16 Jun 2010

Market Meals: Cheese for All!

Photo by María Helena Carey

For a few weeks now, I’ve been sharing little tidbits and ideas on what to make for dinner from Eastern Market.  Today as a friend (hi, Keira!) and I walked by and I tried to glean some inspiration from among the smells and the sights, I wondered out loud how easy it would be to compose a dinner mostly from things procured at Bowers Fancy Dairy Products. I honestly thought it would be challenging to come up with more than one meal idea from a place that sells nothing but cheese, but I was mistaken.

When I asked my friend what she thought, we ended up brainstorming a series of fun summer dinner suggestions: fondue; raclette paired with some locally-grown new potatoes; a cheese plate with fruit; bruschetta topped with goat cheese; and so on. Granted, a few of these are heavier winter suggestions, but with a little ingenuity you can be grilling cheese and having fancy savory s’mores over your grill in a matter of minutes.

Clearly, this column writes itself when you hang out with creative types.

Bowers Cheese Shop has been catering to cheese freaks on Capitol Hill for 45 years.  They run a tidy and efficient operation near the southern end of the Market.  They are one of the few vendors who accept only cash, so plan accordingly.  They are always extremely generous with their samples: in fact, one could spend dangerous amounts of time just standing around and basking in the niceness of Tessa or any of the other people who work the counter; eat one’s weight in bits of cheese; and develop a huge crush on that enormous saw-like cheese knife that cuts even the toughest aged cheese with ease.

If you go, prepare to have your mind blown, dairywise.  They claim to “specialize in Cheese from All Parts of the World!” and it’s no lie.  When we approached the counter wondering about the Swiss cheeses for the fondue and the raclette, it took us longer to list the types of cheeses that go into a fondue pot than for Tessa to start pulling them all out and offering samples.  For such a small operation, their assortment is pretty impressive and world-class.

Meanwhile, a short distance away from the Swiss goodness, tubs of different softer cheeses beckoned, looking delicious.  These are the kinds of cheeses that you could spread on toasted bread and pair with little cherry tomatoes and a couple of chopped basil leaves picked from a neighbor’s garden; and when served cold, they are the right thing to dine on a hot summer night.

But if you think that only the foreign and the rare cheeses make the trip worthwhile, then you haven’t been offered an enormous slice of their sharp cheddar.  It’s enough to want to chuck the European ambitions and realize that sometimes the best dinner you can ever have is a grilled cheese sandwich, maybe paired with a leafy, fresh green salad to help the arteries along.  How about that for a good dinner suggestion?

You’re welcome.

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6 responses to “Market Meals: Cheese for All!”

  1. MZH says:

    I really like their selection and many of the staff but find the older white-haired dude to be a bit of a Soup Nazi-type character. There was a period of a year or two where he would just refuse to cut Old Amsterdam Gouda if he was busy. Said it was too hard to cut. I don’t have hard feelings about it but because of the expense and attitude, I ended up giving up and buying cheese elsewhere.

  2. Jay says:

    I love the idea of doing an all market meal, however, Bowers is the one store I conscientiously never shop at. The rude service by the aforementioned “white haired dude” has turned me off. I would rather do without than reward bad behavior.

  3. Amelia says:

    My husband had the same experience in the past few months with the guy refusing to slice some cheese because he didn’t feel like going to the other end of the counter. That plus the various foul, flavored cheeses they push as samples has driven him (a cheese shop fanatic) to Cowgirl Creamery and to Cheesetique in Mount Vernon. Which is too bad; we want to love our local cheese shop. (We have at least one meal a week with a main course of cheese.)

  4. Sebastian says:

    That guy is a lot nicer than he used to be. You guys would never had made it in the era of Sherrils.

  5. Rukasu says:

    The dude’s def a curmudgeon and whether it’s a schtick or not, it’s pretty annoying and has gotten old, and the other staff is typically not very helpful. I went to get some halloumi once and the women behind the counter said “what’s that?” even though they had a package right in front of her in the case. I pointed to it and she said, “oh I had no idea we even sell this, I’ll have to try it”.

    Cowgirl is a much better cheese shop, better selection, more local cheeses, and more knowledgeable staff

  6. Rukasu says:

    …and they sell booze…

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