Review: Seven Scrumptious Cheeses & Dishes in Woodbury

Check out these outstanding cheese appetizers and entrees.
Cashel blue cheese from Kowalski's.

Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, an 18th century French gourmet-foodie once said, “Dessert without cheese is like a beauty with only one eye.” Clearly, this was a man passionate about his fromage, and in fact, there’s a cow’s milk cheese that’s named after him. You may disagree with Savarin’s opinions about dessert and beauty, but it’s hard to argue about the deliciousness of cheese.
Available in hundreds of varieties with myriad textures, forms and flavor profiles, cheese is as diverse as it is delicious. We love creamy brie slathered on a hunk of crusty bread. We adore sharp cheddar sliced thick and melted into grilled-cheese-sandwich oblivion. And we are gaga for rich cheese curds from our neighbors in Wisconsin. Woodbury Magazine’s fervor for this delightful dairy led us into the restaurant community in search of the best gosh-darn cheese we could find. So read on; things are about to get cheesy.

Seafood Baked Penne
Carmine’s Restaurant and Bar
Mozzarella is a fresh cheese made from Italian buffalo’s milk (nothing like the buffalo you’re imagining) or cow’s milk. It’s delicate, sweet and tender in texture, and we all know it’s fabulous with fresh basil, tomatoes and a drizzle of good olive oil. America has given this semi-soft cheese a semi-permanent home sprinkled on top of pizza, but there are countless other dishes that make mouthwatering use of our buddy, mozz. Take for example Carmine’s seafood baked penne ($18.95). This entrée features lobster, shrimp and crab that have been tossed with cream, green onions and sun-dried tomatoes, served over a pile of penne, then baked under a blanket of mozzarella and topped with fried potato crumbles. That melted mozzarella cheese coalesces with the seafood in a mind-bending symphony of yumminess. 9900 Valley Creek Road; 651.730.4500.

Pretzels with Fondue

Cravings Wine Bar and Grille
Named after the town of Gruyères in Switzerland, this hard cow’s milk cheese is often described as sweet and nutty. It will probably taste that way to you if it’s on the young side, but if you’re nibbling on a Gruyère that’s been aging, you might taste more earthiness and complexity. It’s lovely on its own or in baking (especially in pie crusts). Another exemplary use of Gruyère can be found at Cravings where the restaurant uses it in an appetizer called pretzels with fondue ($13). Melted with a splash of pinot grigio into a sumptuous, bubbling dip, the Gruyère plays oh-so-nicely with the house-made pretzels served alongside it. This is a sophisticated appetizer that’s playful and accessible, thanks to the soft, salty pretzels. And, if you’re looking for more cheese to satisfy a, well, craving, Cravings offers a pleasant cheese tray appetizer, which includes an always-changing selection of three cheeses, walnuts, golden raisin chutney plus crackers and dried fruit. 755 Bielenberg Drive #108; 651.528.6828.

Smoked Cheddar
Jordan Meats and Deli
It’s the most popular kid in class: cheddar cheese. Widely embraced and loved by all, cheddar is a hard cheese that ranges in color from intense orange to pale white. Often it’s attached to some adjective that makes it sound worldly and a little bit dangerous: “sharp” cheddar, “aged” cheddar. We’re digging the smoked cheddar ($7.99/lb.) from Jordan Meats and Deli. Buy a wedge, take it home and use thick slices of the rich fromage in your next grilled cheese sandwich. You will be a believer. A couple more excellent grilled-cheese cheeses from Jordan’s include creamy American cheese ($5.99/lb.), muenster ($6.99/lb.) and the 9-month aged cheddar ($6.99/lb.). Any of the delectable cheeses offered at this deli also make for exquisite cheese plates. 6445 Lake Road Terrace, Ste.302; 651.578.8677.

Local Cheese Plate

Danny’s Bar & Grill
Ignore the StoneRidge Golf Club in the distance. You’ve come to Danny’s not for the gentleman’s sport, but for a gentleman’s (or gentle-lady’s) cheese plate. Cozy up inside a booth, make sure a glass of wine materializes in your hand, and put in your order for the local cheese plate ($13.95). You’ll be delighted when it arrives: a veritable palette of fromages ranging from Eichten’s chipotle gouda to Black River blue cheese to Stickney Hills goat cheese to sharp cheddar spread. We’re suckers for that creamy goat cheese, which is studded with cranberries and balsamic syrup. The platter also comes with marcona almonds and those super-yummy, electric-green castelvetrano olives. Heaven. Pure heaven. Add salami to your slice of heaven for an additional $2. 13600 N. Hudson Blvd., Stillwater; 651.436.2144.

Fried Wisconsin

The Lakes Tavern
We call them “cheese heads” for a reason. Those Wisconsinites across the river really know what they’re doing when it comes to dairy. And those folks in Ellsworth, Wis. have got it down as far as cheese curds are concerned. If you haven’t tried them already, you can do so at The Lakes Tavern, where fried Wisconsin ($10) is available on the starter menu. Your server will bring you a plate of fresh cheese curds that have been coated in spicy beer batter and fried to the point of swoon-worthy deliciousness. Another cheesy appetizer worth mentioning is the fancy pants cheese plate ($12), which features three cheeses that change regularly. The cheeses are served with fig jam, sweet candied nuts, spicy brown mustard and honeyed wonton crisps. We recommend a glass of wine with the cheese plate, a pint of beer with the curds. 9240 Hudson Road; 651.287.2000.

Cashel Blue
Kowalski’s Markets
Walk into Kowalski’s and follow your nose. You’ll soon find yourself surrounded by walls of pleasantly pungent cheese: a cheese lover’s playground. Whether you’re searching for the perfect Parm to grate over your pasta or you’re creating a cheese platter for weeknight snacking, you’ve come to the right place. Ask the friendly staff for direction, or snatch wedges at random and load up your basket. It’s hard to go wrong. If you’re a fan of bleu cheese, you must try the Cashel Blue ($22.99/lb.) from Ireland. It’s made from pasteurized Friesian cow’s milk. If you have it young, it’s going to be firm and moist with a slight sharpness. As it ages, it mellows out and gets creamier. As long as we’re dwelling on Irish cheese, we must point out the Kerrygold Irish Dubliner with Stout ($21.99/lb.), which offers sweetness and nuttiness combined with the malty, caramely-bitter flavor of a rich pint of Irish stout. Selection at Kowalski’s varies by store location. 8505 Valley Creek Road; 651.578.8800.

Worth the Trip
Roasted Feta
Phil’s Tara Hideaway
Originally, we were going to suggest you take a trip to Greece, but you don’t have to travel quite that far for good-quality feta cheese. Instead, you need only drive to Stillwater where Phil’s Tara Hideaway is nestled (a treasure that’s tucked away on a frontage road). The owner of the cozy eatery, Phil Barbatsis, offers a taste of his Greek-Meditarranean roots through a number of dishes, including the roasted feta appetizer ($7). The brined cheese has a lovely saltiness that blends well with the olives, roasted tomato and oregano that it’s roasted with. Served with soft pita bread, this flavorful cheese is a fabulous way to start a meal. That yummy feta is also scattered atop the out-of-control-awesome Greek salad ($6), a medley of romaine, olives, pepperoncini, cucumber, vine-ripe tomato, bell pepper and onion. 15021 North 60th Street, Stillwater; 651.439.9850.