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Food Dude

Dec 6, 2011
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Cheese bliss

By Jim Duncan
CVFDude@aol.com
Twitter.com/foodude

Prosciutto rosa from La Quercia at The Cheese Shop of Des Moines, 833 42nd St., 528-8181. Hours are Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to close.

C.J. Bienert has followed his bliss about as faithfully as that can be done in post-mythological times. He fell under the spell of artisan cheese when working at Wine Experience at age 18. After turning others on to it at Gateway Market, he spent a couple years learning the cheese making business in Vermont and traveling to worldly cheese and winemaking destinations. Fortunately for us, he preferred the retail and educational ends of the business to manufacturing.

Last month, Beinert opened The Cheese Shop of Des Moines with his wife Kari, the shotgun rider in his bliss-chasing chariot. The shop features cheeses made from single sources of milk, from more than 100 producers. Some of them have designed new specialty cheeses exclusive to the Bienerts’ store. Their shop is also stocked with things to pair with cheese — charcuterie, jams, olives, nuts, wines, cheeses and chocolates — all as carefully chosen as the cheeses. C.J. insists that cheese be able to breathe so nothing is precut and wrapped. Cheeses stay in their rinds until purchased, then they are cut and wrapped in perforated French paper. To further protect flavors, his refrigeration case was designed to reduce air circulation and maintain high humidity with radiant cooling.

This shop includes tables and a bar to accommodate long, European-style lunches. Each day, the Bienerts offer a different cheese plate, charcuterie plate and several other accompaniments, plus about 30 wines (five by the glass) and 50 craft beers, all bargain priced. One afternoon, my $12 cheese platter featured three cheeses in degrees of firmness: A raw goat cheese called Old Kentucky Tomme (Capriole, Ind.) was aged six months to develop a natural rind and a creamy, firm paste with mushroom overtones; Tarentaise, an organic raw cow’s milk cheese from Thistle Hill Farm (Springbrook, Vt.) emulated Swiss mountain-style in its nutty, semi-firm form. That cheese won “Best Farmstead Cow's Milk Cheese” at the 25th American Cheese Society Conference; Moellleux de Saint Ours (Schmidhauser, France) was an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese, soft-ripened and circled with a spruce strap.

My $11 charcuterie platter featured four products from La Quercia, a Norwalk artisan of world renown: coppa Americana (top shoulder of pork cured with sea salt, pimenton de la vera and cocoa); tesa (pancetta made with pork belly, sea salt, peppers, bay leaf and juniper berries); spallacia (lightly salted pork shoulder made from acorn fed Berkshires) and prosciutto rosa (salt cured ham). All were freshly sliced and served with reputations to which I can say nothing to add or detract. Bruce Aidells, author of “The Complete Book of Pork,” called the coppa “the best I have ever tasted.” Jeffrey Steingarten, Vogue’s obsessive food critic, called the spallacia “the best domestically produced prosciutto I’ve ever tasted.” Legendary wine critic Robert Parker called the tesa "stunning stuff." Paul Bertolli, founder of Fra'Mani meats, said he “never tasted anything this good in Italy.”

I added an $8 foie gras mousse with cornichons and ciabatta. Another day my “pâte platter” also included lardo, charcuterie’s answer to butter. My only complaint — backless, uncushioned bar stools don’t accommodate three-hour lunches.

Bottom line — This is a wonderful addition to local culture and is the best cheese shop ever in Des Moines.

Side Dishes

The $15 menu at last month’s Korea Copia at Valley West Inn included braised beef ribs, multiple kim chi combinations, calamari in gochujang (red pepper sauce), battered tofu, glass noodles with mixed vegetables, pickled lotus roots, roast pork in cabbage wraps, fried and stuffed seaweed wrappers, roast pork shoulder, pickled radish-wrapped appetizers and Korean sushi (made with cooked beef instead of fish). The next such event will be in January, follow @foodude on Twitter for specifics… George Formaro (Centro) and Tony Lemmo (Café di Scala) are both experimenting with the sensational Iowa Swabian Hall pork. CV



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