Try Out C.J.’s Choice at the Cheese Shop

The Patagonia roasted garlic mackerel is one of 20 different kinds of top-quality tinned fish at the Cheese Shop. 

Writer: Wini Moranville 

A few weeks ago, I slipped Allspice Culinarium owner Rory Brown a little cash and told him to surprise me with some under-the-radar finds he was excited about. I had such great luck with that strategy that I decided to do the same with C.J. Bienert at the Cheese Shop of Des Moines. “Here’s some scratch. Just hit me up with a bag of great stuff,” I said, in so many words. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed everything Bienert chose for me (some exceedingly rare cheeses from Jasper Hill Farm), two items in particular rocked my culinary life:

Patagonia roasted garlic mackerel in olive oil: My mystery bag included a tin of these thoroughly amazing buttery-lush, ultra-moist fillets draped in olive oil and generously scattered with bits of soft, mellow garlic. Enjoy the fish on a cracker as an hors d’oeuvres or in a salad for lunch, being sure to serve with lots of bread to soak up the immensely compelling mackerel-infused olive oil.

The Cheese Shop offers more than 20 different kinds of top-quality tinned fish, including scallops, mussels, sardines, razor clams and more, from far-flung spots including Brittany (in France), Portugal, Spain and Patagonia (in South America). 

These ready-to-eat delicacies are especially perfect for right now, when no one wants to turn their oven on. “You can eat the fish straight from the tin,” Bienert says. He’s not kidding in the least. 

Chorizo de bellota: Imported from Spain, these whisper-thin slices of chorizo are crafted from pigs that forage on acorns for the last months of their lives. The meat is delicately sweet with hints of garlic/red-pepper spice. Plus, as Bienert says, “there’s something about the way the fat melts—it just dissolves like ‘meat butter.’ ” 

So that nothing distracts from the sweet, lardy joy of this treat, I recommend serving it as simply as possible: on a mild cracker if you must, but solo from a toothpick is even better. 

Head to the Cheese Shop of Des Moines for more ways to get a taste of elsewhere while you’re staying put this summer: 833 42nd St.; 515-528-8181.

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