Bob's Cheese and Wine Blog

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Archive for the ‘Miami Cheese Scene’ Category

Epicure Market

Posted by fromagebob on May 20, 2010

Epicure has been an icon of Miami Beach life since 1945. Opened as a butcher shop by brothers Harry and Mitchell Thal, Epicure was known on the Beach and in mainland Miami as a place for quality meat, then later as a gourmet grocer. Over the past 55 years, the butcher shop has evolved into a true food emporium, offering everything from fresh coffee and pastries, to prepared foods, to a wide selection of wine, cheese, and produce. It is a destination for locals and tourists alike.

Epicure’s cheese department offers a wide selection of cheeses from all over the world, covering all types and styles. The prices are about average for Miami, and like most local merchants with a cheese section, many of the cheeses have been cut into portions, shrink-wrapped and priced for easy sale. On closer look, however, there are issues.

One of the challenges any cheese retailer faces is a fast enough turn of stock in order to keep the freshest selection available at all times. Keeping shelves well stocked works against this, as the traditional method of selling cheese – cutting and wrapping in plastic – shortens the shelf life of the product, sometimes dramatically. The South Florida climate is another factor; proper storage of cheese demands consistent temperature and humidity, something that typical open or bottom-cooled dairy cases used in most cheese departments do not support.

The quality of the cheeses at Epicure varied considerably, with the harder cheeses faring better than the softer ones. The hard cheeses seemed generally in good shape. They typically weather cut-and-display better than other varieties. Some of the hard cheeses on the shelf displayed evidence of over-long storage, with dried rind and green/gray molds on the surface.

The softer cheeses did not fare as well. The popular varieties were in the best shape; the more esoteric were not. Many of these showed excess mold growth, moisture in the wrapper, breakdown of paste, and other problems. One log of Monte Enebro was positively gross. A few of the cheeses with loose wrapping had stong ammonia odors (another sign of over-ripe cheeses), and several had even collapsed.

This is unfortunate, because Epicure is the place that many on Miami Beach shop for cheese. Faced with the retailer’s problem of balancing their display stock – vs – sales, they’ve taken too big of a risk in holding too many cheeses for too long. That is a real problem for the consumer purchasing a particular cheese for the first time; a good cheese gone bad creates a bad impression of the cheese, not the cheese shop.

Any time you purchase cheese, you should take care to be sure that what you are buying is fresh and good. Simple rules are:

  • Does it look like something you’d put in your mouth?
  • Does it smell like something you’d like to eat?
  • Does it taste like you’d want another bite?

Always ask to taste the cheese you want to buy. Any cheese shop should be willing to allow you to try a cheese you’re going to buy (other than the small-format button-type cheeses). Look at the paste, give it a smell, then a taste. If any of the three seem “off,” find another cheese. For the smaller cheeses you cannot try, the appearance can give a good indication of the condition – there should be no evidence of gray or green mold, the cheese should not be split, and it should look plump and full. A small cheese that is over-ripe will appear to be shrinking, or collapsing into itself.

Overall, Epicure seems a good source for hard cheeses. Anything else should be carefully examined for freshness and proper storage.

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The Cheese Course – Miami’s newest entry on the cheese scene

Posted by fromagebob on December 8, 2009

The Cheese Course, Miami’s newest entry on the cheese scene, is open in Midtown Miami. I visited the establishment today for lunch, and found a very spacious, brightly lit space that was pleasant, comfortable, with a nice menu of sandwiches, salads, and – best of all – cheese plates. There’s also a very good selection of wines, by the glass and by the bottle.

I’ve been to their Weston Town Center location several times for lunch, and to explore their cheese offerings; this location seems to have a wider variety of cheeses and cheese accoutrements. They also have a really nice selection of books on cheese and cheese making.

The food: tasty, freshly made. The ordering process was a little confused; I suspect it is just getting the rhythm down, and “training” the customers as to the process (an “Order Here” sign would help).

Nice touch: when I was looking at the wines to have with my sandwich, the server asked if I wanted to taste first (I had a glass of Eadmeades Zinfandel).

The menu: 19 sandwiches, ranging from a delicious Italian Caprese (tried in Weston) to a sopressata salami, to a herb omlette – and a LOT in between. All are offered with one of their cheeses. My choice today was a Taleggio Cheese Steak, with Taleggio Cheese, sautéed mushrooms and onions, on one of their fresh-baked baguettes. The have a nice selection of salads, quiches, and beverages. Their wine-by-the glass are available at reasonable prices $5.95/$7.45/$9.45.

Their bread: delicious. I’ve purchased the baguettes several times. Nicely crafted and better that a French bakery near my office!

Their cheeses: This is where they shine. I am not sure what their total offerings are – they will vary with season and availability – but they cover the gamut of cheese from soft to stinky and beyond. I spotted a number of personal favorites, including gres de Vosges, delice de cremiers, morbier, and many others. The prices are reasonable, and in looking at the quality, seemed to be well maintained. I only spotted one cheese that was close to or a little over its peak.

One of the great options on the menu are their cheese plates, organized by country (USA, France, Italy, Spain), or by category (Mild, Medium, Bold). Turophiles or adventurous eaters can create their own tasting plate from the cheese in the shop.

The store is located at 3451 NE 1st Avenue, in Miami – on the corner with ample street parking. They’re open for lunch and in the evenings for locals looking for a great place to hang.

You can visit their website for more information, or call them at 786.220.6681

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Amarelo: A Portuguese Cheese

Posted by fromagebob on July 19, 2009

I ran into this cheese at Sunset Corners. By coincidence, I had tried another Portuguese cheese Saturday evening at a friend’s house, and it was quite good. My only other exposure to Portuguese cheese was Azetao, but the portion I got was way past its prime, so I had no way to judge it’s quality. I was at Sunset Corner’s great Saturday tasting (noon – 4 every Saturday!), and spotted this cheese in the case. I’m still trying to pick the cheeses and wines for the first Cheese Class, so I thought I would give it a try.

It’s quite good. The paste is off-white, with a creamline tending towards a dark ivory. The aroma is of fresh cream, with notes of straw and earth. On the tongue, it’s got a pretty distinctive flavor that reminded me of clotted cream, with brown butter and grassy notes. It paired quite nicely with a Cline Viognier and St. Francis’ Red.

This is a raw milk cheese, with sheep and goats milk. It’s a semi-firm cheese; some of the references I found noted that was pretty aggressive, but I didn’t find it so. It was somewhat intense, but not unpleasantly so.

Posted in Cheese Shops, Miami Cheese Scene, Mixed Milk Cheese, Portuguese Cheese, Wine & Cheese Paring | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »