It took my sleuthing to find The Wine & Cheese Shop off the usual main drags in La Jolla since it changed its name from The Shop when owner Henry Ota got his wine license. Henry’s small selection of imported cheeses, along with prosciutto d’Parma (hand sliced) and many hard to find gourmet items including wines ranging from $9.99 to over $200 is a favorite for locals looking for specialty food items and good sandwiches too. Stop in for an espresso too. 7930 Ivanhoe Ave., La Jolla, 858-456-1010.
Around the corner from the mesquite barbecue smells of Phil’s BBQ is Venissimo Cheese. Here you’ll find a tiny well-stocked urban store with prices noted by the half pound and with a little picture of a goat, sheep or cow so that you know the type of milk used to make that particular cheese. Owners Gina and Roger Freize have an advanced system for their sales receipts that give the name, taste, origin, and what wine to serve with the cheese, as well as a record for your next trip in. Their cheeses can be found on cheese plates at Dobson’s, Café Chloe and others. I particularly like their website for the section called Cheese Facts that lists how to serve cheese (room temperature) and lots more. 754 West Washington, Mission Hills, 619-491-0708, www.venissimo.com.
Taste Artisan Cheese & Gourmet Shop, next to Wine Steals on University Avenue sells cheese from around the world, olive oils, crackers, dried Molinari salami and pates. In this almost two year-old casual store, owners George and Mary Palmer passionately share their knowledge to help customers try new and seasonal products. George studied cheese with The Aniata Cheese Co. owner Bob Stonebrook (see below). The Palmers offer classes, including a recent beer and cheese pairing and an upcoming Spanish cheeses and wines on June 14th. If you’re next door sipping, try a cheese plate for $5 that might feature a slightly nutty flavored, firm textured Spanish sheep’s milk cheese to pair with a rustic red wine or hearty ale. One table had nine different Gouda that Mary suggested are great with beers. I bought some terrific Irish blue and Parmesan cut fresh from the wheel to share with friends.
Mary believes that cheese is an affordable luxury and she can work with any budget to introduce newcomers to the charms of fresh cheese. She suggests a picnic at home, good bread, wine, and of course a nice cheese selection. You can taste everything before you buy and your sales receipt keeps track of what you buy for future trips. Join their email list at 1243-1/2 University Avenue, Hillcrest, 619-683-2306, closed Monday
The San Diego Pier Café at Seaport Village sits on pilings, more wharf than pier, has a bar, and a slightly more sophisticated and higher priced menu than the other cafes. Open for lunch and dinner, you’ll find nachos, salads and sandwiches, clam chowder in a bread bowl, and more. I prefer the less stylized atmosphere (call it laid back, funky and fun) of the Ocean Beach Pier Café. 885 West Harbor Drive, Seaport Village, 619-239-3968, www.piercafe.com.