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.