“What kind of cheese do you like?”
Anaïs Saint-André Loughran asks this question as she leans over the cheese case at Chantal’s Cheese Shop, a specialty store she owns with her husband Chris, surveying the diverse range of wheels and bricks in front of her. My answer, whether it’s gouda, or mozzarella, or Kraft Singles, will tell her exactly what she needs to know.
Loughran fell in love with cheese in 2012, almost six years before she and her husband opened the Penn Avenue shop. It was the mix of love for cheese, love for Pittsburgh, and dissatisfaction with other city cheese stores that pushed the duo to see the shop as a reality and finally open in 2018.
Chantal’s offerings also include cheese-adjacent products, from jams and olive oils to cured meats and mini toasts. Classes have become a routine part of their operations, too, covering fondue, pairings, and the age-old question of how to build an — actually — good cheese board.
The cheese case is fittingly international — “What is cheese, really, if not a bridge?” the Loughrans ask on the shop’s website. Loughran laughs that she tries to feature the “weird stuff.” The shop houses soft cheeses of France, hard parmesans of Italy, along with selections from Ireland, Spain, and nearby states. There’s a category devoted entirely to blue cheese.
Chantal’s cheesemongers are armed with an impressive catalogue of information. Ask for a cheese to pair with white wine, coffee, or even chocolate cake, and they’ll have four kinds ready to suggest based on your preferences (and often, a story to go with it).
Apart from their charcuterie options, Chantal’s offers a grilled cheese lunch service that changes daily. While I was there, the special was a mellow spinach and chili oil with mozzarella. A house-made vegan cheese with harissa, a beautifully smoky-salty mix of gruyere, prosciutto, and mustard, and the classic, basic cheese, is available every day.
Chantal’s plain grilled cheese came as close to perfect as the sandwich can. I hesitate to even call it “plain,” because even though it was just cheese and bread, the sandwich was more than the sum of its parts. It was a clear example of the fact that better ingredients made for better food.
First, the bread: The shop uses crusty baguettes from La Gourmandine in place of thickly sliced bread. The baguette’s crunchy outside was a nice match for the smooth, melted cheese. It was just thick enough to keep the melted cheese — mostly — in the actual sandwich, the soft, fluffy inside pressed into the crust to make a clumsy wall.
A blend of cheddar, Havarti, and gouda (in total, one-third of a pound of cheese, according to Chris), made up the guts of their cheese sammie. There was sharpness echoed in the cheddar and gouda, followed by butteriness from Havarti. It was the meltiest grilled cheese I had ever encountered; without the sandwich’s wrappings, hot cheese would have dripped all over me.
To me, there is one thing that sets Chantal’s apart from Pittsburgh’s other cheese shops, besides their grilled cheese. The Loughrans — or any of the shop’s other cheesemongers — will gladly take an hour out of their day to walk you through their cheese case. Chantal’s is not just pumping out cheese; they’re making good cheese more approachable.
1. Local foods
Look for local favorites, like Goat Rodeo Dairy, on Chantal’s shelves.
2. Bit Bin
Look for small pieces of great cheese in Chantal’s fridge.
Craving cheese? Find Chantal’s out of their shop. Look for snack boxes at farmer’s markets and coffee shops.
Chantal’s Cheese. 4402 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. chantalscheese.com