Masters of the Stinky Cheeses

Menuboard at les amis du FROMAGE

If you love cheese, this headline should lure you in like walking past a market in southern France and smelling the earthy, pungent aroma of a good chevre aging in a stone cellar nearby. For Vancouverites – and those of us more than willing to trek in from the fringes – wanting something beyond grocery store fare in your cheeses, there’s only one shop you need to know: the gastronomical Everest in cheese stores known as les amis du FROMAGE.

Afficiandos of all things cheese will encounter ample opportunity to display their fromology, as les amis typically stocks between 400-500 (!!!) cheeses at their two Vancouver locations.

One doesn’t need to perform tyromancy – Obsolete, a form of divination involving observation of cheese, especially as it coagulates (thefreedictionary.com) – to know that’s a whole lotta curds in one place.

The West 2nd store, at the southeast corner of 2nd and Burrard, is tiny but actually stocks more varieties than the expansive beautiful warehouse-style space at Hastings (800 block, between Hawks & Campbell avenues). Every inch of this place has something either delicious or useful in it or on it.

On Hastings, a long glass counter shows off a much greater variety of cheeses, from sheeps milk varieties to smoked cheddars, from odiferously amorous blues to my favorites – goudas aged in honey, hay, or vintages. There are representatives from Quebec (where many rebelliously unpasteurized cheeses hail from), Spain, Italy, Switzerland, England, Ireland, Australia, Scandinavia,the Netherlands… it’s a veritible United Nations of Cheese. Canada’s 200+ varieties make up a respectable 50% of cheeses stocked. There are also fine meats – prosciutto, For fromagerie bona fides, check out the bio page for the triumvirate who make up this astonishing business.

les amis also runs a commercial kitchen at the Strathcona neighbourhood Hastings location, where Chef Joe Chaput creates incredible ‘home-cooked’ pastas, shepherds pie, soups. All are cook-from-frozen meals just like your grandmother used to make (or would have if she could have had such a cheese armada to choose from). And don’t forget Joe’s Snickerdoodles – they are an old-fashioned treat making the most from simple ingredients and flawless baking that put the gargantuan cafe cookies to shame. This shop also carries a large variety of fresh crackers, vinegars, mustards, pates – ah, foie gras, I’ve missed you – and you can even rent a fondue or raclette setup for your shindig.

Next door to the Hastings Street location is the spectacularly undermarketed and Zagat rated Au Petit Chavignon Cheese and Wine Bar. A cross between an English pub and a French brasserie, the restaurant has an excellent wine list – no surprise, co-owner Alice Spurrell is the past president of the Vancouver chapter of the International Wine and Food Society – that is absolutely up to accompanying such dishes as Cheese Fondue with cave-aged Emmenthal and Gruyere Etivaz, French or Swiss Raclette, Chevre Chaud Salad (3 raving thumbs up from moi), Poutine, Croque Madame, and the testosterone charged Mr. Crunch, advertised as ‘the best toasted ham and cheese sandwich ever’. We took our teenaged girls to lunch and they swooned over the Four Cheese Macaroni (and well they should, not being of the age of joi-de-vive-killing cholesterol lectures from physicians).

Au Petit prides itself on its wine ethics, making the higher end of wine menu affordable to many more people. Not only that, but the restaurant uses SOLEfood farm produce everywhere they can, supporting a social enterprise ‘that provides urban agriculture education and employment opportunities for Vancouver’s inner-city residents’. It’s an inspiring way to be in business.

So if you’re a foodie and you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of these twinned establishments make haste to do so. Every day lost to grocery store cheese is a day wasted in my books.

Below is an interview with co-owner (and daughter of Alice) Allison Spurrell at the West 2nd location, and stills of decadence beyond compare in the corner of heaven known as les amis du FROMAGE.

If you’ve got a favorite fromage from les amis, I’d love to hear from you!

les amis du Fromage Hastings St. location

Great selection of 'extras' at Hastings St. location

Chevre Salad at Au Petit Chavignol

Chevre Salad at Au Petit Chavignol

Joe Caputa and the delectable HoneyBee Gouda

Joe Caputa and the delectable HoneyBee Gouda

Imported meats at the Hastings St. location of les amis du FROMAGE

Imported meats at the Hastings St. location

Foie Gras, Quebec style, les amis du Fromage

Quebec Foie Gras - yum!

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