Tag Archives: cheese

The hidden tradition of cheese for Hanukkah

There is a major tradition around eating fried food for Hanukkah, since oil is such an essential part to the Hanukkah story – a miracle that allowed one day’s worth of oil to light a menorah for eight days. Though we love the traditional fried donuts sfenj and sufganiyot –  there is also another Hanukkah tradition we have just learned about – eating cheese! The origins of eating cheese on Hanukkah begins with the story of Judith, who is said to have given an enemy general salty cheese to make him thirsty, becase of this he became drunk, allowing her to later kill him. So that may be a little morbid… but the importance of cheese to the story has led to delicious cultural traditions of enjoying cheese at Hanukkah time! Though the tradition is not as big in the US – it has a stronger foothold in Europe. Popular ways to enjoy cheese on Hanukkah are tasty Italian ricotta latkes, cream cheese rugelach and cheese blintzes.

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Cheese Blintzes by Eliza Adam

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The Best Cheese Plate in Cleveland at L’Albatros

franceThe cheese plate at Cleveland’s French stalwart L’Albatros (11401 Bellflower Rd.) is the best one we have ever tried. Usually, when you order a cheese plate at a restaurant, you get a small plate of pre-selected cheeses. Maybe at better restaurants you choose from 10 or so cheeses off of a list. One of the most disappointing things about cheese plates is either that they have repetitive, common cheeses, or the servers have no idea how to direct you to the right cheese selection. However, at L’Albatros, nothing is left to chance, and the staff goes above and beyond to help you get the right selections. You can get the cheese plate for either lunch or dinner, and you can select either 3 ($11), 5($14) or 7 ($17) cheeses. There are no pre-set selections, and the cheesemonger comes over to your table with a giant tray of dozens of cheeses, and you can talk about what you want, and even have samples! Check out at the amount of cheese to choose from (plus there were even more that didn’t fit into the frame).

cheeseplate

Here’s what we ended up with after much discussion and sampling:

  • Tomme de Savoie – France – A good start, Tomme is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor.
  • Cantal – France – A sharp, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that was almost Cheddar-like in taste and consistency.
  • Cabrales – Spain – M asked for the “blue-est” cheese they had, and after sampling, this was our choice. It was indeed a super sharp, crumbly sheep and cow’s milk cheese (so sharp it was almost metallic, which sounds weird, but was tasty).
  • Robiola Bosina – Italy – The first of two Robiola varieties we tried. This was a more mild, creamy goat and cow cheese.
  • Robiola Rochetta – Italy – As a contrast to the first robiola, this was a sharp, super-creamy (almost runny) blue cheese made with sheep, goat and cow’s milk.

We really enjoyed all of our our selections, and felt we got exactly what we wanted: a good mix of flavors and consistencies (granted we did take a while with the process). The plate also came with bread, honey and quince paste. We loved our cheese choices that night, but if we went back, we may end up with a totally different selection of just-as-delicious choices, depending on our mood. We cannot recommend the L’Albatros cheese plate enough!

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Lemon Ricotta di Bufala Cheese from Puglia

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ItalyWe came across one of the most unusual cheeses we have ever encountered at the new Whole Foods in Cleveland, which looked like tiny wedges of lemon cheesecake. Turns out it was a baked buffalo milk ricotta, flavored with lemon, from the Puglia region in Italy. When the ricotta is baked it takes on the texture and consistency of a cheesecake! So is it a dessert or a cheese? Maybe a little of both…. When it is whole, the cheese looks like a round or bundt cake (which may vary between brands), and you can buy the whole thing or little wedges. So even though you will usually find this in the cheese section, we think it may be better suited to the dessert case. We also saw this cheese in the inimitable DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia, so we are hoping it will be relatively common in cheese stores with better selections (or Zabar’s online). We think we have found the perfect dessert for cheese lovers (or cheese for dessert lovers)!

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The best grilled cheese in Astoria: The Queens Kickshaw

Being cheese lovers, M and I absolutely jumped at the chance to try what my cousin deemed “the best grilled cheese in Astoria” at the Queens Kickshaw (40-17 Broadway, Astoria, NY). The vibe inside was warm and cozy, and had the feel of a gastropub. There was a small but well-curated menu of grilled cheeses, along with burgers, soups and some other entrees. Not to mention a full menu of imported beers, coffee drinks and even mead. As for the grilled cheeses, Queens Kickshaw had the classic rendition of a grilled cheese, Cheddar & Mozzarella ($8.5) on a brioche roll, which was even served with a comforting cup of tomato soup. M got the gouda grilled cheese ($10), topped with black bean hummus, guava jam, pickled jalapeños, and with a side of green salad with jalapeño vinaigrette. L got a tomato burrata grilled cheese, ($12) on herb focaccia with heirloom tomatoes and herb pistou. How can we resist anything with burrata?

Gouda and Black Bean Grilled Cheese

Gouda and Black Bean Grilled Cheese by Garrett Ziegler

We figured they also would do other cheese-based dishes well, so I had to try the Mac ‘n Cheese ($14) which had a mix of Gruyere, cheddar and smoked mozzarella. The sandwiches were delicious and the cheese and bread were both extremely fresh. We also appreciated the interesting add-ins like black bean hummus and herb pistou that elevated the sandwich to another level. The gouda and black bean was definitely one of the best grilled cheeses we’d had recently, and we’d venture to say that it may be one of the best in the city. Not to mention that the Mac and Cheese was absolutely killer. What could more comforting (and tasty)? The Queens Kickshaw is definitely worth a stop if you get a craving for grilled cheese!

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Eating like a local in Venice

VeniceRain
ItalyWe were afraid to eat in Venice. Maybe it is because of a super strict ordinance serving fines and police scrutiny for eating in St. Mark’s square. Not that many tourists would have dared, considering that St. Marks was well under 2 feet of water when we arrived on a soggy cold day. However, with this first impression, we were a little intimidated, since getting food from various shops, cobbling together a picnic meal and eating al fresco is our obligatory European mealtime.
RialtoFruit

But, no matter, we figured out a way to do it, and you can too. Our first stop was the Rialto Market. Rialto Market is a classic open-air fruit and veggie market. It is surprisingly un-touristy though you will find quite a few tourists alongside the hustle and bustle of locals. By 2:30 everything is pretty much closed up – so hurry to get there before lunchtime if you can. We picked up some Sicilian oranges and sundried tomatoes, though as you can see there is a wide  variety of produce available (and even some chili peppers and flowers).
CasaDelParmigiano
In order to supplement our fruit and veg we got cheese and prosciutto at Casa Del Parmigiano (San Polo, 214, 30125 Venezia). It is an absolutely tiny little store, but is completely packed with cheese. In fact, this is probably one of the highest cheese-to-square foot ratios I have ever seen. The store has been in operation since 1936 and you can tell they are experts at the craft of cheese. There is every type of Italian cheese under the sun We got some goat’s milk Latteria della Valsassina cheese to go, which was creamy and mild.  In addition, there is a small but well-curated selection of prosciutto, and the San Daniele we chose was among some of the finest we ever tasted. We picked up two little ciabatta rolls from a grocery shop nearby to complete our sandwich. We ate clandestinely, evading authorities just off the Rialto market under a covered sidewalk that led to some sort of governmental building.

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Our final stop Gelatoteca SuSo (Calle della Bissa, 5453, 30124 San Marco, Venezia). It is a little way back from the canal and found it only through a 6th sense that directs us toward gelato products. Suso makes gelato artiginale – artisinal gelato – produced in-house in a large number of unusual flavors.  M got the Orient Express (cinnamon, clove and caramel) and L got Death in Venice [ha ha!] – coffee and chocolate swirl. The gelato was excellent, and the perfect finish to our al fresco lunch. Though we had to do it on the sly – we managed to find (and eat) some non-touristy food in Venice.

SusoGelato

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Cheese in London: Neal’s Yard Dairy

One of the things we are looking forward to most in London is the vast variety of British cheeses (and nice cheese shops). The video below is from Neal’s Yard Dairy, one of England’s foremost artisinal cheese shops, which specializes in local cheeses from all around the British Isles. We can’t wait to visit! In this short video below, we get to visit some local producers making St. James, Tymsboro and Montgomery Cheddar cheeses. What are some of your favorite British cheeses to recommend?

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Report from the 4th Annual Pastoral Artisan Producer Fest

Wherein the Fearless and Intrepid Lindsay and Matt Consume Much Free Meats and Cheeses Before Purchasing Even More.

The Pastoral Artisan Producer Fest, an annual April tradition held in the Chicago French Market, serves up a crowd-pleasing recipe for disaster: free samples of meat, cheese, and alcohol to any hungry Chicagoan who wanders in the door. With nearly one-hundred locally-sourced, artisanal, and talented vendors, the Fest may be one of the city’s best opportunities to eat well at zero cost. When we arrived at 11am, no wonder the place was already packed to the gills.

Crowded.

Crowded. But worth it.

One can easily get overwhelmed in the crowds, and the many patrons cutting in line to get samples. Here’s the thing, though: there is enough for everybody. Really. As such we tried, as best we could, to take our time: wait in lines, sample everything we could, talk closely with the vendors and makers about their products, snap photos when we had the chance, and save our favorite selections for purchase at the Pastoral counter at the back of the market. So, we meandered amongst the fifty tables, each showcasing two of the nearly one hundred producers of fine meats, cheeses, wines, spirits, and other accompaniments from around the country. With this slow-going method, we sampled the offerings at about half the tables (snaking through the lines at all of them would have taken all day) and took special attention to spend time at the section devoted entirely to Wisconsin cheese makers.

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Prosciutto, salame, mortadella, etc. from Smoking Goose Meatery.

Matt quickly made a bee-line for the charcuterie purveyors. Deservedly, much praise has been heaped upon West Loop Salumi right here in Chicago, and we did love their selections. At the end of the day, though, we could not escape the draw of the Stagberry Salame (pictured at center in the above photo) made by Smoking Goose Meatery in Indianapolis. Stagberry features ground elk – a meat neither of us had tried before – studded with blueberries and soaked in honey wine. A brilliant balance of bold flavors, this hiking-trip in a sausage was worth every penny of its $36.99/lb price. At the end of the day we purchased half a stick for a very reasonable eight dollars.

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Little Napoleon (left) and Manchester (right) from Zingerman’s Creamery.

Cheese was everywhere at the fest, with over one third of the vendors dedicated specifically to cheese. Wisconsin, as we mentioned before, boasted its own section – including the amazing offering of a free map of Wisconsin cheesemakers, which now sits in our glove compartment in case of emergencies. We made a point, however, to venture outside the Dairy State this day: Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor, Michigan (above) served up samples of its aged, soft Manchester and Little Napoleon cheeses. We were also big fans of their burrata, a creamy mozzarella mixture, and went back for seconds. Our were won, however, by the Bijou produced by Vermont Creamery: a simple, French-inspirted, aged goat’s milk cheese that was perfect for spreading and reminded us of similar table offerings we often encountered in Portugal. At $10.99 for two, we took one and ate it for lunch (in addition to all the other samples we had).

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Helpful assistance with choosing at Pear Tree Preserves.

Finally, while meat and cheese ruled the day, we can’t overlook the other offerings. Patrons had a seemingly endless choice of wine and spirits, dessert items, as well as other accompaniments. A great match for many of the cheese would have been one of the local, organic fruit spreads orpreserves from Pear Tree Preserves, based right here in Chicago. We had a cherry preserve that was delectable, great for pairing, eating alone, or thickening into a pie filling. You can check out their current flavors list.

While we were forced to make purchases – and we hope others did as well, as it seems sinful to wade through all these free samples of skilled labor and not buy anything – honestly, we didn’t dislike a single thing we tried. As such, don’t consider our list exhaustive or best-of-the-best by any means. Take a look at the Fest’s vendor list, and support these local makers even if you did not have a chance to attend!

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Photo Series on Swiss Cheesemakers

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switzerlandThe Atlantic has an amazing photo series on Swiss cheese makers, the Murith family, during their seasonal production of Gruyere cheese. The pictures take the term “pastoral” to a whole new level.

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The Quark Cheese Revival

Topfentorte quark cheese cake with seasonal fruit at Cafe Sabarsky

Topfentorte quark cheese cake with seasonal fruit at Cafe Sabarsky by Loretta Hui

germanyThe first time we heard the word “Quark” our minds immediately went to the elementary particle and the publishing software (I guess we are a bit nerdy). However, much more appropriately to this blog, Quark can also refer to a type of fresh, un-aged cow’s milk cheese from Germany. While the name may not sound too appetizing, Quark is tasty and versatile, and can be used in any sweet or savory dish that calls for cream cheese or ricotta. Quark is popularly eaten in Germany for breakfast or as a snack (often with Nutella or fruit mix-ins). Popular recipes are quark kuchen/Käsekuchen, German cheesecake made with Quark, and Austrian TopfenstrudelThough it has always been popular in Europe, Quark is experiencing something of a revival in the US. Vermont Creamery has a version of Quark, and Quark is now made in the Midwest, too. Quark has even been popping up on Chicago menus. Apparently one of the easiest cheeses to master, you can even make your own Quark.

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Blu di Bufala Cheese at Purple Pig

ItalyPurple Pig in Chicago (500 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL) is one of our favorite places to get cheese or charcuterie, that is, if you are able to get a table at this tiny no-reservations spot (don’t count on it). Purple Pig has an extensive selection of well-curated cheeses from all over the world. Some on the list we had previously tried (Fontina, Lincoln Log and Robiola), while others were new to us (Quadrello, Iborez, St. Agur). You can make your own cheese plate for $7 per cheese, 3 for $19, or 5 for $32. One now-favorites we first encountered on the Purple Pig cheese list was Blu di Bufala. The name will likely give you a clue to its contents: a blue cheese made with buffalo milk.

Blu di Bufala

Blu di Bufala by Madame Fromage

Now we are practically obsessed with Mozzarella di Bufala, so we figured we would love this variety, and we were right. There was a strong blue flavor, but the cheese itself was extremely creamy – almost buttery – and it wasn’t overpowering at all. Blu di Bufala hails from Bergamo, Lombardy in northern Italy, and is made by Caseificio Quattro Portoni. This cheese was first made by the Gritti brothers who run Caseificio Quattro Portoni, in 2005, and it has already taken second place in the World Cheese Awards (yes, this is a real thing). Today the brothers manage a herd of 1,000 Water Buffalo to make the cheese. You can buy Blu di Bufala in cheese stores throughout the US, and online. If you can get your hands on some, Blu di Bufala is great for snacking, and for the ambitious, DiBruno Bros. has a creative recipe for a dessert grilled cheese with Blu di Bufala on chocolate cherry bread.

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The story behind Madison favorite, Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread

We absolutely love the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison. It is gigantic, and you can get pretty much any type of produce or baked good there. However, we are creatures of habit, and we make a fairly predictable round of purchases (Hook’s Cheddar, Heirloom Tomatoes, Cilantro, possibly honey, and a few others). One of things we have to get every time we visit is Stella’s hot and spicy cheese bread (which is as awesome as it sounds), and we know many others who feel the same. However, we never really knew the backstory behind the bread. WXOW has the inside scoop, and you may be surprised to learn its origins are actually related to tamale production. You can find the bread in other locations around town, but getting it at the farmer’s market is the best since it is delivered fresh and hot several times throughout the day. If you are far from Madison and craving some cheese bread, Stella’s ships. Or for the more ambitious, Badgerlicious has a DiY recipe.

Stella's Spicy Cheese Bread Stall

Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread Stall & Crowd by Adam Fagen

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Cheese at Brick Street Market in Delavan, WI

Brick Street Market
104 E Walworth Ave
Delavan, WI 53115

We took a little trip to Lake Geneva this past weekend to get away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. We hit up our usual haunts, but are happy to report we found somewhere new (to us). We were going to our favorite antique store in nearby Delavan, WI (where we found some interesting postcards and stereograph slides), when we spotted Brick Street Market, right across from Delavan’s signature giraffe statue.

Brick Street Market Cheese Cooler

Brick Street Market Cheese Cooler

The front of the store is given over to a cheese cooler, along with a cute seating area. In the back there is a little wine cellar with an international selection of wines, along with other cheese related products (knives, boards, etc), coffee, jam and mustard. There is also a well-curated menu, including a selection of excellent-looking sandwiches, salads and a selection of cheese plates. 

Brick Street Market Cheese Flight

Brick Street Market Cheese Flight

A small cheese plate is only $3.50, but we opted for the heartier Single Cheese Flight ($9). While advertised as serving 1-2 persons, it easily served both of us for lunch. The staff selects the cheeses for you. Our plate included Manchego from León, Spain, Wisconsin-made Holland’s Herbed Gouda, and Hook’s Little Boy Blue sheep’s milk cheese. We also received crackers, quince jam, dried fruit and nuts, a bit of local raw honey for the blue cheese, and a delicious local salami from nearby Milwaukee. We were completely astounded at the quality of these cheese plate for a mere 9 dollars! Everything was completely delicious, and it was one of the most well-composed cheese plates we had recently, at any price.

Brick Street Market

Brick Street Market

On our way out we bought some 4-year aged Hook’s white cheddar to take home (our old favorite from the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison). Now after our travels, we are a pretty jaded bunch, but we felt more pleased after our visit to Brick Market than most of our recent trips. We have to go back very soon.

Delavan Giraffe

Delavan Giraffe

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Chihuahua Cheese’s (Queso Menonita) Mexican Mennonite Origins

Mexico FlagBack in the US we are very familiar with Chihuahua cheese (Queso Chihuahua) and have seen many recipes calling for the mild, slightly yellow cheese. However, we did not know much about its origins – and it turns out it has a rather unusual history.

Chihuahuacheese

Chihuahua Cheese by Mérida Hideaway

Chihuahua cheese, known for the Northern Mexican state where it is produced, is also known as Menonita cheese in Mexico. Yes, Menonita is “Mennonite” in Spanish – and it is indeed Mennonite cheese! Turns out there is a rather large Mennonite population in Mexico, having first arrived in the 1920s, and they were the ones who first produced the cheese. Though it has now been commercialized, you can still find Menonita cheese being made by Mennonites in the town of Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua.

MennoniteMexico

A Mennonite sells cheese in Mexico by Cristiano Oliveira

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Juustoleipä, or leipäjuusto: Finnish Bread Cheese

finlandRecently, there has been a post from the blog Dude Foods making the rounds of the blogosphere about a 100% cheese grilled cheese sandwich: the “bread” in this case is actually Finnish Bread cheese, and the filling is American cheese. So what exactly is “Finnish Bread Cheese?” It’s Finnish name is juustoleipä, or leipäjuusto (leipä=bread, juusto=cheese), and it is similar to the better-known (in the US) Halloumi, and Brazilian queijo coelho. The variety of  leipäjuusto Dude Foods used was from Carr Valley cheese in Wisconsin. In order to get the most of this cheese – it should be heated or broiled, giving it distinctive brown grill marks. Though there will probably be a run on this type of cheese for people hoping to recreate the epic “cheese grilled cheese”, there are many other recipes involving leipäjuusto. It pairs particularly well with fruit and jams and you can even dip it into coffee!

leipajuusto

Leipajuusto Finnish cheese and jam by Magnus Franklin

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Cheese Map of the UK and Ireland

cheeses_map_595_2united_kingdomDid you ever wonder EXACTLY where you British cheese come from? OK, so maybe I’m the only one – but I guess I must not be since there is apparently a World Cheese Book chockablock with cheese maps. Here’s Ireland from the World Cheese Book, You can find the UK Map at the BBC, where it was chosen as Mark Easton’s Map of the week in honor of the just-ended British Cheese Week.

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Recipes for Fromage Fort

Don’t quote us yet- but we believe we may have just stumbled upon the best use for leftover cheese ever. Fromage Fort (‘strong cheese’ in French) is an easy-as-pie recipe that turns leftover bits of cheese into a delicious spread – all you need is a little white wine and a few herbs. So it’s not really a recipe, just a good idea with infinite variations. Jacques Pepin has a nice simple take on the spread, as does Alton Brown. Why have we never heard of this recipe before?cheesedespana

[Spanish cheese at España in NYC]

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Finer Things Club: Gjetost Cheese

norwayThis Norwegian import, (pronounced “yet-oast”) is hands-down one of the most unusual and distinctive cheeses the eaters have ever sampled. Gjetost is actually known as Brunost (literally ‘brown cheese’) in Norway. If that weren’t confusing enough, Gjetost goes by a variety of names across Scandinavia (Sweden – mesost, and Denmark – myseost). Gjetost is made from goat and cows’ milk and whey, which is boiled to a caramel brown and a soft consistency. Due to this caramelization, the cheese has a sweet, burnt sugar taste. Gjetost is commonly served sliced very thinly on top of fruit or crackers. This unusual cheese is commonly available at Whole Foods and many specialty stores. The most common variety in the US is is Ski Queen, which is found in a distinctive red package, as seen below.

flickr photo from [oknovokght]

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A trip to DiBruno Brothers Market in Philadelphia

ItalyDiBruno Brothers
930 S. 9th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19145diinterior

As you can tell by reading this blog, both L and M are big fans of cheese. When we’re traveling we never miss an opportunity to scout out the local cheese shops. On a recent trip to Philly had the chance to visit one of our favorite cheese shops – DiBruno Brothers. When L used to go to school in Philly, she visited this DiBruno Brothers location at least every couple of weeks (she also turned M into a convert). Though M is not from Philly, he lives in Wisconsin, so needless to say, he takes his cheese very seriously. It’s our cheese-loving opinion that DiBruno Brothers is one of the best cheese stores around. The first thing DiBruno Brothers has going for it is its location smack dab in the middle of Philadelphia’s Italian Market. The Italian enclave in South Philly is big, bustling and vibrant, unlike many others (our trip to the NYC Little Italy was underwhelming and frankly kitschy), and the famous Italian Market is located in the middle of this Little Italy. Philadelphia’s Italian Market, though perhaps less impressive than it was a few decades ago, still provides a wide range of small, authentic, family-run Italian shops that would be right at home on a street in Parma or Naples.di2

Though the market is full of great specialty food store, DiBruno Brothers has always been out favorite for its great selection and friendly staff. When you enter, the first thing you notice are the huge cheeses hanging from the ceiling, cured Italian meats sitting on sample plates to eat, a huge cheese counter on one side of the narrow store and a wide variety of dry goods on the other. It goes without saying that cheese is the star of the show. From Italian favorites like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Mozzarella di Bufala to Scandinavian and Argentine cheeses, DiBruno brothers has it all. If there is any variety you would like to try, DiBruno Brothers is generous with samples. The staff are all knowledgeable and helpful and have made great suggestions over the years. The selection is wide and varied, though some of the more unique varieties can be a bit pricey. On our last visit, however, M was on a mission for Garrotxa, a Spanish goat milk cheese he fell in love with back in Wisconsin. Since then he had not seen it anywhere, but DiBruno came to the rescue.

dbbcheeseAlong with a copious variety of cheese from around the world, DiBruno Brothers also boasts a selection of olives, meats and ready made foods. There is enough here to keep you occupied (and fed) for days. The DiBruno empire also stretches into a ready-made food store further up the block in the Italian market, and to a large store and cafe in Rittenhouse Square. However, for us, the DiBruno Brothers cheese store in the Italian market will always be the real deal. This is what heaven looks like!dbbmural

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