Window shopping at gourmet grocery stores

Sep 28, 2016 at 10:59 am
Window shopping at gourmet grocery stores

Sometimes I enjoy looking at food. And what I mean by that is to simply go into a grocery store of some sort, with no shopping agenda, to just look around. Trader Joe’s is a fun place for that, and it’s worth the drive north to visit Jungle Jim’s near Cincinnati for the same purpose.

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself near the Lotsa Pasta International Food Shop during a lunch break, and realized I hadn’t been inside in quite some time — like, several years. I’m not a pasta guy, really, so I think the notion that it’s mostly about Italian food nestled into my mind and festered there.

Of course, that notion was misguided; heck part of the store’s actual name is “International Food Shop,” and it bills itself as “Louisville’s gourmet grocery.” Clearly, I was missing out. And I soon found myself wandering around the store, poring over shelf after shelf of sauces, vegetables, salsas, breads, sweet treats, spices and more, not to mention gazing into the dairy and meat case at the many Italian sausages, chorizo, cheeses and more. The deli is pretty impressive too, I have to say.

While I did this, I kept wondering why on Earth I had waited so long to come back. Lotsa Pasta truly is a handy little international market right in the middle of St. Matthews. And, to think, it’s just a few hundred feet from a Paul’s Fruit Market, which is another great place to window shop for food.

Anyway, being the kind of person who loves cheese — I am not ashamed to admit I eat cheese pretty much every day — as well as spicy food, I am always on the lookout for spicy cheeses for snacking. There was a time when I bought pound upon pound of pepper jack cheese, but the stuff usually wasn’t terribly spicy, or big on flavor. To this day, most of the cheese I buy, expecting a bold kick, is designed for a milder palate. Even the habanero cheese I found at Kroger doesn’t wow me.

Ah, but as my eyes wandered in and around the mozzarellas, cheddars and bries at Lotsa Pasta, I happened upon a habanero cheese made by Cabot Creamery, a company in Vermont. It looked the part, with flecks of orange habanero permeating the white cheddar. And it clearly wasn’t made for the Kroger crowd, so I snatched it up.

Imagine my surprise when I get home and start reading the ingredients: fresh pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, jalapeño peppers, salt … wait a minute. Jalapeño peppers? Where are the habaneros? I read on and, sure enough, the next to last ingredient, right between “taco seasoning” and “enzymes,” was the word “habaneros.”

I was disappointed to see them so far down the list, but at least they were in there, and the package was emblazoned with the teaser, “Fiercely hot habaneros in a creamy smooth cheddar.” So I grabbed some crackers and went to work.

Guess what? Yeah, that’s some hot cheese. And I guess I underestimated just how pervasive a habanero pepper can be, because I can sure as heck taste habaneros and that distinctive citrusy quality. My mouth feels the peppers, too, and yet the cheese doesn’t quite overpower me, which is to say that it’s darn near perfect for my palate.

You see, I like the flavor and heat of habaneros as well as pretty much anything on Earth, but I’m not one of those people who wants to be lit up to the point of not being able to taste anything, or having to rush to the burn unit for treatment. What I have found is that this cheese is a perfect pairing when I’m snacking on other things or, as my girlfriend Cynthia calls it, “grazing.”

I tried the cheese with some olives, and it worked. Tried it paired with some pickled garlic, and it was also quite tasty. Smoked salmon? Believe it or not, it works. Beef jerky? Yep. I even had it with some Doritos, and it was spot on. Of course, I gave Cynthia a slice and, although she gobbled it up, I noticed her fanning her face a few moments later. It is not for the timid.

Anyway, shame on me for staying away from Lotsa Pasta for so long and missing out on that cheese. I can hardly wait to find out what secret treat I’ll uncover during my next visit.