Image: Amy Scott

So that you don’t have to, we asked the people behind some of the best cheese counters in Houston a few basic questions. But remember: Never be afraid to engage these professionals! That’s why they’re there.

Where should I start?

“There’s a chance you’ve noticed which animal’s milk has appealed most to you throughout your life,” says Lee Sanchez, a certified cheese professional at the Kirby location of Whole Foods Market. Already a fan of goat cheese, for example? Start there and ask to branch out. “Be open to suggestions from your local monger; he or she is sure to offer samples.”

Tell me more about goat cheese.

“All goat cheese is not soft and spreadable,” says Reginald Pearson, the cheese buyer at Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods. There are plenty of aged, therefore harder, goat’s-milk cheeses from around the world in various styles. These include gouda-like varieties and even goat’s-milk cheddar.

How do I know if cheese has gone bad?

There are three ways, explains Pearson: an off smell, a faded or dark appearance, and a bad taste. “I might add that some surface mold is not an indication it’s bad,” he says. “You can cut that part off. It’s natural for cheese to mold.” But a runny, ammonia-reeking ooze means it’s done.

What are the best go-to cheeses for my party?

“I get this question probably daily,” says Katarina Carlson, a certified cheese professional with Central Market. She recommends a triple-cream, a one-year-old gouda, and a nice cheddar. “And a gorgonzola. If you sprinkle honey on it, it’s enjoyable for everybody.”

Should I go near funky cheeses?

“Yes! The funky cheeses are generally found in our washed-rind family,” says Adrianne Mingea, regional cheese specialist for Murray’s Cheese, which operates counters at Kroger. “More times than not, the cheese’s bark is way bigger than its bite—meaning it may smell a little scary, but beneath the powerful rind is a creamy, savory treasure.” 

What makes blue cheese blue?

Blue cheese is cheese that has been intentionally inoculated with strains of food-safe blue mold,” says Mingea. “We carry a large variety, from our gateway blue, Black Label Cambozola, to heavy-hitting Stilton.” You’ll also find spicy Spanish Valdeón, wrapped in maple or chestnut leaves. 

How can I become a bigger cheese geek?

Eat more cheese, track what you’ve tried on Evernote, maybe listen to a podcast—Carlson recommends Behind the Rind, “a mix of Bill Nye the Science Guy and Miss Frizzle”—and know thy cheesemonger.

Wait, tell me again. Why should I know my cheesemonger?

“A good monger is a rock, a guide in the fog,” says Sanchez. “Because we recall the humble beginnings on the other side of that counter, a monger also serves as a great listener, willing to share in a dialogue about those cheeses that were the gateway to another dimension.” 

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