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CHOW HOUND: All the whey 

Thanks to our local grocery giant, we Rochester kids grew up understanding that cheese was something special. Where the rest of the supermarket felt utilitarian, with lighting more suited to an operating room, the international cheese section was hushed and moody, a posh little grotto in the middle of freaking Wegmans. And now that we're big, cheese fits right into our increasingly conscious way of eating; we want to know who made it, where it came from, what went into it. Fortunately, Ann Duckett is here to help.

Duckett recently opened the The Little Bleu Cheese Shop near the hot corner of South Avenue and Gregory Street, having been drawn to the area by its bustling vibe. "People are really invested in the community," she says of the revitalized South Wedge, now a destination for lovers of farmstead and artisan cheeses. From its European-leaning facade to the pair of gorgeous distressed-wood hutches hugging the shop's north wall, The Little Bleu Cheese Shop provides makers of domestic, small-batch cheeses with an urban retail venue befitting their craftsmanship. As Duckett puts it, "We're kind of connectors."

Duckett is an alumna of the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese, but rather than make her own product, she's opted to source for her shop instead. This means trips through the Finger Lakes and further afield, like Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, to meet the artisans, pet a few goats, and sample some wares. Then it's deciding which cheeses will make the trek back to her display case, where they're labeled and described with mouthwatering adjectives, waiting to be portioned, weighed, taken home, and appreciated.

Contrary what you may have heard, though, the cheese does not always stand alone. The Little Bleu Cheese Shop also stocks carefully selected accompaniments, like jams and confits from Quince & Apple, Nunda Mustard, and beautifully unique cheese boards from the Brooklyn Slate Company. And if you want to know more about any of these products, or, say, the farmstead cheese from Landaff Creamery in New Hampshire, or perhaps the Bayley Hazen Blue from Vermont's Jasper Hill Farm, just ask Duckett. "I love being here to answer questions," says Duckett. "Let's talk cheese."

The Little Bleu Cheese Shop is located at 684 South Ave. Holiday hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, call 730-8296 or visit littlebleucheese.com.

Choice cuts

Each diner at Rochester's new churrascaria, Espada Brazilian Steak, gets a tiny set of tongs, and their use becomes clear once the bandana'd servers pop by with their skewers full of meat and begin carving. Before that happens, though, you've chosen your meal experience and probably visited the salad bar, which goes way beyond lettuce and croutons to feature fresh fruit, charcuterie, cheeses, grilled vegetables, olives, and prepared salads, as well as a hot line with beans, rice, and soup. But back to the proteins, which you grab with those tongs as they're being sliced; they run the gamut from linguica sausage to tri-tip to bacon-wrapped chicken to pork ribs to lamb leg to salmon.

Powered entirely with renewable solar, wind, and hydro energy, Espada is Rochester's first eco-restaurant, with reclaimed wood and recycled glass tiles used to create the stylish space. Espada's wine list skews ever-so-slightly South American, and the cocktails — like the tasty Melancia, with muddled watermelon, St. Germain, and tequila, or the bracing Brazilian standard called Caipirnha, made from cachaca, sugar, and lime — are nicely priced between $7-$9. And brunch fans take note that the Gate House's Sunday service has a new home at Espada (both restaurants share the same owners).

Espada Brazilian Steak is located in Village Gate at 274 N. Goodman St. Lunch is served Wednesday-Friday 11-a.m.-4 p.m. Dinner is served Wednesday-Thursday 4:30-10 p.m.; and Friday-Saturday 4:30-11 p.m. Brunch is served Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Food prices range from $13 to $38. For more information, call 473-0050 or visit espadasteak.com.

Making Mary

Congratulations to longtime Salinger's bartender Dennis Sutton, who recently triumphed in Thrillist's 2012 Search for America's Best Bloody, sponsored by Absolut Vodka. Ingredients in Sutton's concoction include Creole seasoning, A-1 Steak Sauce, our own Roller's Horseradish, and a Slim Jim garnish. Get the recipe at absolutbloody.com.

Openings

Ethiopian cuisine returns downtown with the opening of Meda Ethiopian Bar and Restaurant at 302 University Ave. Visit medaethiopianrestaurant.com for more information, or call 285-6960.

BLU Bar & Grill has opened at 250 Pixley Road, serving tapas, salads, flatbread pizzas, burgers, and other entrées. Visit blurochester.com to see the menu, or call 247-0079.

Thai Time Cuisine is now open at 2171 W. Henrietta Road, in the old Portofino Bistro location. Call 270-5530, or check out the menu at thaitimerochester.com.

Closings

It's not the best time to be a cupcake fan: Sugar Mountain Bake Shoppe closed its Monroe Avenue location (Alexander Street remains open), and Dollop Gourmet Cupcake Creations on Penfield Road will shut down at 4 p.m. on December 24. Dollop Owner Heather Saffer plans to focus on her all-natural and gluten-free line of frosting flavors (available at dollopgourmet.com) as well as a book deal.

Beloved Fairport ice cream spot Lickety Splits has shut its doors after 15 years in business.

A sad farewell to the last Palermo's Meat and Food Market, which recently closed up shop on Culver Road.

Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to food@rochester-citynews.com.

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