Stock Up on Good Stuff

C.J. Bienert has some timely tips about cheese—in good times and bad.

By Wini Moranville

I asked C.J. Bienert, owner of Cheese Bar and the Cheese Shop, the “cheese” version of the old “desert island” question: If you were stranded on a desert island and could only take three cheeses with you, what would they be?

Normally, I find the question unproductive. But while we’re pretty much desert-islanding ourselves from each other, it’s a useful question in the realm of food: After all, stocking up on a few choice ingredients that are incredibly versatile is a great way to simplify your cooking while continuing to dine well. Here, then, are his picks:

• Parmigiano-Reggiano: “You want a hard cheese you can grate on anything and that keeps until the end of the world,” Bienert says. Bold, snappy Parm-Regg will do the trick. He also recommends buying a larger piece—a pound or half pound will keep much better than a smaller piece.

• A tomme-style cheese: Traditionally, a tomme is an Alpine cheese crafted into a circular shape. American cheesemakers craft their own versions. Bienert recommends this semisoft style of “super delicious and versatile” cheese for melting, snacking and tucking into sandwiches. He suggests Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia. Comté or a young Gouda will also fit the bill here.

• A soft cheese: I asked Bienert for a cheese that was so happy-making that it will remind you to take good care of yourself so you can be around to eat more great cheeses. He recommended the gooey, spoon-able Harbison from Jasper Farms Hill Creamery in Vermont. It’s wrapped in bark, so while it’s super-soft, it makes its own serving vessel. “Cut off the top and spoon it out like a pudding,” says Bienert. “With each spoon, you’re so happy you forget what’s going on.”

The Cheese Shop of Des Moines (833 42nd Street, Suite B; 515-528-8181) is currently filling curbside carryout orders; they’re currently open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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