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Best Places To Shop For Cheese In Houston


Whole Foods Market employs Certified Cheese Professionals (CPPs), who provide expert guidance on all things cheese. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Posted: November 13, 2017 at 12:10 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

Prized in sinful, crispy-gooey grilled sandwiches, on the best charcuterie trays and in luxurious bowls of pasta, cheese is practically the universal language for “yum.” While standards like Swiss and cheddar are easily found at any typical grocery store, the world of cheese encompasses thousands of varieties. Here a few of Houston’s best shops for cheese, where shoppers will find everything from real Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano to small-batch, specialty cheeses made in Texas.

cheese at central market

A big draw for Central Market shoppers is its extensive variety of globally-sourced cheeses. Photo by Ellie Sharp.

Central Market, 3815 Westheimer
Over 700 varieties of dairy goodness practically spill from the shelves with origins as close by as Texas and distant as Denmark. See a chunk of cheddar but only need a few ounces? The staff will happily recut selections to meet shoppers’ needs including slicing to order. Tasting is encouraged (with staff supervision) and experienced cheesemongers can help find exactly the right cheeses for any dish or occasion.

Italian cheeses find their way onto antipasto plates at D’Amico’s in Rice Village. Photo by Paula Murphy

D’Amico’s Italian Market Cafe, 5510 Morningside #140
With a name like D’Amico one might assume access to gourmet Italian cheeses is a given, and that assumption would be correct. Primarily imported from Italy (a couple are sourced from New Jersey), the strictly cows’ milk options range from asiago and ricotta to fontinella and fresh mozzarella balls. Customers typically skip crackers in favor of tender loaves of Italian bread baked by local businesses Slow Dough and Cake & Bacon. Olives, dips, spreads, imported meats and olive oil are also available for purchase from the in-house market. Alternately, order custom meat & cheese or cheese & olive trays for off-premise enjoyment.

The custom cheese trays at the Houston Dairymaids are edible works of art. Photo by Houston Dairymaids

Houston Dairymaids, 2201 Airline: Originally founded as a wholesale operation that served as a liaison between dairies and markets, the Houston Dairymaids operate a public shop where cheese lovers can sample more than 150 varieties of cow, sheep and goat milk cheeses. Owner Lindsey Schechter sources from many Texan cheese producers, including Velhuizen Farms in Dublin and Pure Luck Dairy in Dripping Springs. These farms often not only make the cheese, but raise the animals that produce the milk. The shop offers a complimentary daily tasting of six cheeses and sells all the accoutrements for a perfect cheese plate at home, including wine, crackers and nuts. The Houston Dairymaids also sell elaborate trays for private events. (Must be ordered in advance.)

Not just for mammoth sandwiches and desserts, Kenny & Ziggy’s is still a full-fledged deli for sliced-to-order selections. Photo courtesy of Kenny & Ziggy’s.

Kenny & Ziggy’s, multiple locations
What’s a cheese list without mentioning a New York-style delicatessen? Houston is lucky to have a piece of the Big Apple in the form of Kenny & Ziggy’s. Beyond the extensive menu of gravity-defying sandwiches, generously-portioned entrees and gigantic desserts is a classic deli counter where 10 varieties of cow’s-milk cheese are sliced to order. Wisconsin provolone and muenster share space with smoked gouda from Denmark, Swiss from Germany and cheddar from New York. All varieties are $12.95 per pound with crackers available for purchase. Customized meat and cheese trays as well as cheese and fruit trays extend the options for parties and gatherings.

Phoenicia cheese tray

Extensive grocery store Phoenicia Specialty Foods (with locations in west and downtown Houston) specializes in European, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cheeses. Photo courtesy of Phoenicia

Phoenicia Specialty Foods, 1001 Austin and 12141 Westheimer
Both locations of the large grocery purveyor are veritable wonderlands of European, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. Roughly 350 cheeses beckon from the deli, including hard, pungent and spice-coated Shanklish cheese from Syria, Lebanon and Turkey. For more than 30 years, Phoenicia has aged it in-house. It also sells Armenian string cheese, a mild mozzarella that is braided and spiced with caraway seeds. Fetas abound and not just from Greece—there are also selections from Bulgaria, France, Denmark and Turkey. Elaborate cheese blocks are available for special events and the rest of the store offers endless side-stars, including chocolate, nuts, spices, crackers, olives, meats.

Coordinate curated cheeses with housemade charcuterie at Revival Market. Photo by Carla Gomez

Revival Market, 550 Heights
While the options here are sourced from the Houston Dairymaids (worth a visit too, as noted above), shopping for these at Revival Market offers the advantage of pairing with their housemade charcuterie, salumi and terrines. Combined, these are the makings for the ultimate deli sandwich, antipasti board or snack on the go. Cheese trays are also available for pre-order. There are about 10 cheese offerings at any given time, including those made from cow, goat and sheep milk. Two or three are always from Texas. The onsite artisan shop features additional goodies like Castelvetrano olives and Marcona almonds plus locally-roasted coffee, olive oils and pastas for rounding out well-fueled picnics and parties.

Find myriad nuts, fruits, meats and other treats to accompany cheese at Spec’s. Photo courtesy of Spec’s

Spec’s, 2410 Smith (plus multiple outlet locations)
Though this family-run business opened its doors in 1962, the extensive cheese selection wasn’t offered until the company introduced its gourmet food department in 1988. Today, more than 500 varieties from around the world tempt shoppers, including cow, sheep and goat milk cheeses. Mexico, Spain and France are just a few of the many countries represented. Visit on Saturdays when samples are usually offered. There’s also a large selection of crackers, fruits, olives, nuts, membrillo (quince paste) and more to accompany any spread. Year-round favorites include Wisconsin cheddar, Saint Angel Triple Creme Brie, burrata and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Whole Foods Market employs Certified Cheese Professionals (CPPs), who provide expert guidance on all things cheese. Photo courtesy of Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market, multiple locations
Choosing cheese is not always as simple as it sounds, particularly when recipes call for specific styles. Luckily, Whole Foods Market employs four out of the 11 Certified Cheese Professionals who currently live in Houston. (They’re like sommeliers, but for cheese.) Whole Foods’ 10 metro-area locations feature 200 to 500 locally- and internationally-sourced options, including cheeses made from cow, sheep, goat and buffalo milk. Stores also occasionally make fresh mozzarella in-house. Look for the nifty little basket in most cheese cases offering small hunks for $5 and under. These are perfect for taking home to sample or test in favorite recipes. Two exclusive items to look for are the English Seaside Cheddar and 24-month aged Mitica Parmigiano Reggiano.

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