My Journey by Donna Karan

Whether used to begin a meal or finish it off, a cheese plate can be a wonderful thing – when done right.

I once spent a week in Paris and, looking back, I think the only thing I had in the way of nourishment that week was a variety of incredible cheese, fresh baked baguettes and inexpensive wine.

Whenever I have the chance to visit a nice restaurant (or even a not-so-nice one), I immediately search the menu to see if they have a cheese plate. Any restaurant worth its salt would have one, so then it’s a matter of what type of cheeses they offer. Living in the Los Angeles area, we’re fortunate to have some really killer places to sit and enjoy a cheese plate with a glass of wine, or two, and hopefully some good conversation with your dining partner(s).

Here are a few dining spots we can’t recommend highly enough to cheese lovers:

Marché Moderne

Located at The Penthouse at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Marché Moderne will transport you to Paris without the costly airfare. A beautiful space accentuated with wood plank flooring, white linens and an open kitchen, this is the perfect setting in which to enjoy a wonderful cheese plate.

Florent and Amelia Marneau, the couple behind the concept, have created a French bistro in the heart of Orange County. During a recent visit I had the opportunity to enjoy a plate featuring seven of the most flavorful cheeses I’ve ever had.

Starting with Fougerus, a creamy soft-ripened Brie cheese, that was followed up by a Langres, a cow’s milk cheese from Champagne, France, with a pungent smoky-bacon aroma. Cheeses such as Saint-Maure de Touraine, Taleggio from Italy, Le Grain D’Orge Au Calvados and Etivaz Aop, a Gruyere from Switzerland with a distinctive nutty smokiness, made up the next four courses. The pièce de résistance was my final cheese, RLM Fourme Aux Moelleux, which is a firm blue cheese made with cow’s milk that was sensational.

The cheese plates at Marché Moderne are presented beautifully with an accompaniment of blackberry walnut jam, apricot almond jam, flavorful nuts and a fresh baguette. Plan a trip here and ask Florent, who serves about 120 cheese plates a week, to prepare a plate with his recommendations. He sources from all over the world and truly understands what great cheese is all about – he even grew up having different cheeses with every meal. He’s also got a special order that’s due to arrive from Italy around Sept. 9 that you won’t want to miss!

3333 Bristol Street, Suite 3001, Costa Mesa
714-434-7900 or marchemoderne.net
Open Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-9:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-8:00 p.m.

A cheese plate from Marche Moderne in Costa Mesa, California.

Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar

You’ve got to believe that a restaurant named after cheese, formaggio, would have to have awesome cheese plates – and you’d be right! Cheese is the main theme of the concept located in Santa Monica and started by two L.A. hospitality veterans, Mario Sabatini and Piero Topputo.

Forma has a unique preparation method, dubbed Dalla Forma, for their pastas: freshly-cooked pasta is finished in large cheese wheels just prior to being served. But I digress. The cheese plate is what I seek and they offer approximately 60 sourced from all over the world. Listed on the menu by style, (Blue-veined, washed rind, Bloomy rind, semi-soft, semi-hard and hard) and described by the milk used, customers can choose to buy from one “Bite” to 60. Each “Bite” is served as an approximate 1-ounce portion and you’re not limited to a pre-selected combination. Hate soft cheese, but love hard cheese? Just order all hard cheese, or vice versa. Forma lets you decide and does not judge.

Each plate is served with dried fruit, jam, honey, tarallucci, an Italian cracker similar in texture to a breadstick, and a fruit and nut baguette. I’m wondering if I could eat all 60 cheeses in one visit? Doubtful, so I guess I’ll just have to make repeat visits.

1610 Montana Avenue, Santa Monica
424-231-2868 or formarestaurant.com
Open Monday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; with brunch Saturday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

A photograph of Mario Sabitini, the General Manager of Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar in Santa Monica, California.

Courtesy of Forma Restaurant & Cheese Bar

The Black Trumpet Bistro

Located in a strip shopping center about 3 ½ miles northeast of PCH, this quaint little tapas spot used to be a well-kept secret, but word has gotten out. A jazz-themed restaurant, there are plenty of jazz artists memorialized on the walls, as well as collages of trumpets painted black and hanging from the ceiling. Offering a wonderful assortment of Mediterranean tapas and small plates that bring you flavors from Italy, France, Spain, Greece and Morocco, you can try lots of different dishes here.

I, however, make my bi-weekly trek to the Black Trumpet for their cheese plate. An assortment of cheeses includes an herbed goat and a caramelized onion cheddar served on an old world cheese board with a toasted baguette, flavored nuts and sliced pear, and charcuterie of peppered and rustic salami – but that’s just one of the possible combinations, as the cheese plate reflects what’s fresh and available.

One unique thing they do, that I haven’t seen before, is serve the plate with an aperitif glass of extra-virgin olive topped with a mini-skewer of olives and an anchovy. The waitress will offer to pour the oil on the plate for you or you can decide to pour it yourself or not at all. The first time this option was presented I wasn’t so sure about it, but it does add another layer of flavor to the plate and I recommend giving it a try.

Give this little restaurant a try when you get a chance, but be sure to arrive early as seating is somewhat limited, and be sure to start with the cheese plate.

18344 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach
714-842-1122 or theblacktrumpetbistro.com
Open Tuesday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, 4-10 p.m.; and Sunday, 4-9 p.m.

The cheese plate at The Black Trumpet Bistro in Huntington Beach, California.

Courtesy of The Black Trumpet Bistro

Artisan Cheese Gallery

If you use the words artisan, cheese and gallery in your business name you’d better be good. Really good! Thankfully, this place in Studio City lives up to its moniker.

Offering cheeses from all over the world for purchase and carry out, they also have a menu called “EVERYTHING CHEESE” and boy is it. Starters include the Warm Brie Plate, served with crostinis, sliced apples and dried fruit drizzled with honey, and the Burrata, a semi-soft white Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream (which is basically a round ball of cheese with a delicious surprise inside of it), with heirloom tomatoes and pesto.

They refer to their cheese plates here as cheese boards. The Alegria is a board of Spanish cheeses such as Idiazabal (sheep) with gondola peppers, Manchego (sheep) with marcona almonds and quince paste, and Garroxta (goat) with Castelvetrano olives. The Joie De Vivre cheese board of French cheeses features offerings such as a Delice de Bourgogne (cow) with elderflower syrup, June Autize (goat) with mixed berries, and Roquefort (sheep) with lavender and honey. But would you rather choose your own cheese? They have a five-cheese board where you choose your own cheese that includes a tasting with the Cheesemonger.

All of their boards come with Marcona almonds, assorted jams, honey, dried fruit and baguette. Need a little meat with your cheese? They also offer a Charcuterie Board that includes Prosciutto, Soppressata and one other meat of your choice from what’s fresh and available when you visit. Plenty of wine is also available to help wash all this delicious cheese down.

12023 Ventura Blvd., Studio City
818-505-0207 or artisancheesegallery.com
Open Monday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.

A cheese plate from Artisan Cheese Gallery in Studio City, California.

Courtesy of Artisan Cheese Gallery

Little Next Door

Opened in late 2006 as an expansion of the Little Door restaurant, Little Next Door is your classic Mediterranean and French brasserie/wine bar. Located in Los Angeles just down the street from the re-envisioned Beverly Center, the restaurant features classic and French-forward dishes. But my favorite thing on the menu is the cheese plate.

The plate is served with Cremeux de Bourgogne, a triple creme cheese that spreads like butter; Piper’s Pyramid, a creamy and dense cheese from Indiana with a dusting of paprika under its wrinkled, white rind, it’s a hand-ladled, lactic curd Chevre with a super velvety texture; and Petit Basque, a 100% pure sheep’s milk cheese produced in France’s Basque region in the Pyrenees Mountains, the region that spans the border between France and Spain. Served with all of the accompaniments you’d expect, you can’t go wrong with this location or this cheese plate. A cheese and charcuterie combination plate is also available for us carnivores.

8142 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles
323-951-1010 or littlenextdoor.com
Open Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m.

A cheese plate from Little Next Door in West Hollywood, California.

Courtesy of Little Next Door

Artisan House

Artisan House, a combination restaurant and market, is a hip place in L.A. that is passionate about the planet, food, service, customers and having a good time. How can you argue with those passions – especially the part about a good time? Using ingredients grown sustainably by local farmers, their philosophy also extends to their cheeses.

They have an excellent selection of award-winning cheese from California, such as the famous blue from Point Reyes, Cypress Groves’ Midnight Moon and Purple Haze Chevres, and Fiscalini Cheese’s San Joaquin Gold Cheddar, that is complemented by a large assortment from a vast array of producers from around the world. Cheese plates at Artisan House are served with honeycomb (yum), fig and onion marmalade (very unique), housemade apricot jam, truffle honey (also yum), and grilled olive bread. If you don’t get fired up about olives, ask for a substitute and they’ll gladly oblige.

If you’re with a group or just another couple, add the Charcuterie Board, featuring items such as bacon-wrapped mortadella, pistachios and cranberries, and chicken liver mousse, and let the party begin.

600 S. Main Street, Los Angeles
213-622-6333 or artisanhouse.net
Open Monday-Wednesday, 7:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Thursday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

A photograph of the interior of Artisan House in Los Angeles, California.

Courtesy of Artisan House

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