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Smile and Say "Cheese Cave!"

September 8, 2010

Erica Bellman
Smile and Say "Cheese Cave!"

First came the cryptic writing on the wall. Last spring semester, strange riddles displayed in the empty windows of 325 N. Yale Avenue inspired much head scratching and tummy grumbling. Claremont's salivating epicureans left love poems to the forthcoming Cheese Cave on the shop's doorstep:

On a walk one day

My daughter said, “Cheese is love.”

She was three.  And wise.

Marnie and Lydia, the duo of sisters who recently opened the Cheese Cave, live by the three-year-old cheese lover’s credo. The sisters, raised in nearby La Verne, were born into a cheese-making family; the sisters' grandfather and father were both cheese artisans. Marnie and Lydia have spent decades studying and practicing the art of cheese-making.

From Napa to New York, from Paris to Claremont, these two foodies have lived in locales serious about dairy products. Marnie and Lydia know their manchego from their mozzarella. A fateful trip to watch their brother play pro-hockey in Finland was the impetus behind the duo’s business plan for the shop. “There isn’t much sunlight in Finland,” Marnie fondly recalls. “We played a lot of cards…and talked a lot about cheese.” The Cheese Cave—a gourmet shop carrying a veritable cornucopia of cheeses, both domestic and imported—was born.

The sisters’ love affair with cheese is deep and passionate. When asked what she loves most about the food, Marnie waxes poetic about the mystique of cheese-making. “Cheese is really a magical thing. You take perishable ingredients—milk, salt, culture, and enzymes—and they transform into a lasting food with so many distinct forms.”

Exploration of the Cheese Cave’s cozy, hardwood interior—it feels like the inside of a NorCal farmhouse—inspires giddiness and hunger pangs. Tiny refillable glass bottles ($5 per bottle) await filling from the vats of infused olive oil that line one wall. Craft-brew beers and hard ciders chill a case. Cocoa butter caramels, cabernet-flavored pasta, organic honey, and tubs of olives tempt from each tabletop.

Three new types of sandwiches are made fresh each day and are available for purchase--if you can snag one before the lunchtime rush. Recent crowd-pleasers include an Mediterranean masterpiece of ricotta, fresh tomato, and balsamic, as well as savory-sweet concoction of blue cheese, endive, and asian pear. The Cheese Cave is much more than a cheese shop—it is a foodie’s utopia.

But the Cheese Cave’s true stars are the artisan cheeses. Each cheese is displayed in the shop’s large glass case, alongside a note card scrawled in the sisters’ handwriting. Creative names and descriptions match the shop’s endearing quirkiness. The description for the “Humboldt Fog” chevre piques the intrigue and the appetite:

If a handcrafted samurai sword made of vegetarian ash sliced through a tangy, lemony wedding cake of cheese, you’d have the Humboldt Fog.

“Truffle Tremor,” “Lavender Cheddar,” and “The Drunken Goat” are just a few other eye-catching varieties. Funky monikers aside, we all know what cheese is really about: flavor. Marnie, clad in a cow-printed apron, offered a delicate mound of shaved idiazabal, a Spanish sheep’s milk wonder. A translucent slice melted on the tongue, imparting a flavor that was nutty and buttery, rich and smoky—a definite hit.

Marnie and Lydia have served an increasing flow of customers since the Cheese Cave’s grand opening on June 18th (their father’s birthday). Claremont has welcomed the dairy-loving ladies to the Village, a reception that the owners hope to capitalize on with more in-store events. The sisters will welcome new cheeses with each passing season. They’re particularly excited for the arrival of fall cheeses like Montione, a blue cheese made in the Rogue River region of Oregon only during the fall equinox. It’s wrapped in grape leaves soaked in pear brandy and is worth tasting at the upcoming Fall Launch Party the sisters plan to host.

A visit to the Cheese Cave is essential for every cheese-deprived foodie tired of the Collins salad bar’s customary feta. Enter the Cheese Cave for an epicurean adventure and a taste of some truly tasty cheese.

Check out the Cheese Cave's website or Facebook page for store hours, event info and sandwich menus.

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