France 44 Cheese Shop

A Vegetarian's Guide to the Cheese Shop // Part II

vegetarian_guide_image_2 Meet Eliza, our cheese shops’ resident vegetarian! She’ll be showing you around the shop from an herbivore’s point of view. This is the first in a multi-part series.

This past month I turned 24, marking a decade-long abstinence from meat consumption. Eating vegetarian has become a deeply ingrained habit for me and when I started working at the France 44 Cheese Shop last September, I made it my job to carve a vegetable-shaped path through my experience.

Despite the presence of countless delicious (allegedly) meat-centric products, the France 44 and St. Paul Cheese Shops have a bounty of vegetarian options. Back in June, I shared a few tips to following an herbivore's lifestyle and here I am again to bestow some more knowledge upon you vegetable lovers. This time I’ll focus more on home cooking and the great products you can buy at our cheese shops to create delectable meals of your own.

1.Whole Milk Ricotta, the single best-kept secret of the Cheese Shop Our Ricotta comes from Calabro Cheese Corporation, in my beloved home state of Connecticut. This fluffy, luscious, smooth ricotta was originally distributed out of New Haven—home to the country’s best pizzeria and Mecca for delicious Italian fare—so you know it’s good. Though we don’t sell this cheese directly out of our case, we almost always have it, so please ask us to package some up for you!

Ricotta is versatile. You can bake it in lasagna, put it on pizza, eat it for breakfast on toast with honey, or have us smear it all over your favorite sandwich. Calabro ricotta is fresh and delicious and if you are anything like me, you will steal a bite whenever you can.

2. Pasta! So all this talk of Italian food has you hungry for pasta. Well you’re in luck because we sell pasta in every shape and size! Trust me, I have a new appreciation for our selection after having recently rearranged the shelves. We have a lot of pasta and it's all impeccably made. From buccatini to ringlets to shells, we’ve got it. And you can also always ask a monger if you need a recommendation. Pick up pasta with some delicious Scarpetta sauce or our house-made Smoked Paprika Parmesan and you are good to go. Mix in some grilled vegetables from our deli case for that extra wow factor.

3. Soup Though it’s only August, fall is right around the corner and that means soup. We offer a smattering of delicious vegetarian soups in the grab-and-go case. Here are some of my favorites:

Carrot Fennel: Oh man, it is simple and delicious and it’s so healthy it’s almost like you went for a run just by eating it. Shave some of our Cravero Parmigiano-Reggiano right on top and invite me over for dinner. And don’t forget to dip one of our freshly baked baguettes in that bowl of golden soup!

Gazpacho: I know I know, I’m getting hasty thinking about fall and not even savoring summer, the absolute best season of the year. Gazpacho is basically synonymous with summer soup so eat some chilled deliciousness on your next picnic at the beach.

Tomato Soup: Let the tomatoes speak for themselves! They are delicious and so is this soup, which truly highlights all the natural sweetness and deliciousness of everyone’s favorite summer vegetable.

4. Melts

In my last post, I told you all about the different vegetarian sandwiches you can order at the cheese shop. What I failed to mention is that every once and a while it’s important to switch it up. Regular sandwiches are great, but you know what can be even better? Melts. Offered exclusively at our St. Paul Cheese Shop, our savory Melts are decadent, oozy grilled cheese sandwiches that are oh so vegetarian-friendly! Unlike our cold sandwich menu, which skews to the meaty side of things, more than half of our St. Paul shop's Melts are meat free. Check out these mouth-watering options:

• Barber’s English Cheddar and house-made harrissa • Melodie Comté with caramelized onions and whole grain mustard • Calabro whole milk mozzarella with house-made tomato-garlic confit • Double cream brie with cranberry chutney

And the best part? Each Melt is served with a shot of the tomato soup I mentioned above. Perfect!

I’m happy to say, after working at the Cheese Shop for nearly a year, I am still discovering new vegetarian indulgences. Remember, you can always ask your cheese monger for vegetarian options or alternatives. Enjoy that meat-free lifestyle!

In Praise of Minnesota Produce

Strawberries In our humble little cheese shops, we’re not trying to change the world. We’re simply trying, the best we know how, to make scrumptious food and send you home with it. It's no coincidence, however, that one mission can accomplish both. A mission to support our endlessly dedicated farmers brings us the tastiest ingredients. A need to pay homage to the tastiest ingredients roots our cooking in tradition, simplicity, and the elegance of native-grown produce.

Think about the last time you ate a fresh garden tomato or a summer strawberry. Maybe you’re naturally green-thumbed and have had the pleasure of growing it yourself. Was it so juicy that it seemed to spring a leak when you bit into it? Did its deep ruby shade and bright, bursting flavor beg you to enjoy the moment just a second longer? Perhaps it caused an involuntary “mmm…” or “whoa!” to escape your lips. Now compare it to its cloned, out-of-season grocery store counterpart. Maybe the inside was white and spongy or mealy, like it was part edible sand. Maybe there was simply nothing lovely enough about it to be memorable at all.

If we can agree on the beauty and intense flavor of a tomato and a strawberry at their most delicious, we certainly don’t need to ask the question, “Why local?” It isn’t surprising that something grown near us, picked at its peak of ripeness, sugar development, and water retention, packed carefully and driven across town to be used in the following days (not weeks or months) is overwhelmingly more delightful than the alternative. I think I’d be bruised, battered, and lifeless after an international flight, too. A walk around the block is much simpler.

Minnesota Produce

The massive and obvious difference between homegrown fare and the shipped-in variety inspires all kinds of wonder. A small, but palpable phenomenon occurs every time we infiltrate the Cheese Shop kitchen with any neighborhood-procured bounty. Mouths water at the sight of dazzling beet jewels. Questions abound watching garlic scapes being snake-coiled inside pickling jars. Ideas trickle in from unlikely sources and grandmother’s recipes long forgotten. Hilariously-shaped irregular carrots make the rounds to give everyone a snicker. The entire staff anxiously awaits spring greens as their memories of last year's spicy greens already fading like a wispy dream. Text messages proclaiming, “These strawberries are BLOWING MY MIND. They are so red all the way through!”, and the shock and awe of a significant other noticing, “This celery tastes salty and… green? Normal celery tastes like crunchy water.”

It’s hard not to love the people and communities who work tirelessly to bring us such delight. They are often covered in dirt, dressed like camp counselors, a little stinky and sweaty, and smiling from ear to ear when they appear in our kitchen. The pride in offering their life’s work in a cardboard box and sharing it with their community is contagious. It is impossible to say no to the prettiest kale or butter lettuce when it's presented by the guy who tended and picked it. And how could we not order bushels of peaches by faxing an order form and deposit to a farm that still does mail-order?

Our dedication to capitalizing on the heartbreakingly-short Minnesota growing season isn’t always all warm fuzzies and happy days, though. It typically means hard work and long hours. When ripe tomatoes hit and can’t wait patiently for our attention, we bring in hundreds of pounds a day to can, stew, roast, dry, and purée. Then we play Freezer Tetris to try to store it all for use in our roasted tomato risotto throughout the fall. Cases upon cases of Honeycrisp apples overtake our walk-in coolers, prep spaces, hallways, and lives as we feature them in house-made strudel or a signature honey, blue cheese, and apple sandwich, and pair them with cheese plates. Occasionally, you’ll hear the distant mad cackling of a kitchen employee who’s putting away the world’s silliest-looking pile of rhubarb or someone asking, “Are you absolutely sure you want to order $500 worth of ramps?!”

Anyone who’s tried gardening and growing, whether on a small or large scale, can sympathize with how frustrating, back-breaking, and rewarding it is. The committed individuals we’ve gotten to know over the years, not picking machines or shipping companies, are trading their time and energy for your delicious plate. Let’s enjoy it, and thank them by acknowledging (and paying for) the difference between a December tomato and a backyard beauty.

*At the France 44 Cheese Shop, the St Paul Cheese Shop, and the St Paul Meat Shop, you’ll find local produce featured in every way possible, and pick up a local fruit pie every Friday in the Meat Shop! **Special thanks to Afton Orchards, Stone’s Throw Farms & Shared Ground Farmer’s Cooperative, Hidden Stream, and the Minneapolis, Kingsfield, and Fulton Farmer’s Markets

A Vegetarian's Guide to the Cheese Shop // Part I

Vegetarian's Guide Meet Eliza, our cheese shops' resident vegetarian! She'll be showing you around the shop from an herbivore's point of view. This is the first in a multi-part series.

We’ve entered a new era of ethical eating here in Minneapolis. From Wise Acre’s locally-sourced produce, poultry, and meat to our friends at Red Table Meat Co. in Northeast Minneapolis, the Artisanal Meat Renaissance is upon us. Heck, we just opened a brand new nose-to-tail butcher shop in St. Paul! And while I am totally down with these conscientious consumption practices, I find my once thriving cohort of vegetarians quickly dwindling. So this blog post is for you, my fellow vegetable lovers. This is your Vegetarian’s Guide to the Cheese Shop.

As the sole vegetarian among a staff of carnivorous cheesemongers, I’ve come to learn a few tricks about eating at the France 44-St. Paul Cheese Shops. Though it may seem like we have many meat-filled treats, there is always a vegetarian-sized loophole.

1. Vegetarian Surprise With the recent renovation of our sandwich menu, you might have noticed that your go-to veggie sandwiches are now missing. Before you mourn their loss, recognize that this is an opportunity for you to get something totally crazy and new. Order a veggie surprise! From our sweet and spicy pepper onion relish to harissa to garlic pickles, there are lots of ingredients that you’ve probably never had before. Find new frontiers! Explore your palette! Order that veggie surprise!

2. You’re Not That Into Surprises? Well, the vegetarian sandwiches you loved (and a few new ones) are still available on the Unofficial Secret Vegetarian Menu. All you have to do is ask.

Classic Mozz Veg: Oozing with tomato-garlic confit goodness paired perfectly with some refreshing mozzarella and topped off with crunchy greens. I bet you miss this guy, but you know what? He’s still there. Our sandwich line is stocked with the ingredients, so you can order it anytime. Substitute the mozzarella with chèvre or brie depending on your mood.

RGC: This delicious sandwich is spread with creamy house-made roasted garlic chèvre (a.k.a. RGC), dusted with smoky paprika and banyuls, enhanced with caramelized onions, and completed with greens. YUM.

Pear Brie: Yep, I just coined a new sandwich. It's a combination of double-cream Fromage D’Affinois with lots of sweet and savory house-made pear mostarda, a drizzle of honey, and some greens. This is one of my favorite go-to sandwiches and it never disappoints. Try it on a baguette if you feel like getting fancy. [pictured at top]

3. Salad! A little known cheese shop fact--we make lots of awesome salads. Let us put our creative forces to good work and whip up something new and exciting for you! Just order a surprise salad, we’ll know what you mean.

4. The Untapped Land of the Deli Case It’s summertime and that means the deli case at our Minneapolis shop is bursting with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. It’s the best season to be a vegetarian! Now is your chance to capitalize. Check out a few of my favorite items:

Polenta Cakes: These crisped, corn-based cakes are perfect warmed and topped with your favorite cheese, Mexican mole, or salsa. Garnish with cilantro if you’re really feeling fresh.

Snap Pea and Ginger Slaw: Refreshing AND beautiful. Enjoy it as a snack, down it is as a palette cleanser, eat it as a meal. Just make sure you eat it.

Strawberry Kale Salad: Strawberries, cashews, roasted red peppers, hearty kale massaged by hand. Does it get any better?

Song’s Pasta Salad: Tomatoes + Feta + Orzo Pasta + Dill X A hint of olive oil = One perfect summer pasta salad

Okay, have I convinced you yet? The cheese shop is practically a vegetarian’s mecca! Don’t let the meaty facade fool you. There is so much to enjoy. I haven’t even mentioned the bounty of delicious grocery items (hellooooo INNA Jam) or the sweet treats or that refreshing gazpacho. Stay tuned for future blogs posts from your favorite (and only) vegetarian cheesemonger.

--Eliza Summerlin