Imagine a great indie record store, but with cheese instead of vinyl, attended by staffers who live for blooms and rinds, ready to share the deep cuts and secret finds. That’s Chizu, Portland’s most unapologetically myopic den of food enthusiasm. The downtown sushi-style spot serves around 30 ever-changing cheeses a day, each with a backstory, worshipped on wooden boards and paired with a personal playlist of beer, wine, and music, Peruvian Afro-harp to ’70s Japanese rock.
It’s smart and infectious, and a prime candidate for a purely Portland date night. And who else to convince you that life is better when you’re discovering small handcrafted beauties and far-flung gems than owner Steve Jones? A premier snoop, Jones is not only the city’s no. 1 cheese whiz, he’s often the first in America to get his hands on cult European wheels.
Our Top 5 Chizu Discoveries
Blue cheese, like Glenn Beck and heavy metal, is meant to hurt. It’s the scream cheese, the scare-you cheese. At least, that’s what I always thought until I tried this delicate house favorite, which skis across the tongue like the world’s most charming blue-cheese butter.
This game-changing gouda comes on like a tropical cocktail, sweet and happy, with specks of crystallized crunch subbing for beach sand. “I get tons of coconut notes,” whispers Jones. “I’d love to dress a piña colada with this.”
Cascadia Creamery Sawtooth
(Raw cow, Washington)
Press Jones for his Northwest favorite, and his mind invariably winds to Trout Lake, Washington. A single bite of this wedge brings to mind cheese fudge, a great beer, and alpine air. Jones: “Back 10 cheesemongers into a corner and at least two will shout out the Sawtooth.”
Neal’s Yard Montgomery’s Cheddar
(Raw cow, UK)
The Jimmy Fallon of cheddars, accessible and excitable, it’s the cheese you want to hang out with at a party. Fromage geeks love it. “I’ve never seen more tattoos of a creamery,” says Jones. Every bite is deeply comforting, like eating buttered cheddar toast.
LA Jeune Autise
The first rule at Chizu: you want anything by French star cheese ager Rodolphe Le Meunier. (“He’s young, hot, got the touch. If you’ve seen his picture, I do mean hot.”) This ivory slab is as sexy as cheese gets, mascara-black ash adorning its softly pungent, lily-white flesh. It’s goat milk reborn as creamed marble—a fitting breakfast for Michelangelo.
Chizu's Go-To Garnishes: Dried cherries and blueberries, local Meadowfoam honey, Girl & Dirt preserves (“next level” jam, according to Jones), dried raisins on the vine, wasabi filberts, and candied nuts