One thing is for sure: Orlando, cheesy as some may say it is, lacks decent cheese. On the dining-out frontier, we're doing great. When it comes to libations, spectacular. We're even doing OK on the chocolate front. But when it comes to handcrafted speciality cheeses, there's nothing happening.
Whole Foods has an adequate cheese department for basic Brie, cheddar and Parmesan. But what's a girl to do when she craves her fix of Vermont farmstead blue? Or how about the kind that's been made by Benedictine monks on the same small plot of land for the past few centuries? Or Corsican Fleur du Maquis, a young, tender wheel of goat's milk that is covered in rosemary, fennel and juniper?
For those delicacies, shop online at one of the country's best cheese establishments, Artisanal. This New York cheese empire, which includes a restaurant featuring fromagieres (the cheese equivalent of sommeliers) on Park Avenue and an education center on the West Side, has a tantalizing website that offers their handiwork. Artisanal has four caves where their affineurs age wheels of cheese to perfection before shipping out. They arrive at your doorstep in peak condition, at the height of flavor. Even the common cheeses purchased here have a distinct flavor brought on by their expert care. Also, the stock is constantly in rotation for what's seasonal, ripe and ready to eat.
Cheese and wine flights are available ($55), which pair three cheeses with a wine varietal. What goes with champagne? Catalonian Garrotxa, a delicate goat-milk variety that lingers with milky taste; buttery, bloomy-rinded Brillat-Savarin, made from triple cream; Fontina Val d'Aosta, a nutty, Gruyère-like blend from the mountains of Northern Italy.
My favorites are Constant Bliss ($11/each), small chaource-like wheels from Vermont made with the raw milk of Ayreshire cows; Belgian Chimay ($20/ pound) that is washed in ale until it takes on a nice hint of hops; and Dutch gouda that is aged four years ($19.50/pound) and tastes like melting caramel at the finish.
Also available are cheese knives, cheese books and cheese platters. Think of Artisanal as a one-stop shop for everything cheesy.