A new H Street hangout for seasoned cheese enthusiasts (and the cheese curious) debuts on Thursday, February 23.
Paste & Rind (904 H Street NE) is the first brick-and-mortar home for Kara McGrath’s locally-sourced cheese company of the same name that got its start during the pandemic. Paste & Rind settles into the long-vacant space formerly held by Dio Wine Bar, which was one of D.C.’s first COVID-related closures back in June 2020.
The sliver of a space, with seating 24, serves as a cheese counter and accoutrement shop, as well as a sit-down area serving cheese slates, charcuterie, and wine pairings. To start, Paste & Rind will operate Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with plans to expand hours soon.
Paste & Rind was born in 2021 after McGrath and her business partner shuttered their Petworth shop Cheesemonster Studio. For the past two years, McGrath has operated her pandemic-era business virtually: selling cheese online and at farmer’s markets, curating gift boxes and slates, catering and hosting guided tastings, and running a monthly cheese club.
“There was such excitement and interest in really good artisan, handcrafted cheeses, especially from this region,” McGrath tells Eater. Her cheese club, which started with 10 members, mostly friends and family, now boasts 35—the most the business could handle out of a single cheese shelf in a shared kitchen space.
From her new H Street digs, McGrath and her husband, Aaron Fagan, will retain the brand’s programming roots, but now with room to fully realize their dairy-filled dreams. That could include cheese club members’ nights and producer-led tastings.
“The fact that we can bring people to us; we can talk to them; we can talk to them about cheese, figure out things that they like, make personalized recommendations, is very much afforded by the fact that we can have people come in here, sit here across from us, talk to us, and look at what’s in the case,” says McGrath.
At any given time there will be about 30 cheeses in the case up front, and a selection of four or five featured on slates. “Paradox of choice is a real thing,” McGrath explains.
One- to two-person slates will feature a single cheese with accompaniments (like chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, and jams) alongside bread from Fresh Baguette, plus a suggested wine pairing. The opening menu showcases cheeses like FireFly Farms’ “Bloomy Breeze” (pasteurized cow’s milk, soft, bloomy rind) with honey, dried strawberries, and candied pecans ($13). “Amber Cheddar” (pasteurized cow’s milk, washed brick cheddar) from Chapel’s Country Creamery is presented alongside Old Bay popcorn, Bartlett pears, and onion jam ($15).
“The menu will always be rotating based on what’s in season and what’s tasting really good at the time,” says McGrath, “so we plan on playing around a lot with it and experimenting a bunch.”
Available add-ons include duck prosciutto and Spanish-style fuet salami from Maryland’s MeatCrafters and beef liver pate. Customers can also curate their own cheese slates designed for three to four with a wine pairing suggestion. A full wine list (sparkling, white, red, and rosé) is also available, as well as a handful of beer options.
Paste & Rind sources from local cheesemongers and very small distributors based in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, plus a few from Pennsylvania and Vermont.
“The cheeses all need to be handcrafted, artisan, and there has to be something sort of special about them,” says McGrath. On top of that, she has ethical guidelines. The chosen cheesemakers have to be “doing good things for their animals, good things for the planet, and good things for their staff,” she says.
D.C.’s taste for hard-to-find cheese seems to have soared as of late. Dupont’s DC Vegan has a new in-demand cheese shop stocked with dairy-free delicacies from coast to coast.
McGrath and Fagan are longtime locals, having met at the University of Maryland and have called the H Street neighborhood home for the past five years. McGrath says they’re excited to fully immerse themselves in a community coming out of the pandemic with a renewed vibrance.
“In the last year since things have started to open up a bit more, there’s such an excitement,” says McGrath. “There’s clearly a neighborhood energy to want more options for H Street. It’s such a gorgeous, historic part of the city.”
Fellow 2023 newcomers on H Street include Afrofuturism restaurant Bronze and alcohol-free Binge Bar. On the horizon are contemporary American Purl, plant-based chain Slutty Vegan, and two-storied Filipino eatery Hiraya.