Grand Central Market has become Downtown Los Angeles’ new culinary hotspot as of late. New vendors pushing high-concept casual food including Sticky Rice, Horse Thief BBQ and Eggslut have all opened within the past year. Adding to the growing list of affordable upmarket vendors is Downtown Los Angeles Cheese, which according to GCM’s website, is Downtown L.A.’s “first full-service cheesemonger.”
The cheese stand and deli opened up shop in Downtown’s historic marketplace late last month, and many of the patrons headed toward their favorite lunch spot inside the market stop in front of the shop’s massive display case.
To the untrained eye, DTLA Cheese’s refrigerator display is just any other glass-enclosed fridge, not unlike the ones found at Whole Foods Markets or Bristol Farms. To those serious about their cheeses, however, this is a small mecca of funk. DTLA Cheese’s smartly appointed staff stand likes sentries on a slightly raised platform behind the display case, blessing patrons with thin, yet opaque sample snippets of poet’s cheddar and wrapping up pie-like slices of brie aux truffes maison.
Though the imagery invoked by raised platforms and the hyperspecific nature of artisanal cheese might suggest (and justify) a steep price tag, many of DTLA Cheese’s offerings are fairly priced: a genuine Swiss Emmentaler, for example, runs $10.50 a pound, comparable to the price one would find in the refrigerated aisles at Trader Joe’s, and the aforementioned Poet’s Cheddar is $5.50 a pound.
Cheese-mongering often conjures notions of pretense and snobbery. The staff behind the counter at DTLA Cheese is serious about its cheese — but they’re equal parts knowledgeable and approachable, offering pairing suggestions and breaking down flavor profiles in layman’s terms to demystify the process behind the funk.
It would be completely acceptable if Cheese were merely this: a down-to-earth cheese-monger in the heart of Downtown L.A., the progenitor of intriguing, edible conversation pieces served on square plates in the high-rise apartments of the growing contingent of local young professionals. Instead, it’s also a deli counter, and DTLA Cheese just happens to also put out some of the best sandwiches this side of the 110 freeway.
Take, for instance, the pork loin and pecorino. A wonderfully crunchy, chewy, toasted baguette is stuffed with peppery arugula, a generous heap of roasted pork loin and an abundance of nutty, micro-grated pecorino romano. The sandwich itself is lacking a bit of an acidic zing for balance from the sauce verte, but the sheep’s milk-based pecorino packs a punch of pungency and rounds out the mellow, savory flavors quite nicely.
Pre-prepared cold sandwiches are just as thoughtfully conceived, if not a bit more focused: a simple ham and d’Affinois sandwich seems innocently simple (and a bit small for $5) at first glance, but it takes a bite — or 10 — to make a believer.
The d’Affinois cheese takes center stage in what’s hands down the best pre-prepared sandwich you’ll ever eat. D’Affinois, which looks, feels and initially tastes like brie, is actually made with ultra-filtered cow’s milk. The result is essentially all the richness of brie with a finish reminiscent of sweet butter. And yes, it’s every bit as good as it sounds. The ham isn’t anything exceptional, but that’s not the point: the cured meat is there to delicately counter-balance the cheese. The bread also plays a strong supporting role — the unusually resilient, chewy roll encourages thorough chewing so the eater can more fully experience the flavor profile of the d’Affinois.
Aside from sandwiches, DTLA Cheese also offers a variety of “raclettes.” The dishes, so named for a process of melting a part of a larger wheel of cheese, incorporate a form of melted cheese and other ingredients on a bed of perfectly cooked fingerling potatoes. The bacon and cheddar raclette tastes like a deconstructed baked potato. Unfortunately, the overall flavor of the cheddar fails to come through, though the potatoes and bacon are a great combination. The crème fraîche fails to materialize in any meaningful way, relegated to an unappetizing pool of grease at the bottom of the dish.
Overall, Downtown Los Angeles Cheese is a fantastic cheese shop that happens to put out some incredibly well-made sandwiches. Some of the more technically difficult dishes (such as the bacon and cheddar raclette) require some fine tuning before it can make a claim to being a destination as a lunch spot.