sweets, all handpicked by the owners and general manager; perfect for that hostess gift you forgot to pick up.
Build your cheese plate, grab your wine, then swing by a counter on either end of the store and order a few sandwiches to go. The banh mi is full of shredded porky goodness and tangy pickles, but for true decadence try the BLT, which is layered with fat strips of perfectly cooked bacon, avocado and Camembert in place of mayonnaise. Cheesy bonus: Stop by on Wednesdays for Grilled Cheese Night, when they dip into their cheese cart to chef up a handful of modern spins on the old childhood favorite. 1915 N. Bronson Ave., Hollywood; (323) 871-8894.
A good chopped salad is a thing of beauty: by mangling and intermingling all the ingredients, it becomes so much better than the sum of its parts. And the chopped salad at the Artisan Cheese Gallery is a star: chopped romaine, hearts of palm, tomato, chicken, avocado and pistachios, all tossed together in a lemony dressing. There's no reason why it should taste this good, yet it does. In fact, nearly all of the salads at this cheese counter are well-balanced, well-executed and two steps above what you'd find at most other places.
Not counting calories? They've got a handful of paninis (including a garlic roasted lamb with mint pesto) and sandwiches: duck confit with fig jam, curried chicken salad, even a (crustless!) peanut butter and jelly. Or frequent the "cheese gallery" part of the café and build yourself a three-cheese platter for $17.50, beautifully presented on a cutting board with sliced baguette, dried fruit and nuts. The gallery is stocked with giant wheels of cheese -- they'll offer samples as you build your perfect cheese trio. Be careful at checkout, though; they put the chocolate chip and red velvet cookies at just about eye level. Impulse buyers, beware. 12023 Ventura Blvd, Studio City; (818) 505-0207.
Since opening nearly 20 years ago as a catering company, Joan's has slowly expanded to become one of the best gourmet marketplaces in the city. The cheese selection has been a cornerstone ever since it opened on Third Street, and it's no joke: giant wheels of Brie, logs of ash-coated goat cheese, hunks of Roquefort .
The shop is fromagerie, boulangerie and patisserie all in one. Check out the prepared foods, like turkey meatloaf and tarragon chicken salad, on the left-hand side; the bakery counter, including a "morning bun" (a grown-up cinnamon roll) and pretzel croissants, on the right; and, in the middle, the cook-to-order station. Weekend brunch crowds can be overwhelming, but swing by during the week or at an off hour and get a lobster roll before the season is out, a Chinese chicken salad, or one of the famous Joan's patty melts. Even pickles taste better here -- bright, crunchy and sweet. 8350 W. Third St., Los Angeles; (323) 655-2285.
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Chef-owner Melina Davies loves her cheese. Here an overflowing case is carefully curated, as are the walls of olive oils, spices, sweets and hostess gifts. (Tip: A blackboard of helpful cheese descriptions and pairings hangs overhead.) The décor at Olive & Thyme is industrial farmhouse chic -- the kind of place the Barefoot Contessa would open if she lived in Silver Lake instead of East Hampton. For lunch to go, there's a bar of prepared salads, including a jewel-toned farro and beet concoction that's almost too pretty to eat.
Choose from a menu of sandwiches including spicy Mediterranean chicken wrapped in pita, or braised short rib paired with horseradish cream. You can order soup and one of a dozen or so salads, including the ubiquitous "chopped salad," fat with chickpeas; steak salad strewn with pickled balsamic onions; or a light and refreshing fattoush, topped with crunchy pita and fennel fronds. Save room for dessert, too, because Davies does the baking, and if her strawberry rhubarb pie doesn't get you, the red velvet whoopee pie will. 4013 Riverside Drive, Burbank; (818) 557-1560.
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