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.
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.
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.