Des Moines was a city bereft of a dedicated cheese monger until November of 2011 when C.J. and Kari Bienert opened up The Cheese Shop of Des Moines in the Shops at Roosevelt, offering quality cut to order cheese along with fine meats, wines, beers, and some very inventive dishes from their kitchen.
The plates here are first rate, featuring such delicious cheeses as hard, cheddary Flory's Truckle; herb-encrusted Tome de Bordeaux; Zingerman's peppery, rich Bridgewater and exceptionally rinded Lincoln Log; plus notable Iowa favorites as Milton Creamery's Prairie Breeze cheddar and Frisian Farms' aged gouda. Sliced meat plates offer such items as Fra'Mani's melt-in-your-mouth Salame Rosa and garlicky Salame Toscano, and Iowa's own rich La Quercia Prosciutto Americano.
Cottage cheese from Cowgirl Creamery is exceptional with a bright acidity and toothy, well-defined curds. As for what The Cheese Shop can do with all the remarkable products they carry, one example would be their take on a simple bruschetta, with wedges of fresh mozzarella marinated in house olive oil and herbs, served with Cleverley Farms' greens on toasted La Mie ciabatta topped with pickled shallots. It's divine! Other dishes on their menu rate highly as well.
The presentation on The Cheese Shop's Macaroni & Cheese is tops, with pasta baked in a wee cast iron skillet, topped with a Frisian Farms' gouda Mornay sauce, along with as the menu states, all the “lucky cheese bits.” The casserole affords a plethora of textures to enjoy: a crunchy breadcrumb-encrusted top, a creamy center, and crusty sides to scrape lightly to get at every tasty "bit." Bacon Mac & Cheese, pictured above right, is accentuated with Niman Ranch bacon.
While enjoying a poutine for a weekend lunch special, I was struck by its refinement. The curds, the fries, even the chicken gravy was so well-defined. Nothing was subsumed by another ingredient. Exceptional curds from Milton Creamery weren't quite melted, but neither were they cold. In this application, allowing some toothiness in the curds worked.
A common weekend special at The Cheese Shop is a small selection of Tarte Flambées and sandwiches. One such Flambée I ordered, above left, was topped with a Cotechino sausage quite possibly spiced with allspice and cinnamon. This garnered a mixed reaction around the table I shared. Some found the flavor confusing, but I found the spiciness reminiscent of Cincinnati chili. A Muffuletta also enjoyed on this occasion, above center and right, was a delicate, refined expression of the classic New Orleans sandwich, built with Fra’Mani mortadella, Genoa salami, Creminelli Calabrese salami, fresh mozzarella, Milton Creamery’s Tomme, and olive salad, on a La Mie sesame seed loaf.
One particular prepared item that garners much affection among Cheese Shop regulars is their famous Toasties. And I’ll tell ya, they’re magnificent! The standard Toastie, above left, is an Iowa cheese trifecta, made with Milton’s quark and Prairie Breeze, along with Frisian Farms' gouda. An optional schmear of fig spread was surprisingly complimentary. The Spanish Toastie, above right, offers world famous La Quercia prosciutto, with Wisconsin Dante cheese, Marcona almond butter, and quince paste. Other Toasties offer such delectables as The Cheese Shop’s housemade pepper jam, Niman Ranch bacon, monger selected blue cheese, seasonal greens, and fried egg. Mmm… fried egg.
The Cheese Shop's offerings aren't limited to their confines in the Shops at Roosevelt. Beer pairing cheese plates from The Cheese Shop can be found at such local breweries as 515 Brewing and Firetrucker Brewery. The selection includes Milton Creamery's Prairie Breeze cheddar and Frisian Farms' aged gouda, alongside a monger pick.