|Courtesy Whole Foods Market|
Sommeliers are wine experts and they can get the credentials to prove it. The equivalent when it comes to cheddar, Brie, Gouda, Gorgonzola and all the other forms that milk curds can take is to become a certified cheese professional, a status awarded by the American Cheese Society to those that pass a rigorous exam. There aren't that many of them − approximately 408 − and local cheesemonger Jim Shalala recently joined their elite ranks.
He works for Whole Foods Market at Cedar Road in University Heights, overseeing an array of over 400 cheeses, domestic and European, including many less familiar varieties and a selection from small artisanal producers. A former bread baker and graduate of the California Culinary Academy, Shalala came here in 2007 to help open the store and has been the cheese buyer for the past four years. He's often out on the floor, at the ready to answer customers' questions and offer advice on gifts, plating, storing and pairing with wine, meals, and even other cheeses. Right now, he's offering free personal cheese consultations on the weekends. Appointments can be made by calling 216-932-3918.
|Bayley Hazen Blue, Courtesy Jasper Hill Farms|
Asked to name a few of his current favorites, Shalala mentions Cabot Clothbound, Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen Blue, Beeler Appenzeller, and Peluso Teleme. For this holiday season, he is recommending Mons Camembert with Truffles or Cêpes, Carpenedo Blu 61, Petit Vaccarinus, and Sottocenere.
That's a professional opinion I have every reason to trust.