Cheese, glorious cheese

Youngstown, Ohio is not known as a hotbed of culinary culture, unless you really love
pierogi and well, pretty much anything batter-dipped and fried. Not to demean
its myriad other wonderful qualities (vague mob connections, corrupt
congressmen and hearing about the good old days of steel), but as a 23-year-old
foodie stuck on the cops and courts beat for the Youngstown Vindicator (yeah,
seriously), I spent a fair amount of time in search of things like Brie and
. In glamorous places like Cleveland, Akron and Pittsburgh.

Suffice to say, I love cheese. Enough to drive miles for the
good stuff.

Inspired by local cheese goddess, Laura Werlin’s recent naming of the world’s
best cheeses–The World!–in Aspen,
BiteClub was on a hunt to find all nine here in SoCo. Even the really rare
stuff, like a truffled cheese from the small town of Bertagni, Italy.

accomplished (mostly). Tucked quietly into a Center Street mini-mall, Doralice
Handal’s Cheese Shop in Healdsburg
Center Street, Healdsburg, 707.433.4998) is a
dark, cool cheese sanctuary that hits you with a blast of unmistakably funky
cheese smell
when you walk in. Yep. This is the place. Piled high on the
counters and in the refrigerator are dozens of slices–from runny and gooey to
blue, truffled and wine-soaked. I try not to swoon.

Doralice, who’s a bit reserved, opens up when you start talking cheese. She’s
just one of those people who just adores what she does, having cut her teeth in
the restaurant biz and most recently working with the rock star cheese gals at
Cowgirl Creamery.

She blasts through Werlin’s list. Most of the cheeses (or very close facsimiles) are in-store. Fortunately, it’s cheese season, she tells me. Cheese has a season? Apparently goat cheese is at
its prime and many of the other cheeses just happen to be at their best at this
time of year.

Whatever Doralice doesn’t have, she’ll special order in her constant search for new discoveries from around the world–from Healsburg’s Pug’s Leap goat’s milk cheese, to Rogue Creamery’s “Oregon Blue” to
insanely small-production artisan cheeses from France, Italy and Portugal.

All this with, thankfully, no trips to Cleveland.

Grab your cheese basket and get munching. Werlin’s “Best Cheese” list and local availability…

Brillat-Savarin: An indulgent French triple-cream Brie.
I ate an entire wedge on the ride back from Hburg and don’t regret it for an
instant. Cheese Shop: In stock, $20lb.

La Tur, Caseficio Dell’Alta Langa, Italy: A soft
goat’s milk cheese. Cheese Shop: Doralice suggests the Robbiolo, a cow, goat
& sheep’s milk cheese. $30lb

One of my absolute favorite cheeses, this is a cheddar-style English
cheese that has an intense, sharp flavor like browned butter. Cheese Shop: In
stock, $28lb.

Comte: A rare French cheese that has some similar
qualities to Gruyere. Nice for melting. Cheese Shop: Currently out of Comte,
but comes in regularly. Several cave-aged Gruyere’s in stock, $17lb.

Formaggio al
Tartufo, Bertagni, Italy:
A soft cheese infused with
black truffles. Cheese Shop: Try a Sardinian truffled sheep’s cheese, $30lb

Testun al Barolo: Love this cheese that’s aged in
Nebbiolo and Dolcetto grape must, giving it a purple sheen and a little crunch
on top. Cheese Shop: Testun Ubriaco from Verona,

Queijos Serra de Estrela,
Matias, Portugal: A sheep’s
milk cheese with incredible flavor. Cheese Shop: Try Torta La Serena, a similar
cheese from Portugal,

Cayuga Blue, Lively Run Goat Dairy,
A soft, pungent blue from
New York.
Cheese Shop: Doralice recommends one of her favorites, the Bayley Hazen Blue
from Vermont
at $21lb.

If you go: Don’t miss the June Taylor Gravenstein Apple Butter ($11). Made in Berekley, it’s heaven with cheese. Doralice also has some great local Rose wine to pair with your cheese.