Finally finished my survey of Portland cheese shops. Portland has had several gourmet/organic markets with laudable cheese selections. New Seasons, Wild Oats, Whole Foods, Pastaworks, Elephant's Deli -- all have extensive selections. Even lesser places from Zupan's to Fred Meyer's carry gourmet cheeses. And Trader Joe's stocks a small number of cheeses, but prices them significantly lower than any of their competitors. Their Irish cheddars -- cheeses I find superior to domestic favorites like aged Tillamook, Grafton, and Cabot -- are fantastic values at less than $4/lb.
But Zupan's, Fred Meyer's, and Trader Joe's do not have knowledgable cheese mongers to guide you in your selections. Nor can you taste cheeses before you buy. Therefore, I've limited this survey to eight markets: Curds & Whey, Elephant's Deli, Foster & Dobbs, New Seasons, Pastaworks, Steve's Cheese, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats.
A large portion of my survey is tables of cheeses with their pricing at each of the eight spots. Unfortunately, I have no way of posting those here because I can't code any HTML.
Here's a quick rundown, though, of the shops...
Curds and Whey: Relatively new with knowledgeable owner behind the counter and every cheese a winner. Number of cheeses is still increasing. They have the best prices on Salumi products in town.
Elephant's Deli: A large collection of cheeses with a high proportion of less common cheeses. They have six pecorinos, eg, but not pecorino romano. Cheesemonger is helpful and knowledgeable.
Foster & Dobbs: One of the newest spots and despite the sound of the name, entirely local. Smallest cheese selection and not the most knowledgeable staff, though they're eagerly learning. Big selection of salumi products most moderately priced. Lots of gourmet products.
New Seasons: A large selection of cheeses, but not the most interesting. A lot of commercial cheeses, but still a bigger selection than most of gourmet cheeses. Each location has their own cheese buyer and the quality of the people behind the counter varies a lot.
Pastaworks: One of my favorites for nearly a decade now. They have several knowledgeable people behind the counter at both shops. The cards for each cheese include the name, useful descriptions, and price. They rotate the cheeses well and there are often new and interesting cheeses to taste.
Steve's Cheese: Opened only one day apart from Foster and Dobbs. Located in Square Deal Wine. Focuses on American artisan and farmstead cheeses. About half their 90+ cheeses are domestics, though interesting ones. Steve knows what he's doing and has in the past provided cheese for Axis and Simpatica. Also sells Viande pates and quince paste by the pound.
Whole Foods: Easily the largest cheese selection, even if you exclude the 100+ commercial style cheeses. Just ginormous. The people behind the counter could be a heck of a lot more helpful, though, for such an overwhelming number of cheeses. Besides having the largest selection, they also have the best prices on average.
Wild Oats: The only place to have more commercial than gourmet cheeses. The staff is also the least knowledgeable in my experience. This is really a cheese shop of last resort. (Want to see something really scary, though. As mediocre as our Wild Oats are here, I went to one in Utah once and it was *worse* than the local Kroger incarnation, Smith's.)