Glorious Cheese

Elizabeth Northern has a fascination with cheese, make that a passion! That is why she opened The Magnolia Cheese Co. last December, and she hasn't been able to wipe that satisfied grin off her face ever since.

Northern says that the mission of her team of experts and cheesemongers "is to both educate and delight" their clientele. That sounds like heady stuff, but once you visit, you'll get it.
Before the days of the cheese department at Central Market or having a plethora of imported options available at your local grocery, you had to travel far and wide to taste some of these cheeses. I remember my first taste of French brie handed to me by Louise Lamensdorf when I worked with her at Cafe Aspen. The European sensibility and flavors of The Magnolia Cheese Co. remind me happily of Lamensdorf's great Bistro Louise.
This former auto repair shop on the corner of Magnolia and 5th Avenue is now a cheese lover's paradise. It is a cozy and quaint space with the central cheese case full of wonderment just begging you to stop and admire.
The mostly white interior includes painted original ceiling tiles and swirling replica fans. There is one large accent wall painted turquoise blue with pops of black to ground the space, like the giant blackboard menu and the wrought-iron railings that flank the front entrance.
Ordering a Cheese Plank is a must. Each one is a sampling of five different varieties along with San Saba curried pecans and an amazing house-made green tomato marmalade, along with seasonal purees and slices of baguette to explore. The Locals ($16) features Texas regional selections. The American Artisan Plank ($16) highlights the current favorites from the cheese case, but we tried the Traveler ($18) on our first visit.
On that day, the Traveler was arranged with a buttery Amber Valley Stilton from England, a crystallized Balarina Aged Goat Gouda from Holland, and the last three options all from Italy included a nutty Fontina Valle D'Aosta, a mild Taleggio and a smooth sheep's cheese called Alta Langa Robiola. The plank was enhanced with a yellow beet puree, local honey with a dusting of bee pollen, a balsamic reduction and candied citrus rind.
The creative menu is crafted seasonally by Chef Jen Williams. Every dish not only includes an artisan cheese, but it also is orchestrated specifically to highlight the flavor profile of that cheese. The Beef and Blue Sandwich ($10.50) is served on a French baguette. It is brimming with thick slices of perfectly charred rare steak, burnt onions and a strong Stilton that carries its weight while not bullying the rest of the ingredients. It was punctuated by a mesquite balsamic glaze and served with crunchy and salty kale chips and house-pickled okra.
A Watermelon Salad ($6.50) was ordered with the addition of house-cured salmon ($2). The stacked salad had the freshest seasonal golden and red watermelon cubes as a base. Then watercress, mint and red peppadews were tossed in a lime and honey vinaigrette and layered on top. Goat cheese feta and a sprinkling of black lava salt added the perfect balance to the sweet watermelon. The salmon was a generous portion and made the salad a real meal.
For dessert, the Chevre Cheesecake ($8) was a hit. It is one of their specialties, drizzled with mild hibiscus syrup, candied basil and local blackberries. Two dense discs were served crust side up for variation. The golden brown graham cracker crust offered the only sweetness, and the fluffy goat cheese and cream cheese cake was not too tangy. It was the best cheesecake I have had outside of The Wild Mushroom in Weatherford.
They are also becoming famous for their Bread Pudding Du Jour, which like the name implies, changes daily on the chef's whim. The flavor was Orange and Fennel on the day we stopped in.
Assorted herbs form edible centerpieces on each table, and an eclectic array of music was entertaining. Homey accents like mismatched and vintage tables and chairs, along with Mason jar water glasses add to the appeal. Along with a bottle or a glass of specially chosen wines, you might forget that you are in Fort Worth for a few leisurely hours. With a well-trained staff, an elegant and inspiring menu, and a relaxed vibe, here's hoping this one becomes a huge success.
- by Courtney Dabney