CHEESE, GLORIOUS CHEESE!
It's hard to tire of cheese, since each type in this beloved category of dairy products is unique. In the culinary world, a diverse cheese board is hard to beat, but many grocery chains are sorely lacking in the complex styles of cheese connoisseurs crave. Whether the cheese you seek is sharp or nutty, hard or soft, blue or brie, these 15 cheese shops across the U.S. offer free samples to help find the perfect variety without buying blind.
Fromagerie Sophie adds a little Parisian atmosphere to the seaside town of San Luis Obispo, California, with its curated collection of cured meats, crackers, and, of course, international cheeses, all of which can be sampled for free, provided they're not wrapped for individual sale. Employees can also recommend certain cheeses to pair with the offerings at nearby central California wineries.
Star Provisions in Atlanta boasts the largest collection of Southern cheeses in the nation, culled from creameries throughout the region. Its cheese counter offers samples of carefully selected American and European varieties, which are kept in precise conditions to ensure proper aging. Helpful staff members also prepare cheese boards based on the number of servings, so buyers needn't guess about weight.
THE CHEESE CAVE
The cheeses that fill the shelves of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are the handicraft of small-batch producers scattered across Europe. Before serving, they are stored in a manmade cheese cave built directly underneath the store. Although rarer varieties can be pricey, the generous samples are always free. Other artisanal products like Tuscan honeys, French jams, and Greek olives make great additions to any cheese board.
CHEESE CAKE, NOT CHEESECAKE
With locations throughout the San Diego area, Venissimo Cheese lets customers try domestic and imported cheeses before deciding which to use to create a personalized charcuterie board, complete with pork cured and sliced in the Spanish tradition. The shop also prepares cheese cakes -- not cheesecake, but tiered arrangements of brie and other cheese wheels -- for special occasions. Customer profiles help frequent visitors remember which varieties they've already tried to save time and money in the future.
Its remote location and odd hours can make Briar Rose Creamery in Oregon's Willamette Valley seem inaccessible, but fresh and aged varieties of tangy goat cheese from local creameries make the trip worthwhile. Employees provide free samples in between trips to the back room to prepare each cheese onsite. The decadent truffles made from goat cheese and covered in rich chocolate are not to be missed.
Every cheese sample comes with a complement of fresh-baked bread at New Orleans' St. James Cheese Co., which has two locations within the Crescent City. The family-run shops provided a friendly atmosphere for enthusiasts to try a broad variety of cheeses. The shop even packs purchases in insulated travel packs for visitors taking their cheeses home as souvenirs.
MONTEREY IN SONOMA
It should come as no surprise that California's Sonoma Valley boasts an artisan cheese shop to pair with its abundance of world-renowned wineries. The owners of Vella Cheese Co. pride themselves on creating local cheeses, using cream from free-range cows at the local Mertens Dairy farm and finishing each one onsite in an historic stone building. Try their prizewinning varieties of cheddar and Monterey jack, plain or infused with striking flavors such as habanero and rosemary.
Fromagination in Madison, Wisconsin, makes good on the state's title as America's Dairyland, providing an ever-rotating selection of handmade artisanal cheeses from more than 60 independent cheesemakers across the state. Sheep's, goat's, and cow's milk cheeses are all available to sample and purchase in-store or online, alongside an impressive roster of dairy-centric accessories and gift sets. For better deals, check out the small portions on sale for less than $5 beside the cashier's stand.
OLD NEW YORK CHEESE
A New York City institution since 1940, the intimate Murray's Cheese Shop is always full of visitors taking advantage of the shop's liberal sampling policy, trying cheeses and olives alike before purchasing. Underground aging caves beneath the Greenwich Village storefront hold even more varieties from around the world, while culinary classes on making mozzarella and pairing wines are held upstairs. Murray's Cheese Bar next door lets patrons try many of the same products in the context of a swanky wine bar.
CHEESE FROM THE MARKET
Beecher's Handmade Cheese is well-equipped to handle the crowds of Seattle's Pike Place Market, with plentiful space and bowls of cheese samples already set out to try. Through glass walls, visitors can witness the cheese-making process for themselves before purchasing artisanal cheeses from producers all located in the western United States. Don't miss out on the self-proclaimed "world's best" macaroni and cheese, made with Beecher's award-winning flagship cheese. There's a second location in New York City's Flatiron District.
Cured in Boulder, Colorado, focuses on bringing limited small-batch cheese varieties culled from across the state and around the world to its customers. This mom-and-pop shop also offers house-made lunch specialties and unique accompaniments like bacon jam and aged balsamic to help enliven any meal or charcuterie board. Visit during an event to hear celebrated cookbook authors share their love of cheese or to try cheeses with local fare provided by other local businesses like Redstone Meadery.
KEEP CHEESE WEIRD
It isn't just cheese that's available to sample at Antonelli's Cheese Shop in Austin, Texas. Cold cuts, spreads, and wines are served as well. The attentive service lets guests try all they want and peruse the plentiful information signs around the shop before purchasing artisanal products that are often difficult to find anywhere else. The affiliated Antonelli's Cheese House across the street provides a larger space for private events and further cheese education.
INTERNATIONAL CHEESE IN THE ITALIAN MARKET
Three newly immigrated brothers founded Philadelphia's Di Bruno Bros. in 1939, and the shop has been treating customers to samples of addictive culinary delights ever since. Aside from vast stores of imported European and local cheeses, this shop in the bustling Italian Market also carries authentic Italian spreads, high-quality cured meats, and delectably seasoned nuts like black lava cashews.
NEW ENGLAND CHEESE
Fairfield & Greenwich Cheese Co. emphasizes quality over quantity, filling its small cheese shop in Fairfield, Connecticut, with carefully selected American cheeses of all flavors and textures, as well as dried fruits, bread, vegetable spreads, and wines to enjoy alongside. The passion of owners and head cheesemongers Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo makes the shop a welcoming place to learn more about the shop's dairy offerings while trying each one or picking up rare finds gathered from partnered producers around New England.
WINDY CITY CHEESE
Many of Chicago's finest restaurants rely on Pastoral Artisan Cheese for dairy items, reflecting the shop's commitment to sourcing high-quality cheeses from around the world. After sampling cold cuts and small-batch cheeses, purchase your favorites in cut-to-order weights or try them in one of the popular European-style sandwiches alongside rare wines and American craft beers. Four locations throughout the city offer different varieties and accompaniments, while Bar Pastoral provides a higher-end selection of cheese-centric meals and curated wine pairings.