For everyday food, I'm happy to shred supermarket cheddar or mozzarella -- especially the Bel Gioioso mozzarella balls in the deli at Giant. But great cheese is a wonderful luxury. Cheese has spectacular flavors, and it can be the simplest, fast snack or be one ingredient in the most ornate feast. It can also be quite reasonable if buying cheese means that you skip one meal at a restaurant. A $7 cheese at Roots is expensive -- unless the other option is walking down the strip center for an $8 pasta at Pasta Blitz. With a box of pasta and some sauce, you can turn Roots' cheese into dinner for four. (At least, that's my rationalization.)
- For me, the best cheese in Howard County is at Roots in Clarksville and My Organic Market in Jessup. Both organic markets offer small displays, but they include varieties that you just can't buy at supermarkets. Goat cheeses. Special cheddar. Stilton. Parmesan, which is absolutely worth buying because it sits for weeks in your fridge waiting to be grated on meal after meal. Roots offers more, and it promotes local producers like Cherry Glen. But I shop at both, although I won't hold any of this against Whole Foods or Wegmans. Cheeses there just taste better, and you can sample, ask questions, and get custom-cut pieces, which I love when I want to sample just a snippet of something new.
- Of course, your can't rationalize cheese at a restaurant, so you just need it to be super-delicious. That is why I go to Iron Bridge Wine Co. for the cheese plate as part of a tapas-like meal. (Iron Bridge is also a favorite of Elizabeth Large's blog -- which picked a Top 10 Cheese Plates and liked Tersiguel's in Ellicott City as well.) The honorable mention is Great Sage, which often offers cheeses on its seasonal menu.
Three other thoughts: Trader Joe's sells good cheese, although I tend to buy basic like logs of plain goat cheese. David's Natural Market in Wilde Lake probably sells cheese as well. I haven't been there recently, but it's very similar to MoM. And, finally, consider the new Harris Teeter in King's Contrivance. I think the cheese is a step below Roots, and the prices are just as high -- even for cheese that is plastic-wrapped like anything at Giant or Safeway.
(Update: There is a good comment about cheese at Costco, which often does have good food.)
(Update: In early 2009, a local blog Ready, Set, Kate was posting about cheese. Kate's resolution was to eat cheese, and she was posting weekly with descriptions and photos of her finds -- including a spreadsheet that describes where you could find the cheese.)
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