A visit to Old Town just isn’t complete without a stop at the Temecula Valley Cheese Company. For someone not in the know, it might be easy to over look this establishment, since it’s tucked away from busy Front Street. But those who make their way into Penfold Plaza are in for a real, cheesy treat.
Step into the shop and you find yourself surrounded by a décor that can only be called funky-elegant-industrial. Local architect Anthony Reiter handled all the building specs, while owner Shawna Smoot designed everything inside. I’m sure it’s not by accident that the dark shelves are a perfect counter point to the dazzling cheese case. Its bright glow beckons visitors in to try a taste. And tasters are welcome – though of course Shawna, and her husband, Cheese Company Co-owner Jeff Smoot, hope that once customers taste their hand-crafted, artisan cheeses they’ll want to buy.
Free expert advice also comes with the free tastes. Shawna says, “One of my biggest joys is suggesting which beer, wine, or alcohol works with our cheese.” Are you serving a certain special wine and need cheese to go with it? Or are you cooking up a gourmet dish, yet stumped as to what cheese to offer as an appetizer? Shawna can answer these questions and many more.
This last time I went in, I tried five different cheeses. Each one has its own unique, luscious personality.
The first slice I tasted was the silky, buttery Fromage D’Affinois. If I was going on a picnic, I’d take this mild cheese, a fresh baguette, some crisp, cold grapes and a bottle of my favorite Chardonnay. Champagne cocktails go nicely with this cheese as well.
Next was a bit of Manchego, fresh cut from the wheel. This is a sheep’s milk cheese from Spain. Its wonderful, nutty flavor makes it a perfect addition to any cheese and crackers plate. Add in a glass (or two) of Pinot Grigio and you’re good to go. You can also grate it for cooking.
Then I tried a taste of Gouda from the local Winchester Cheese Company. Since Shawna does double duty as a cheese maker there, she personally makes this cheese for her customers. (Jeff is the General Manager there too. They work at both places because Shawna says “We want to be as cheesy as we can.”) Let me tell you, this is not your run of the mill Gouda. Shawna mixes in jalapenos, sweet red peppers and habeneros for a spicy, wake-up-your-mouth treat. If you’re looking for a cheese to pair with your favorite beer, this is it.
The next taste was a bite of Hirtenkäse. This amazing German cheese tastes like parmesan with a crunch, thanks to tiny bits of protein crystals. A good Syrah with this cheese would be heavenly.
Finally, just when I thought I couldn’t have a cheese that I liked as much as these first four, Shawna served me a bit of Shropshire Blue Cheese from England. All I can say is oh… my… god. It’s rich. It’s decadent. I wanted more so I bought some to go. Shawna suggested I spread this strong cheese on apple slices with a glass of Cab or even with Pinot for the contrast.
All these artisan cheeses are surprisingly affordable. They range in average $5.00 – $7.00 for a quarter of a pound. You can pre-order a large cheese plate for a party that includes four cheeses, bread, crackers, salami and fruit. It serves six to eight people and at $25.00 this is a real deal.
If you want to eat in, they have both outdoor and indoor seating. You can order “build your own” sandwiches. These feature cured meats, cheese of course, and produce from Temecula’s famer’s market. If you want to stick with cheeses, you can opt for a cheese plate with olives, fruit and bread for $15.00. For five dollars more you get a plate of their “better” cheeses. Or if you’re in a wine and cheese tasting mood, $20.00 buys you a special flight of four cheeses paired with four wines.
But whether you’re eating in, or taking out, you’ll probably also want to pick up other various delicacies for your next party. They have a wonderful selection of chutneys, jams, olives, dried fruits and herbs, as well as wine and beer. And don’t worry if the outdoor temperature is hovering around 90 degrees and you have more shopping to do. They will give you a complementary cold pack to keep everything fresh and cold until you get home.
Temecula Valley Cheese Company, 4202 – 5th Street, Suite 101, Temecula, CA 92590