Say cheese! Spending an afternoon at Petit Fromage

Petit Fromage

It took nearly a month, but I finally made it over to Petit Fromage, the new, independently owned artisan cheese shop in Phoenix. It was so worth the trip.

Petit Fromage isnt so much a “shop” as a 200-square-foot space — little more than a counter and a cold case — inside D’licious Dishes, a food co-op on the southeast corner of Seventh Avenue and Missouri.

But don’t let its size fool you. If you like artisan cheeses, you’ll definitely want to visit Petit Fromage. And be prepared to spend some time — my planned 30-minute stop ended up lasting a couple hours.

I blame owner Lara Hardwick, who couldn’t possibly have been more friendly and informative. (And, no, she had no idea who I was.)

I brought along Anthony Calvecchia, brewmaster at Chandler’s SanTan Brewing Co., and his girlfriend, Michel, because I knew both are cheese fanatics. Calvecchia packed three growlers of SanTan ales in hopes Petit Fromage allowed BYOB sampling.

Petit FromageWe spent close to an hour sampling our way through about half of the cheeses in the case — Hardwick certainly isn’t shy about giving away samples — before deciding our purchases. It was only then we remembered the beer still outside in our vehicle.

Hardwick said it was OK to bring it in. She even provided small glasses and joined us. We were planning to try the cheeses we had just bought, but each time Hardwick tried a different ale she would rush to the case and say, “I have something that would go great with this that you just have to try.”

We spent more than an hour matching cheeses with beers and talking about cheeses and beers. Before we knew it, the afternoon had slipped away.

Between three of us, we ended up taking home a dozen cheeses, some speck (a smoky Italian ham) and a couple loaves of freshly baked bread.

I thought Petit Fromage’s prices were quite reasonable. For just over $30, I got nice-sized portions of:

• Taleggio, an Italian cheese with a strong aroma but mild taste, almost fruity at first but salty at the finish;

• Gabriel, an aged triple-cream goat cheese from Louisiana’s Bittersweet Plantation;

• Fleur-de-Teche, Bittersweet’s cows-milk Gabriel sibling, just as buttery and creamy;

• ColoRouge, a soft-rind, Camembert-like cheese handmade in Colorado;

• Barely Buzzed, a two-year aged cheddar from Utah that’s rubbed with espresso and lavender.

Not surprisingly, my cheese was gone within three days — some of it savored by me, the rest preciously doled out to discerning friends and family to spread the word about this great new indie store.

The good news for East Valley residents is Hardwick says she’s working with an existing East Valley business — that she wouldn’t identify — to open a similar cheese shop on its premises.

Until then, I’ll gladly make the drive to Phoenix.

Petit Fromage, 5345 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix, is open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Info: (602) 363-1433.

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