In the mood for something a little more high-class than last weekend’s double kegger – perhaps something a bit more impressive for dinner with a special someone? This week, On the Menu brings the tools you need to host your very own wine and cheese party with a few stops at some local shops.

Lazing Around
Lazy Acres Market
302 Meigs Rd., Santa Barbara
(805) 564-4410

Walking into the wine section in the Lazy Acres grocery feels like walking into a wine cellar. It’s darker, a bit cooler, and significantly quieter than the rest of the bustling grocery store. The dark-stained racks of wine reach a few feet overhead – a collection that wine manager Adam Strachen said is a nice blend of local and international wines.

“Primarily we feature local wines,” Strachen said. They make up about a half of our business. I’ve pulled out all the Central Valley stuff because the demand is so high. Everyone is into the local stuff – we grow great stuff.”

The great wines grown in the area are no secret to the rest of the world, Strachen said.

“California has a reputation, Santa Barbara has a reputation,” he said. “That drives the prices up.”

Additionally, Strachen said the most popular choice at Lazy Acres is the pinot grigio.

“Everyone loves the pinots,” he said. “Local pinots are really hot.”

Strachen also said his staff is trained to help customers select the wine they want, especially those who are unsure of the type of wine they should choose.

“That’s one of the biggest things we do: Pull bottles off the shelf for people,” he said. “Typically we ask for preferences: ‘What do they like? What’s on the menu?'”

For students looking for a nice bottle to pair with a special meal without spending top dollar, Stachen said Lazy Acres has a budget wines that do not skimp on quality.

“We have a section of wines under $10, $15,” he said. “A lot of our sales are under $20.”

He said those wines tend to be international, coming from areas that have yet to establish themselves as world-class wine regions.

“There are new wineries in unheralded wine regions,” Stratchen said. “There seems to be a lot of value there.”

Because the 17-year-old store has built a reputation of dealing quality wines, Lazy Acres has become a regular stop for wine distributors near and far, Strachen said, with the selection of wines changing with the seasons and the weather.

“We do a lot of sampling,” he said. “We’ll do tastings once a week [with distributors].”

Stachen said he and his staff get a lot of satisfaction in helping their customers find a great match.

“We work hard to find a lot of really nice things,” he said. “We show them something we like, it makes them happy; it’s a great thing.”

The cheese selection that just keeps on stretching is hard to miss, as it is conveniently located across the aisle from the wine cellar.

Lazy Acres Market is open every day of the week, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

C’est Bon!
C’est Cheese
825 Santa Barbara St., Santa Barbara
(805) 965-0318

Quality is in the air at C’est Cheese, a shop that draws customers in with its aroma as much as its cheese. Tucked away on quiet Santa Barbara Street, this shop looks pretty small from the outside. Once inside, however, the ceiling shoots up and a soft light bounces off the interior. Kathryn Graham, who owns the shop with her husband, said the four-and-a-half-year-old store stocks cheeses from about 10 different countries.

“We’ve tripled our selection since we opened,” Graham said. “We started with 40 classic cheeses from around the world, now we’re at about 115.”

The Primadonna, an aged Gouda from Holland, has a surprisingly sweet, caramel flavor, Graham said. Additionally, she suggests enjoying the Primadonna with beer instead of wine.

Graham said that currently the most popular cheese the shop carries is Burrata, a fresh Mozzarella, but that consumer demands change with the seasons and with what they find at the nearby farmers’ market.

“With tomatoes coming in season, those [Burratas] just fly,” she said. “In the winter we sell a lot more fondue cheeses.”

Graham also suggested the Green Hill, a double cream Brie from Georgia, U.S., that is buttery and rich, with just a hint of sweet at the finish. She said La Tur is popular as well. A fluffy, rich Italian three-milk cheese – the milk comes from cows, sheep and goats – she said it is best used as an appetizer.

Expect all of these cheeses and others to be as fresh as can be, Graham said.

“They’re all cut fresh from the wheel,” Graham said. “There’s a big difference in the flavor.”

Every cheese in the shop is labeled with a small laminated sign with the story of the cheese. Each has the flag of the country from which it comes, as well as cow, sheep and goat icons to indicate which animal’s milk is used to make the cheese. Graham also said the icons help customers feel more comfortable when selecting cheeses.

“Our whole goal is to make it less intimidating, to remove that fear,” she said. “We wanted to be really accessible, because cheese is a common food.”

C’est Cheese stocks everything you’d expect to need to go along with your cheese selection. Wine sits near the window on the left, cured meats are at the back of the shop, crackers, sauces and slicing utensils line an entire wall of the store, and a little display of chocolates sitting against the window on the right.

“We’re all about customer services,” she said. “You can sample all the cheeses and we’ll help in pairing them with the wines and meats.”

The wine rack at C’est Cheese has about 20 wines to choose from, and once a month the shop hosts a tasting that pairs five cheeses from a particular region with wine or occasionally beer.

“They’re structured tastings, more like a class,” Graham said. “We’re going to start a beginner’s class. It’ll be about how it’s made, the history, what you do with the rind.”

These classes are generally $20 for the cheese tasting or $25 with the wine and take place during the third week of the month.

Travel to C’est Cheese Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. or Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a fantastic wine and cheese experience with friendly, helpful service.

Shopping in Style
The Cheese Shop
811 State St., Santa Barbara
(805) 884-9463

Nestled away in the Paseo Nuevo shopping mall, the recently opened The Cheese Shop came to Santa Barbara just 12 weeks ago and offers a wide selection of about 190 cheeses – with more yet to come – according to owner Kent Torrey.

“If you like certain things, if you’re looking for certain flavors, we have a great selection of cheeses,” Torrey said.

Take a few minutes to admire the truly floor-to-ceiling wall of wine on the left side of the store, which is laid-out like a horseshoe – the cheese is stacked impressively in the center.

The Cheese Shop has a variety of cheeses from all over the country and the world. One of its enticing choices is Beecher’s Flagship, a cheddar-like cheese from Seattle, or Istara, a yummy goat’s milk cheese from France with a sweet, nutty flavor.

“One of our little jokes we like to say is that we can take you to five countries in five minutes,” he said. “We can really give you a taste for the country. Travel agents can just show you pretty pictures.”

According to Torrey, the Sottocenere, a soft Italian cheese with black truffles, cardamom, nutmeg and allspice, is also an excellent choice.

The Cheese Shop stocks cheeses from about 15 countries, including the United States, and Torrey said he was really proud of the cheeses currently being made right here in California.

“There are fantastic cheeses being made in California,” he said. “Cheeses that Europeans would go ‘Wow!’ at.”

Torrey said the emphasis in his shops is to always satisfy the customer. If that means calling all of the other cheese shops in the area, he said he’s eager to do that.

“We don’t consider ourselves a competitor,” Torrey said. “If you come looking for something we don’t have, the first thing I’m going to do is send you to one of those stores.”

The right side of the horseshoe has a wall stocked with gourmet foods including crackers and sauces, small baskets of salami and a cooler filled with olives. Behind the counter are fresh French and sourdough baguettes, where Cheese Shop employees can make a sandwich for a customer on the spot.

“You can create a wonderful picnic or dinner, like for a significant other, and take it down to the beach and enjoy the sunset,” Torrey said. “What could be better?”

Back over in the wine area there is a bar at which anyone 21 and up can participate in tastings at any time. To pair with your wine, The Cheese Shop sells three- and five-cheese plates that change daily to ensure a variety of tastes to experience.

“We encourage you to learn,” he said. “This is history, it’s life, it’s science, it’s artistic. You know why wine and cheese taste so good together? It’s science! It’s that acidity of the wine and the baseness of the cheese.”

Take a break from your shopping trip and try something new at The Cheese Shop Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. or Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Wine and cheese make for a nice break from the plastic bottle, so put on your classy act and appreciate the finer flavors Santa Barbara has to offer.