When she learned of my ongoing effort to highlight off-the-beaten-path cheese purveyors in and around Washington, one of my wife's coworkers insisted I check out Arrowine in Arlington. A neighborhood wine shop in the truest sense of the term, Arrowine is located in the Lee Heights shopping plaza where Lee Highway and Old Dominion Road intersect. It is one of a strip of small, independently owned shops that seems completely incongruous with their quintessential suburban surroundings. Look for the row of large, colorful awnings and you'll know you've found the place.
Arrowine is a gourmet's dream - though primarily a wine store, they carry a wide range of gourmet foods, fresh-baked breads and bagels, and a terrific selection of charcuterie and meats from D'Artagnan and other top names.
Of particular interest to me, however, is their cheese counter. Covering half of the store's rear wall, Arrowine's cheese counter is stocked with classics and rarities alike. Head straight back from the entrance, toward the towering painting of the waiter, and you will soon be greeted by large wheels and wedges of cheese. Their selection spans the globe, and it is sourced with an eye toward what is freshest and what is best. Consequently, there are only a few local cheeses available right now - with Meadow Creek Farms' impressive and flavorful Grayson the best of the bunch. Very few of their cheeses are sold in pre-weighed quantities - most are sliced fresh when you order. As a result, your selections rarely have time to acquire that plastic wrap residue that can ruin the flavor of milder cheeses.
The sight of so many great cheeses should be a hint that you're in a place where they take cheese pretty seriously, but as soon as you start talking to one of the employees behind the counter, you'll know it. Every employee I spoke to in my three recent visits has been working at Arrowine for at least a year, and on my first visit I had the good fortune to meet Aldo Molina. As soon as I expressed interest in the cheeses, Aldo completely forgot about the fact that it was a mere half hour before closing. He started talking to me with an eagerness that reflects his love for what he does, showing me cheeses that I had never heard of and encouraging me to sample. Aldo learned cheese from Steven Jenkins at Dean & DeLuca in New York, and if that name sounds familiar it's because he is the author of Cheese Primer, an encyclopedic look at cheese that is a must-read for all cheese lovers.
On my subsequent visits, however, I was not as lucky. On both occasions, I found myself struggling to strike up a conversation with the employee behind the counter, and I had to request to taste cheeses despite my obvious interest in learning more about them. This struck me as a bit counter-intuitive in a place that prides itself on its wide selection of unfamiliar cheeses and its knowledgeable staff.
Despite this inconvenience, I was definitely impressed with the variety of cheeses and other products on offer at Arrowine, and I found myself eager to return to see what new goodies I could find. If you're in Arlington and planning a wine and cheese party, look no further; their staff can walk you through pairings and price points for both. But be prepared to ask for what you want. And if Aldo's behind the counter, ask him what he would recommend - you're in for a treat.
In the Lee Heights shopping plaza
4508 Lee Highway
Monday-Saturday, 10AM - 8PM
Sunday 10AM - 4PM