Cheese of the Month Club

By Andrew Jenkins in Food on Oct 27, 2006 3:30PM

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If you are anything like Chicagoist, you have a frightening dependency issue with cheese. We love the damn thing. Don’t even make us choose between groceries for a week and four really great wedges of cheese. The tricky part, however, is finding the good stuff that’s out there. Upscale grocers like Whole Foods, Fox & Obel and the like tend to carry a pretty decent selection, overpriced as it may be. But if you don’t want to go that route let us recommend one of the few local shops Chicago has to offer: The Cheese Stands Alone.

Owned and operated by Matt and Sarah Parker, this place is exactly what a cheese shop should be. For example, it has cheese. Nearly one hundred selections span small-scale American producers and European staples. The Parkers keep the place far more unpretentious than some other gourmet grocers, and they will help pair you with your cheese soul mate. They have the stuff Whole Foods doesn’t, and everything that Whole Foods does at a more reasonable cost.

The shop works with distributors to bring in some small-batch domestic cheeses from cheesy places like Wisconsin, California and Vermont. The North American varieties take up one case while a larger case is devoted to some solid European choices like Chimay, a Spanish Cabrales, and some of the great Dutch and Swiss varieties. Along with the cheese, the store also stocks a nice collection of gourmet snacks, crackers, pasta sauces and such.

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Seeing as how we’ll be spending at least a third of our paycheck at this place from now on, we thought it appropriate to begin asking the proprietors of The Cheese Stands Alone to chime in on the fromage beat and recommend some of their favorite cheeses. This month, we put Matt to task on recommending one snacking cheese that everyone could agree on. We’ll come back to Matt in the near future and ask him for a more daring suggestion, but for now we thought we’d start slow. The result was this month’s cheese: a Cave-Aged Swiss Gruyère.

Sure, you may have heard of this one before. Mix it with Emmenthal to make fondue. Use it to top French Onion Soup. Gruyère is big in quiches, Matt says. He also says it’s gruyereMURRAY.gifa great table cheese, perfect for eating with crackers as a snack. The light-yellow-colored cheese is made from raw cow’s milk and has a nice buttery aroma. It has a mild, nutty flavor, and unlike other Swiss cheeses it does not come with the trademark holes. Instead, little deposits of calcium form as the cheese is aged. These little white pockets within the cheese add a subtle saltiness that complements the Gruyère’s fruit and nut undertones. The distinction as a cave-aged cheese is kind of silly, Matt says, since most cheeses are aged somewhere dark and damp and underground. Nevertheless, this one sits in the dark for about 14 months before heading out into the world.

He suggests pairing the Gruyère with light reds like a Pinot Noir or more full-bodied whites. Bigger reds like Zinfandels kind of overtake the cheese, he says. In terms of beer, Belgian white ales or American wheats go along nicely. The Parkers actually met while working at The Village Tap in Roscoe Village, so they’re happy to field any cheese/beer pairing questions. To ask them such questions, visit The Cheese Stands Alone at 4547 N. Western. Phone: 773-293-3870. Hours: Closed Monday; 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.

Cheese image via murrayscheese.com