A short block from the sand in beach-happy Belmont Shore, Venissimo is the perfect location for a gelato shop, or maybe a store stocking bikinis. But a great cheese store? That’s unexpected.
Yet that’s what the Long Beach shop surely is. I stumbled upon it last weekend while looking for a parking place. It’s tucked off of the main drag — 2nd Street — and you could easily pass it by if you weren’t looking. In fact, I’ve probably done just that a dozen times.
Not anymore. This tiny store has an amazing assortment of cheeses — 150 at any given time — as well as cheese-related accessories: dried fruit, honey, crackers, boards and baguettes from BreadBar. Best of all, there’s a friendly staff of cheeseheads who are there to help you.
The cheeses are well cared for and the staff really knows its stock. Everything I tasted was in perfect condition. And they do a great job of putting together combinations of cheeses for wine or beer matching.
Even if you’ve been around the cheese game a while, do ask their advice. You’re likely to turn up some wonderful cheeses you’ve never heard of. The revelation for me Saturday was Meadow Creek Dairy’s Grayson, a soft, washed-rind cheese with a buttery complexity that reminded me of the old Peluso Teleme. They also turned me on to a really lovely Roaring Forties Blue from King Island Dairy in Australia, lower in salt and more creamy than most blues.
Lisa Albanese is the manager of the 3½-year-old store, one of four Venissimo’s in Southern California — the others are in the San Diego area. "We’re a mom-and-pop chain," she says. "Long Beach was the brainchild to see if it would float outside of San Diego."
As manager, Albanese has a free hand to order the cheeses that she thinks will work for her customers. She tries to get in two new cheeses every week.
"Our customers go through everything from pretty pedestrian to much greater palates," she says. "With the 3½ years we’ve been open, we’ve been fortunate enough to see our regulars' palates grow. Now we have quite a few regulars who come in and just ask what’s new this week. That’s the fun challenge."
— Russ Parsons
Photo credit: Russ Parsons / Los Angeles Times