By John Lehndorff (originally published on John’s blog)
The last thing anybody wants to do on an icy November afternoon is go shopping inside a room-sized refrigerator. Yet that’s precisely what crowds of folks do on a daily basis at Longmont’s Cheese Importers Warehouse. They pick a nice insulated jacket from a rack at the door and plunge into a remarkable 1,800-square-foot wonderland to sample nutty aged Gouda, tart herbed chevre, nearly liquid Camembert and other favorites from the 400 varieties in stock during the holiday season.
Meanwhile, farms and small creameries across the state are producing some outstanding cheeses made from local goat, sheep and cow’s milk. In 2015, the Denver-based American Cheese Society handed out the Oscars of the cheese world, giving awards to Longmont’s Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy and Avalanche Cheese Co. in Basalt.
Specialty cheese shops and cafés pairing cheeses with local ciders and wines are catering to a younger generation weaned on Brie and eager to support sustainable, farm-to-fork fare.
For veteran curd-centrics like this author (who would eat cheese at every meal if allowed), Colorado’s fromagescene means road trips from Larkspur to Paonia with hands-on experiences milking goats and making burrata to simple cheese-to-mouth good times in the form of chef upgraded mac-n-cheese, fondue and grilled cheese sandwiches.
103 Main St., 303-772-9599
The cheeses, organized by country of origin in the walk-in cooler, draw many visitors but there is much more to savor at Cheese Importers Warehouse, set in a revived 1930s power station building. One can warm-up in the cookware and gourmet foods shop or grab quiche or a cheese plate at Bistrot des Artistes, the in-house French café. The Boudoir (upstairs, naturally) is a dining and gathering spot flanked by a kid’s shop offering cute cooking supplies and classic books such as Babar the Elephant. This major cheese wholesaler’s warehouse has become a holiday family tradition as well as a summer gathering spot with a cool, flower-festooned patio.
1121 Colorado Ave., 720-494-8714
Whether it is a creamy three-day-old chevre, nutty 3-month-aged Queso de Mano or buttery, soft-ripened Peak, Haystack’s award-winning cheeses are beloved by chefs and aficionados. Tours of the creamery feature cool, geeky details about cheese science with bags of curd draining, cheese rounds being dipped in black wax, and a harp-like instrument for cutting curds. Tastings involve Haystack classics and small batch treats such as smoked Gouda with fenugreek. Haystack will add a new, larger facility in Longmont this fall at 505 Weaver Park Rd. with room for tours, tastings, a market and The Art of Cheese, a space for cheese-making classes.
2504 E. Colfax Ave., 720-380-2691
“American cheese” is no longer a joke, and New World Cheese celebrates that fact by selling and serving only “cheese from this side of the pond,” said owner Teresa St. Peter. The tiny shop and café is tucked in Denver’s historic Lowenstein Cultureplex. St. Peter’s fondness for cheese from California, Wisconsin, Vermont, California and Colorado show up in a menu of charcuterie plates, warm beer cheese dip, Mission figs stuffed with Fruition Cacio Pecora, and comfy mac-n-cheese-filled grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. For dessert: Ugly Goat’s otherworldly goat’s milk fudge.
3559 Larimer St., 303-325-3831
For DIY “maker” types, it’s not good enough to simply sniff and taste the cheese. They want to make it, too. Located near LoDo, Wine & Whey stages classes in creating cheeses from milk including for butter, ricotta and mozzarella; feta and queso fresco; and farmhouse cheddar. Family and friends can schedule a class to make both red wine and mozzarella in one fun class with a follow up visit to cork the bottles.
3211 Lowell Blvd., 303-477-0374
If you like to talk about your Emmentaler and Welsh cheddar before purchase, you’ll love the personal service at St. Kilian’s Cheese Shop in the Highlands neighborhood. You and the monger will sample any cheese you show an interest in before your choices are paper-wrapped for home. The snug shop also stocks carefully curated meats, pickles and condiments along with artisan loaves from the nearby Denver Bread Company.
2556 15th St., 303-455-9463
The Truffle Table is a hip Lower Highland eatery that doubles as one of the best sit-down cheese-tasting spots in Denver. Beautiful boards are composed from the seasonal roster of 30 international cheeses. They are properly ripened and served because the owners also curate the goodies at The Truffle Cheese Shop (2906 E. 6th Ave., 303-322-7363) across town. Some aficionados frequent the eatery for the epic truffle mac-n-cheese and others are Wednesday regulars for all-you-can-eat raclette. What’s not to like about Gruyere melted over bread, vegetables, meat and anything else?
Mercantile Dining & Provisions
1701 Wynkoop St., Suite 155, 720-460-3733
Lots of chefs these days brag about their farm-to-table cuisine, but not many of them have actually bought a farm. Chef Alex Seidel’s Fruition Farm and Dairy in Larkspur supplies sheep’s milk cheese and fresh vegetables to his Mercantile Dining & Provisions and his original Denver fine eatery, Fruition (1313 E. 6th Ave., 303-831-1962). The critically acclaimed Mercantile, in the renovated Denver Union Station, dishes stellar meats, cheeses and pastries during the day and ingredient-focused fare in the evening. Fruition Farm focuses on sheep milk cheeses such as Shepherd’s Halo, a soft-ripened cheese served when silky spreadable. Mercantile’s must-taste cheesecake is made with Fruition’s super-rich sheep’s milk ricotta.
3350 Brighton Blvd. Unit 115, 720-398-8322
Cool cheese boards composed to your taste buds are on tap at Mondo Market at The Source, a taste destination inside a renovated industrial building in Denver’s River North neighborhood. You might start with super-creamy Italian Robiola Bosina from the large cheese roster, add thin slices of Serrano ham and crumbles of wine-soaked Basajo blue cheese. These are complemented with olives, crunchy fried corn, candied walnuts, marmalade and crackers. The market stocks local treats including Tender Belly Bacon, Elevation Ketchup and MouCo Colorouge cheese, spices ranging from sumac to five types of paprika. At The Source you can also grab a thickly crusted baguette at Babette’s Bakery, a nearly perfect latte at Boxcar Coffee Roasters, aged steaks at Western Daughters butcher shop, and award-winning fare at Acorn and Comida.
WESTERN SLOPE AND MOUNTAINS
11510 Crawford Rd., Paonia
216 Cody Lane, Basalt
319 E. Hopkins Ave., Aspen
Avalanche Cheese Company has the whole Colorado cheese experience covered at its three locations. You can rent a cabin and wake up to milk the goats at the family farm with a view in Paonia; enjoy cheese-making tours at its Basalt creamery; or taste the 2015 medal winners Cabra Blanca, Midnight Blue and Lamborn Bloomer, at its Meat and Cheese Restaurant in Aspen.
33846 U.S. Hwy 550, 970-764-4027
Open year-round to visitors, James Ranch is a 400-acre family business that crafts farmstead cheeses using raw milk from its own grass-fed Jersey cows. The onsite market offers farm vegetables, grass-fed beef, eggs, pork, ice cream and the memorable cheeses: creamy Gouda-like Belford; Leyden (flavored with cumin); and aged Andalo, an Italian-style grate-able cheese. From June to August the ranch hosts visitors who walk or ride on a hay wagon or electric cart through pastures to learn about sustainable farming. Special tours are available for kids and the Ranch also hosts a summer concert series with cheeseburgers.
31700 Hwy 24 North, 719-395-4646
Buena Vista brags about its myriad mountain activities from skiing to hot springs but some guests arrive to hang out with Dawn Jump and her 600 or so bouncy goats. The view of the Collegiate Peaks is stunning at Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy where this fifth-generation farmer/rancher crafts a dozen or more varieties ranging from soft-ripened First Snow dusted with poplar ash to tangy Buena Vista Bleu and wine-soaked aged Cheddar. From March through October, farm and creamery tours are available along with milking tours for those who want a hands-on encounter.
16420 Cavanaugh Rd., 303-870-3785
The Ugly Goat Milk Co. started with one singularly unattractive but very friendly goat and has grown into an award-winning creamery. Visits to the farm, about 20 minutes east of Brighton, include mingling with a menagerie of goats, cows, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl and savoring the farmstead cheeses. Ugly Goat is famous for its beautiful mild chevre, feta in a brine, goat milk ricotta, and soft-ripened Ugly Ash. It’s a joy to acquire a pound of owner Michael Amen’s sigh-inducing chocolate goat’s milk fudge. Serious cheesemakers take classes here.
200 Walnut St., Unit B, 970-232-9521
From California’s creamy Humboldt Fog to France’s heavenly Mimolette, the cheeses you taste at The Welsh Rabbit Bistro are the same ones you can buy at The Welsh Rabbit Cheese Shop (216 Pine St., 970-443-4027) a block away. The bistro offers a 40-item cheese list and small plates such as braised Colorado bison tongue with roasted pepper sauce. The Old World-style shop is stocked with local eggs, bacon, butter and preserves. The savvy staff insists you taste a few cheeses before they are cut and wrapped in paper. It’s tough to go back to the plastic-wrapped Colby-Jack at the supermarket.
28607 County Rd. 17, 970-686-6960
You see the iconic cow on the roof before you spy the sign for Cozy Cow on a rural road leading to a store, creamery and farm. The creamery’s Longview cheeses include squeaky Cheddar curds so prized that the cheesemaker sends out a text when fresh curds are available. Like a hot Krispy Kreme doughnut, fresh curds must be tasted to be appreciated. (Text CURDS to 970-805-4269). Folks can view the cheese-making process through windows, visit some of the animal inhabitants, and sign up for cow milking tours. At the store don’t miss the Greek-style grill-able cheese, the lemon ice cream or the fresh milk and cream ideal for making mozzarella, ricotta and ice cream at home.
Prepare for your cheese trip
Before heading to the farm it’s wise to review the do’s and don’ts for cheese tourists.
- Wear old clothes and even older shoes. You will be tramping fields, corrals or barns that are euphemistically labelled “muddy.” Sandals are a very bad idea.
- Don’t aggravate the llamas. The farms employ them to protect goats, sheep and other animals from predators, and llamas are prone to spitting.
- If you go on a creamery tour you will get wet and you must wear a hairnet even if it makes you look like your Aunt Ernestine.
- Do take the opportunity to nibble every type of cheese you are offered even if it’s unfamiliar. You may find an unexpected new favorite.
- Do buy cheese at these stops where a wider selection is offered, plus special batches not sold at retail outlets. You directly help these family farms and small food businesses survive.
- Do remember that you are sampling, not having a meal. Filling a baggie with Muenster for the road is frowned upon.
A Colorado celebration of cheese
The Colorado Cheese Festival is Nov. 8 at the Plaza Event Center, 1900 Ken Pratt Blvd., in Longmont.
An all-Colorado party cheese plate
MouCo Cheese Co. cow’s milk Camembert (Fort Collins).
Broken Shovels Farm goat’s milk banons wrapped in grape leaves (Commerce City).
Rocking W cow’s milk muenster curds (Olathe).
Coturnix Creamery sheep milk Roundabout (Windsor).
Did you know?
Colorado is home to Leprino Bros., the world’s largest producer of mozzarella used by pizzerias across the nation.
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU-FM. The former dining critic of the Rocky Mountain News loves ripe triple creme cheese.