By Jack Rubinger

Mention Idiazabal, Leonardo and Maxorata to most people and you probably won’t get much of a reaction. 

To Steve Jones, the head cheese at the Cheese Bar, you’ll get a story about where the cheese is from, why the quality of the milk at the time of the year the cheese was produced is important and what’s the best wine/beer/cider pairing for that particular cheese. 

More than just a place to sample a tiny sliver, the Cheese Bar offers parties, pairings and prosciutto — all under one cozy and comfortable setting. 

Just a few months shy of celebrating their 10th anniversary, the store goes outside the comfort zone of a grocery store cheese department. 

For example, the hot cheese trend at the moment is cheese wrapped in spruce tree bark. The tree bark wrapping is designed to better hold the form. Many believe this method of wrapping imparts a better flavor than wax wrapped cheese and one that is earthy and robust. 

Rush Creek Reserve, with a cult following at $37 a unit, from Wisconsin, is a delicious example of bark-wrapped cheese. 

Jones is very excited about launching a cheese of the month club too. Every month, they will hand pick, cut and wrap 1/3 lb of each of three of their current favorites for customers. 

At least one cheese will be a members-only preview of a variety new-to-the-case. Portions are perfect for groups of up to eight people. Each month will feature a theme, such as a geographic region, comparative styles or seasonality. 

The Bar provides information to help customers learn more about these distinctive artisan products. 

There’s an option to choose a special beverage to pair with the pick of the month too. Purchase the cheese of the month and enjoy a wine and cheese party, too. “It’s a wonderful way to get to know people better and what they like,” said Jones. 

Each Wednesday the Bar hosts a raclette party featuring a special machine that browns and melts the cheese usually served with roasted potatoes, ham, cornichons and house mustard. This is a winter event that begins at 5:30 pm until they run out. 

Jones and crew keep about 150 cheeses in stock. He cites Vermont, the French Alps, and the French Pyrenees among his favorite regions. There are fantastic cheese from places like Indiana, Maryland and Croatia as well. 

Jones spoke excitedly about the Ovelha Amanteigado, made with thistle rennet and a truly vegetarian non-GMO sheep’s milk offering from Portugal. Black Belly is one of their best-sellers from Holland and “easy to love” according to Jones. 

Curious about how to cook up a better fondue? Here’s a simple recipe: mix an acidic white wine, 2/3 raclette cheese, 1/3 Gruyere cheese, put into the oven and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Stir and serve. 

An enticing array of cheese boards, soups, salads, sandwiches, plates, sides and desserts are available too. Beverages include draft beers, wine by the glass, aperitifs and non-alcoholic beverages. 

On the day The Southeast Examiner visited, specials included a truffle mac and cheese, lentil with ham and bacon soup and a Tres Leche board from Spain. 

Charcuterie options include mortadella, lamb prosciutto, coppa serata, finoccchiona and salame calabrese. Other goodies, all great for picnics and home potpourri plates, include figs, chocolate bars, toasted bread chunks, canned fish and other condiments. 

Jones had a busy holiday season with these cheese boards, one of the most popular gift items and carried year-round. 

The boards are made from felled Oregon Black Walnut trees and come in a variety of sizes, ranging in price from about $15 to $40. Beautifully imperfect, they offer a warm and natural setting.

Cheese Bar | 6031 SE Belmont Street | 503.222.6014 | cheese-bar.com