In the past, Miami has struggled to define its identity in a number of areas, but today can claim its place as an International destination (albeit one with a strong Latin flavor). On the food and wine scene, the recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival is recognized as a world-class event. Numerous restaurants are recognized for their innovative cuisine with Caribbean and Latin flavors. The wine scene is good, with numerous specialty shops in the community. However, the cheese scene has lagged behind, due in part to the lack of European cheeses in the Latin culture, and to the difficulty of establishing a viable cheese shop in the community.
Cheese in Latin America tends to the fresh: queso blanco is the most widely know cheese; this is a fresh, non-melting cheese, usually quite salty, that is found in almost every grocery store in Miami. Variations on this cheese exist in every Latin country, from queso branco and queso colhao in Brazil, to the soft guayanes cheese of Venezuela. These cheeses have fresh- to sour-milk flavor, and tend to be rather bland. European emigrants to Latin America are starting to make European style cheese in the various countries, but progress is slow, and the cheeses mediocre at best.
One of the main factors contributing to the difficulty of establishing a cheese shop in Miami has been urban sprawl. Because there are no geographic impediments to building, and due to a lack of will on the part of local government, the community has grown faster than the infrastructure could support. Movement from home to commercial centers is via surface roads, making it very difficult for small shops to establish a broad customer base. In fact, the unfettered development forced commercial decentralization, placing smaller shopping centers within communities, where "locals" shop and eat. The few larger urban shopping centers are mostly national brands, with little local influence. Since the perishablity of most cheeses requires a high turnover of product (unlike a wine shop), the transportation constraints make it much harder to develop the customer base necessary to support a stand-alone cheese store. Most of the cheese shops in Miami are part of a wine or food venue.
Over the past several years, several hardy cheese entrepreneurs have made inroads into the market, and have created shops where one can find a very nice selection of cheese. These include Sunset Corners Wine Shop in the Southwest Dade area, and The Cheese Course, with four locations in Weston, Midtown Miami, Boca Raton, and Gulfstream. Whole Foods has developed a presence as well, along with several other smaller vendors. It’s good news for cheese lovers.
This is the first in a series of articles covering the cheese scene in Miami. Over the next few months, we will be reviewing both cheese shops that offer a variety of cheeses beyond the typical grocer, along with restaurants that include a “true” cheese course on their menu.
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