Like the object of any great passion, the world's best cheeses often play hard to get. Ardrahan, a semi-soft farmhouse cheese crafted in the viridescent fields of County Cork is no exception. Its golden tanned exterior, the product of a carefully washed rind, belies a creamy, supple insides, while the stinky sweetness makes a lasting impression on all it graces.
But the cheese is near impossible to find in even the area's best cheese shops -- until now, thanks to the newly opened Cheese Store of Pasadena.
The airy shop, with its reclaimed wooden shelves and glass-encased refrigerated cave, opened October 10th in the Commons of Pasadena. Though its final product list is still under development, the store will eventually offer a roster of a couple hundred "staple" cheeses along with a rotating mix of seasonal specials, according to Natalia Pastis, who with husband Louis owns the shop. "We're going to try to keep our inventory kind of rare," says Pastis. In addition to Ardrahan, among the hundred or so cheeses on hand opening week were a relatively young but oh so funky Stilton, a particularly ripe Camembert, and a mature, cloth-wrapped Cabot cheddar.
While the Pastises are new to the cheese business -- he's a chiropractor, she worked for years in the salon business -- they are long time friends and customers of Norbert Wabnig's Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. Mrs. Pastis, who grew up above a cheese store in Greece, wandered into Wabnig's famed gourmet outpost on her first day working in Beverly Hills sixteen years ago, and has since made thrice weekly visits, often talking shop with Wabnig.
When she grew tired of the salon business, cheese seemed the natural next step. "I have unofficially become the the cheese woman for all of our friends and family," Pastis says. "We've always been known for having good cheese at our dinner parties, so we figured we'd get into it."
Hearing of the couple's plans, Wabnig came on board as an informal consultant. "He was thrilled to help us get the business together and to see if we could make it work in this area," says Pastis. "But when he came to actually see the location he started giggling. He'd [had a shop] here thirty years ago."
With the help of cheese monger Sebastian Craig, who earned his stripes at the 90210 shop, the Cheese Store of Pasadena offers many of the same products as its Beverly Hills-based brother from another mother, including pates, cured meats, oils,pastas, and Domenico's tapenades. But Pastis is going for a slightly different vibe. "They have that old school, kind of like New York feel, with products to the ceiling," says Pastis. "We're trying to make it a little more boutiquey. There's no way we can capture the charm of the Beverly Hills store.They've been there since 1967. It's just something that grows with time."
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As will presumably area passions for a certain Irish cheese.
The Cheese Store of Pasadena is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. They expect to begin special events including wine, beer, and champagne cheese pairings starting in mid-November.