Pastoral – For the Love of CheesePosted: February 28, 2011
After lunch at Topolo, I headed over to Pastoral to do some cheese shopping.
Pastoral is a small, artisan cheese and specialty food shop in the loop, by Michigan and Lake. I walked in around 1:40 on a Tuesday afternoon and ended up spending more than an hour sampling cheeses at the counter. What follows is my (very) detailed account of my shopping experience.
I should preface this review by stating that I have a pretty minimal knowledge of cheese. I actually felt intimidated before I walked in, since cheese is (to me) one of those complex and intricate universes of expertise I feel totally lost in. Objectively, I have very limited knowledge of different processes by which cheese is made and technical differences between different types. I was also in doubt of my ability to taste the difference between different types of cheese and appreciate them fully.
Fortunately, these concerns were (mostly) quelled by the nice lady who helped me at the counter. When she made eye contact with me as I approached her burgeoning display, she quickly asked whether I needed any help. I responded that I might need a few minutes to decide, as I unsure of how to properly convey my neurosis/obsession with food optimization to the friendly stranger. She responded by offering to help me sample any cheeses in the display which looked interesting, and I tentatively obliged.
I was immediately struck by the Ascutney Mountain, a raw cow’s milk cheese from Vermont. It was the featured cheese of the week, but besides that something about it looked very right to me. When I tasted a shaving of it, I think the woman was both amused and unsurprised by my reaction (my eyes opened very wide and I started nodding as the flavors spread across my palate). I did like it a lot, but knew I had many more cheeses to try and was intimidated by the relatively expensive price ($34/lb). I ended up buying a medium sized wedge, which was the right decision. This ended up being my favorite cheese.
I also asked to try a goats milk cheese, the Leonora from Spain. I liked the chalkiness and tangy-tart flavor of the center, and the contrast with the milder, creamier area near the rind. I ended up buying a good sized piece of this cheese.
I next tried a soft cow’s milk cheese, with a strong mushroomy flavor. I ended up buying a small wedge, but it stood out among the other cheese I selected as being the most “funky”.
I then picked up some very cute looking goat cheese rounds in the display. They were two small Bijoux rounds which I decided to buy solely on the basis of how cute they were. When I tried them back in BJ, I found them to be pleasantly rich, buttery, and salty.
I also bought some 12 Month – Mimolette. It was a very particular shade of orange, different from any other cheese in the case. The label also noted that it was Charles De Gaulle’s favorite cheese.
To round out my stash, I bought a few ounces of the Toscana Salame on the recommendation of the woman behind the counter, who indicated that it was her favorite.
I hope you forgive me if this post is too lengthy and detail oriented. Over the course of the hour or so I spent in Pastoral, I felt as though I learned more than I had ever known about cheese. The staff was unreasonably patient with my many, many questions. I also love being able to sample everything I’m considering buying (it does a lot to complete the information I need in my complex food-decision making algorithm). I ended up spending around $35 here, but since I knew how almost everything tasted (except the Bijoux) I was completely satisfied with my purchase.
I had such a positive experience at Pastoral, I don’t think I can recommend it highly enough. They also make sandwiches and sell other gourmet items. I will likely come back for a sandwich during my next Michigan Avenue shopping trip. God bless the wonderful people who make and sell the cheese at Pastoral.
1.5 lbs+ cheese – $35