“A slice of pie without cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze,” an anonymous person once said.
Cheese has been a food for both royalty and peasants for centuries. Now, thanks to the Internet, Americans have a vast number cheeses from which to choose and which they can easily purchase. These are my choices for the best online purveyors of cheeses.
(International orders—for cheese—from these sites are not possible at this time due to customs restrictions, taxes, and other fees. One purveyor says that these charges can add as much as 300 percent to the cost of the order.)
With more than 700 varieties to choose from, the list of cheeses here is astounding. I was so intrigued by some that I just had to try them (like Sage Derby and Mirabo Walnut). Choose by region, type, consistency, milk, or by other categories, such as vegetarian, molds, rennet type, or wax type. Detailed item descriptions include taste, consistency, even height, length, and width of the pieces.
In addition, you can join several cheese-of-the-month clubs and purchase accessories (crackers, knives, graters), samplers, cheese-making kits, books and videos, and more. All totaled, there are more than 1800 products. CheeseSupply.com offers discount, volume, and wholesale prices and has a tracking system. Registering is free and keeps your information and order history on file.
It is very easy to spend a lot of money at this site, but it is well worth it. The deliveries are made via UPS and FedEx and are packaged with cold packs and insulation. Ordering more than $75 gets you free shipping.
This site is not dedicated solely to cheese; however, its cheese selection is quite impressive. It rivals that of CheeseSupply.com, and igourmet.com has better prices—sometimes by half.
There are various categories to shop under, including the less often seen Kosher, organic, and unpasteurized cheeses. Find great assortment packs, such as the Champagne Cheese Assortment, Cheddars of the World, New England Artisan Cheese Board, and the Oktoberfest Cheese Assortment. One assortment that raised my eyebrows is “Romantic Cheeses.” Romantic cheese?
Other features on the site include serving suggestions, recipes, a free e-newsletter, events and tastings, cheese baskets, a gift finder, gift certificates, corporate gifts, “Of The Month” clubs, an encyclopedia of cheese, and party planning ideas.
To ensure fresh shipping, igourmet.com developed the FreshWave system, which “incorporates a Styrofoam-lined shipping chest that is chilled by refrigerant gel packs.” Their quality guarantee policy will provide a hassle-free refund or reshipment.
Artisanal Cheese Center (http://www.artisanalcheese.com)
Artisanal cheese, by definition, is cheese that is made in small quantities, sometimes by hand, and usually with local ingredients, thereby ensuring the freshest, most delicious product possible. This site offers a wonderful collection of artisanal cheeses from around the world. Product descriptions include wine recommendations. The site has an order-tracking system and a satisfaction-guaranteed policy.
The accessories are enticing, from quince membrillo (a spread made with quince fruit that’s excellent with blue cheese) to Mostarda di Uva (an Italian mustard made with figs and grapes) to fig logs. Also available are gift baskets; gift certificates; corporate incentives; books; cheese clubs; a free e-newsletter; recipes and tips; and cheese platters for parties, which include five cheeses, grapes, membrillo, Medjool dates, and assorted nuts, and are presented on wicker trays.
Because the company is based in New York City, it also offers classes, “Tastings & Events,” intern programs, a bookstore, and an event space at its Artisanal Cheese Center.
Murray’s Cheese (http://www.murrayscheese.com)
Murray’s Cheese is a store (actually, two stores) in New York City. The 2005 Zagat Survey rated it #1 in Top Quality by Category (Cheese & Dairy), Best 100 Overall, Top 50 Service, and Top 50 Bangs for the Buck. If nothing else, Murray’s has quite an impressive selection of cheeses. Select by country, milk type, and style, but also by beverage pairing, such as “White and Sweet” or “Old World Red.”
Accessories and other food items (condiments, crackers, oils, vinegars) are available, as well as individually created cheese platters and box assortments. Wholesale purchases can be made. Join the cheese club or learn more on the Cheese 101 page.
Ideal Cheese Shop (http://www.idealcheese.com)
This is the Web site for the Ideal Cheese Shop in New York City. It has been open since 1954 and was deemed the #1 cheese shop in New York in the 1999/2000 Zagat Survey. It also won the 2002 Retailer of the Year Oscar, which is awarded by the National Association of Specialty Foods. The site doesn’t have as many selections as others, but there are still some nice choices.
Browse by country of origin or use the search bar to plug in keywords. Other items available are gift certificates, a cheese-of-the-month club, gift baskets, a recipe archive, and a cheese FAQ page. The “Cheese Board” is a forum where people can post questions and recipes.
Three More Sites
The Specialty Cheese Company, Inc. (http://www.specialcheese.com) specializes in hard-to-find cheeses from the Middle East (such as Naboulsi and Ackawi), Hispanic cheeses (such as Anejo Enchilado and Queso Blanco con Frutas, which contains pieces of pineapple and mango).
Mozzarella, New York, Inc. (http://www.mozzny.com) specializes in mozzarella products, as its name implies. Should you need to, you can order in large quantities, which might be difficult in your local market.
Choices at Cheese Express (http://www.cheeseexpress.com) are relatively limited compared to the other sites, but the prices are reasonable. It’s a bit of an odd site, though. For example, I couldn’t understand why they would put porcini mushrooms in the cheese category or Finlandia Swiss in the Italian category. And I must take issue with a cheese purveyor that refers to Parmigiano-Reggiano as “parmesan.” (That’s like calling vichyssoise “cold potato soup.”)
Regional U.S. Only
I would be remiss if I did not mention that there are regional cheese producers in the U.S. who provide farm-fresh cheeses. Many of them take great pride in their products and strive to be community- and environment-friendly. There are too many to mention, but any search engine will yield some good choices. Plug in the region or state you’re interested in and add “cheese” (e.g., “Vermont cheese”). This will get you a list of Vermont cheese producers from which to choose. Selections from these makers tend to be limited, but your cheese will come directly from the producer and you’ll be helping to keep America’s dairy farms and cheese plants going.
I think this site lists every cheese ever created. To get complete descriptions of cheeses, search by name (if you misspell it, the database will give you a list of the closest matches), country (who knew Afghanistan, Slovakia, and Tibet made their own cheeses?), texture, or milk (yak-milk cheese, anyone?).
You can search for vegetarian cheeses, cheese facts, cheese recipes, or browse the bookstore (you will be redirected to Amazon.com to make purchases).
Run by the American Dairy Association, this site provides links to certain cheese producers and purveyors. Along with cheese information, the site offers recipes, featured chef articles, contests, newsletters, an “Ask the Expert” page, and a Cheese Profiler (a series of questions to determine the type of person you are and the cheeses that suit your personality best). Another feature is the Snackulator, which determines the best snack to pack on the go, based on a list of questions. Additionally, get party help with prep lists, a cheese and wine pairing guide, and downloadable Home Tasting Kits (placemats, cheese “markers,” and tasting notes). The Cheesemaker Maps help you locate local cheese makers across the country.
Finally, if you are a true turophiliac (a cheese lover), you might enjoy a visit to WordIQ.com (http://www.wordiq.com/definition/Cheese) for a little cheese trivia. Check out the site to find out why the moon is made of cheese.
Roberta Roberti is a freelance writer who has written more than 25articles for various publications. You can find links to some of themat her web site (www.rroberti-writer.com).