Let me preface this week’s column by admitting a potential bias that could color this week’s review: I love cheese. And wine, tangentially. But mostly cheese. From caramel-colored and creamy to sharp and a little stinky, they all invigorate my palate and excite my taste buds.
With that out of the way, let’s take a peek into Henri’s, a new cheese, wine and charcuterie shop on South Lamar Boulevard. Nestled between the highly acclaimed Barley Swine and the artisan ice cream shop Lick, Henri’s couldn’t have settled in a better location. While waiting for a table at Barley Swine, diners can wander next door and enjoy a glass of wine and sample a few cheeses, priming themselves for a night of gastronomic indulgence (for it’s certainly impossible to call it a night without a scoop or two of the adventurous and handmade ice cream at Lick).
The shop itself is small and cozy, styled after European neighborhood bistros. The lighting is dim and intimate, but the environment is casual. The calming atmosphere invites guests to slouch back against the long bench that sits against one wall or lean over the bar with their elbows on the counter, no pretentions required.
Marie-Louise Friedland (a former Daily Texan Life&Arts writer), the “cheesemonger,” as she is so aptly titled, shares a passion for cheese and is extremely knowledgeable without coming across as snooty. She described each of the cheeses that I asked about with an unassuming but impressive accuracy.
Before the cheese arrived, I asked one of the owners behind the bar for wine recommendations. He poured a medium-bodied, well-balanced Merlot blend that wasn’t on the menu. I also tried the Val de L’Ours Chardonnay; it was too weak and one-dimensional for my taste, but my eating partner drank it without stipulation and enjoyed it.
And then came the cheese. Presented on a simple board and accompanied by a handful of marcona almonds, a spoonful of quince jelly and slices of baguette, the little slices and hunks and crumbles sat waiting to be devoured.
Despite my religious adoration of cheese, I take a stance of respectful distance when it comes to goat cheese. It tastes too much like the way that goats smell for my taste. So imagine my hesitation when it came time to try the Pure Luck herb chevre. Then imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered that my uncertainty was completely unwarranted. The locally produced cheese was soft, smooth and creamy, and the crust of herbs curbed the tartness that usually characterizes goat cheese.
The Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a raw milk cheese from Wisconsin, did not disappoint. It was similar to a Gruyere, but milder, with a pleasant nuttiness.
The Rogue River Smokey Blue cheese was mild for a blue. It was pleasantly pungent and had a lightly marbled appearance. Smoked for hours over hazelnuts, it had a salty, nutty taste. The caramel taste of the crumbly cheese paired well with the salted almonds on the board.
Last but not least, the Beecher’s Flagship reserve. This sharp cheddar-like cheese was dry and salty with a waxy texture that melted into rich creaminess on the tongue. The flavor was full, intense and lingering.
Between the intoxicating wine, the awe-inducing cheeses, the friendly, helpful service and the prime location, Henri’s is sure to become a South Lamar staple.
Printed on Monday, April 9, 2012 as: Artisan cheese shop promises gouda venture