Tips on Buying, Storing, and Choosing Cheese

Owner Norbert Wabnig provides insight into the world of fromage

Norbert Wabnig

Tiffany’s, Prada, Gucci, and Versace can all be found in the ultra-affluent town of Beverly Hills.  Shopaholics can indulge in their dream buying spree, but there is also a special address for elite food lovers in the 90210, for cheese.

Few stores in the country can beat the variety and quality of fromage at The Cheese Store of Beverly HillsAOC, The Water Grill, Patina and other top LA restaurants all buy cheese for dishes at the tiny, smelly (in a good way) store on Beverly Boulevard.

We sat down with owner Norbert Wabnig to break bread, sample great cheese, and talk about tips on buying, storing and eating cheese.

How many kinds of cheese do you sell at The Cheese Store?
It really depends on the time of the year. It can vary anywhere from 450 to 600 or more from all over the world.

What is the difference in flavor between a cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk cheese?
Most people will relate to cow’s milk because most of our cheeses are made from cow’s milk. Part of the reason for that is cows produce a lot of milk, about 30 quarts per day. Goats and sheep only provide about 4 quarts per day. One of the reasons cheesemakers blend goat’s milk cheeses is because they don’t have enough goat’s milk. Each milk has a unique taste. Goat milk has a winey, sour taste. It is like oysters, once you get the taste for it you really like it. Lactose intolerant cheese eaters can still tolerate goat and sheep cheese. Sheep milk is kind of in the middle of the three, it has the richness of cow’s milk and a bit of the tang of goat milk.

What makes a cheese unique?
The terroir, just like wine. The soil, geography, and what the cow, sheep and goat eat are all factors the separate and distinguish different flavors of each cheese. That’s why a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain tastes different from a sheep’s milk cheese from Italy. One of the reasons that French cheeses are so distinctive is the terroir.

What do you look for when purchasing cheeses for the shop?
Obviously taste, but we are also concerned with the care in which it was made and a little bit about the personality of the person who made the cheese. I believe that personality somehow flows into the cheese.

What should a beginner cheese buyer look for when purchasing cheese?
Approach it as an adventure. We all have certain cheeses that we know and have grown up with and we like. I recommend to start with that and then branch out. So if you like Cheddar, then maybe expand and try a something with a little more flavor like a sheep’s milk Manchego. The next time you come in, then try something from the French Basque region. We aren’t a pretentious store, so customers never need to be afraid to ask to try something.

Any suggestions on under-rated cheeses that people generally overlook but that they should try?
One of my favorites is Manchego. It's easy to find. A harder cheese to find but also one of my favorites is Brin D’amour, which is a Corsican sheep’s milk cheese and is fresh, rolled in herbs and allowed to age.  Many people also say they don’t like blue cheese but most of the time after they sample a few delicate variations they change their minds.


What is the best way to store cheese to get the most flavor and last the longest?
Cheese is a very durable food.  You just have to care for it a little to make it last.  Rewrap cheese every few days and scrape any mold off.  Firm cheeses can last many months.