St. James Cheese Company
5004 Prytania Street
New Orleans, LA 70118
Napoleon's Ratings - ***/*****
Richard and Danielle Sutton brought something new to New Orleans when they opened St. James Cheese Co. around Thanksgiving time back in 2006. Upscale delis and grocery stores have long provided New Orleans with gourmet cheeses, but their shop marked the city's first devoted cheese emporium. Today, the place is as busy with people dropping in to pick up a wedge of something delicious for home as it is with people ordering sandwiches and salads prepared with some heavy doses of the house product.
This is a sleek, modern-looking place, from the building itself to the design found within. It is essentially a deli with a clutch of small metal tables configured between the cheese displays and the retail racks of kitchenware. It can feel a little tight when the place is bustling, but there are other options in nice weather. A slim front porch offers a few tables right on Prytania Street while a shady patio on the side has a courtyard feel. It's fun to browse over the immense cheese selection while waiting for orders to be filled.
The counter staff has an impressive grasp of the huge cheese inventory before them, though some have a tendency to be short when the place is busy. If you want to tap their cheese knowledge, it's best to avoid the mid-day lunch rush. I wish the shop stayed open a little later for light dinners, but for now it's mostly a lunch spot.
If you have the time for a leisurely lunch and at least one other person with you, one of the artfully arranged cheese or meat plates is the way to begin a meal at St. James. The staff will select from between three to seven cheeses, plated with fruit, nuts and other accompaniments. It's an ideal way to browse some of the huge selection here. Many of the cured meats are made in house.
The menu is composed of sandwiches and salads, all of which are various delivery systems for the star attraction: cheese. Sandwiches are large, crammed with cheese and whatever else goes into each, and they come with a substantial side salad, making a complete meal. The Brie du Meaux is like the ultimate ham and cheese, with a slather of butter on a dense, chewy baguette and a lusciously thick layer of brie over French ham. The Raclette uses the smooth-melting Swiss cheese of the same name, pastrami and piquant pickles, which taste altogether a bit like a Reuben with cheese. The croque monsieur is made on bread sliced as thick as Texas toast, filled with cheese and coated with browned, bubbling cheese. You can think of the ploughman's lunch like the St. James plate lunch special, combining portions of English cheddar, stilton and goat cheese, a pork pie, a small salad and crusty bread.
Though St. James started life as a BYOB place, it now has a decent selection of wine and an impressive stock of bottled beers.
Most sandwiches and salads are below $10, while cheese plates vary in price based on the number of selections, and usually fall between $10 and $20. It seems like a good value for cheese of this quality presented in such portions. Be aware that the cheese in the cases don't have marked prices, so if you're shopping for home you should ask before ordering a quarter pound of this or that to avoid a surprise at the register.
St. James is a wonderful addition to the New Orleans eating scene. Not only is it a good place to get a sandwich or salad but, time permitting, it can make a singularly satisfying destination to spend some time with a cheese plate, a bottle of wine and good company. Just as importantly, it's supplying some superlative cheese to restaurants all over the city, fueling a boom in cheese courses on New Orleans menus. And it's also doing a public service by educating and refining the local palate to the wonders and nuance of cheese culture.