As the bus scraped its way onto the freeway, our hostess, Laura, began by passing out hot garlic cheese bread from The Smokehouse Restaurant in Burbank***. She then poured glasses of Pinot Noir from the San Antonio Winery, the only continuously operating winery in Los Angeles. The winery stayed open through prohibition by servicing the Catholic churches in the area. Sonoma may not have much to worry about, but when paired with that crusty, salty bread, the wine seemed mighty fine to me.
Unsure of what exactly would be included in a Cheese Tour, we began to get the idea when the bus dropped us off at Marcona, a relatively new sandwich shop on Melrose. Collier, the owner, was waiting with platters of custom-made grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches on rustic bread, with a date-Dijon mustard dipping sauce. The sandwich was good, the sauce was inspired, and the ice cold hibiscus-mint-tea-lemonade was outstanding!
The theme of the tour was now becoming clear:
What can you make with cheese?
Answer #2: Nachos.
We arrived at El Cholo, where in 1959, a waitress named Carmen first began serving her tables a hometown specialty of chips with melted cheese as a treat while they waited for their food. The rest, as they say, was history. I can tell you that 53 years later, we owe Carmen a huge thank you. Plates of the crisp, thick chips, covered in sharp melted cheddar and sliced jalapeno peppers were inhaled by the group. So simple, and so perfect. I also have to give big points to my fellow cheese tourists who managed to toss back a lot of margaritas in our very short allotted visit time. These people are pros.
It turns out, you can also make quesadillas out of cheese.
Or gringadillas, as Dora, from Yuca's in Hollywood, created for us out of creamy brie cheese with mango salsa. We love Dora.
If you are my hero, you can make crunchy fried mac and cheese balls full of gooey, melty cheese out of cheese. That's what they do at Fred 62 in Los Feliz, where, according to Eric, the restaurant manager, these little nuggets of joy are outsold only by their burger.
Just as we were licking our fingers, a gentleman from Palermo Pizza came on board with piping hot boxes of their specialty, the Pizza Rosa. Oh. My. God. You can make this out of cheese, too!
Thick, tender, chewy sourdough crust, mozzarella, feta, Parmesan and tomatoes. That's it. I almost cried, it was so good. Or it might have been an early warning sign of a cheese overdose. If it was, I ignored it.
Because we were about to cap off the tour with a visit to an actual cheese shop. Where nothing is made out of cheese, because it's all about the cheese itself.
Our entire group squeezed into Say Cheese, in Silverlake, for a crash course in artisan cheese from Glenn and Jason. We were a wee bit distracted by all the gorgeous olives and wine and caramels and crackers and sausages they had, but when they passed out sampler plates with Humboldt Fog blue, raw cave-aged Gruyére, Artequeso manchego, and a Wisconsin semi-soft cheese called Les Fréres, they had our full attention. I thought each was my favorite until I moved on to the next. Yum!
We left with goodie bags and a slice of Gruyére to take home. Cheese people are super classy, I tell you. What a way to end the day.
BONUS! Really want to feel like part of the tour? Take the simple "Eat your way through LA" Cheese Quiz. There will be a prize at the end. Ready?
List the country of origin for the following cheeses:
1. Parmigiano Reggiano
If you got them all right, you, too, could win a box of Velveeta cheese and shells. But you'd miss out on the fun of having them hand delivered by John B., the foodie tourist's best friend.
Don't miss out. To get on the list for upcoming "Eat Your Way Through LA Tours", like them on Facebook.
* The Taco Tour, in photos:
** I didn't have my normal camera with me, so the photos are not quite as comprehensive as usual. Hopefully, you still got a sense of the cheesy goodness of that wonderful afternoon.
*** My favorite Smokehouse story, told to us by a waitress when my husband and I went there years ago: A patron becomes ill while dining at the restaurant during a busy lunch hour. His companion rushes to his side, turns around and calls, "Is there a doctor in the house?" The entire cast of "E.R" is at the next table, totally useless.
**** Answers: Italy, Holland, Switzerland, Spain, England, France, Denmark, Norway, Mexico, India.