Too often when Kathy and I go somewhere, and I have the chance to enjoy a lot of cheese, I become almost overwhelmed… At least in what I can, or should, write about when I have SO MUCH that I could write about. This is even true of just a two and a half day visit in Brooklyn. Although I could go on and on about how wonderful it was to catch up with good friends, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend (and their fantastic dual birthday party), I should write about the cheese we enjoyed… These blogs are also often influenced on what I manged to take photos of, so that I can at least provide some visuals. Although I did try a lot of wonderful cheeses while in Brooklyn, I’m going to concentrate on a few of the places where you can buy cheese there.
First off is a wonderful store where I have been before, Bedford Cheese Shop. This unassuming corner store has a large variety of high-quality domestic and international cheeses as well as a sandwich counter. The staff is both knowledgeable and helpful, and I was amazed (concerning their customer service), that the Cheesemonger who helped us actually remembered us from the last time we were there, once, over a year and a half ago. Sure, sure, we spoke with her about cheese, and Californian cheeses then, and did again, so it’s not that far of a stretch that she’d remember… Although their selection was excellent as always, I was unable to purchase any artisan cheese produced IN New York from Bedford Cheese this time. I was carrying around a short list of cheeses that Lynne Devereux had suggested I try while out east, but they were out of all of them (please, no Monty Python Cheese Shop Sketch jokes). What I did pick up while there were a few that were new to me:
Grayson from Meadow Creek Farms in Southwest Virginia.
This is a washed-rind cheese. If you are inexperienced with washed-rinds cheeses, I’ll remind you that they can be very pungent since this type of cheese making process often promotes the growth of the Corynebacterium and Brevibacterium on the rind. If you’ve ever wondered why some cheeses smell like dirty feet or toe-jam, Brevibacterium is most often to blame; it is the same bacterium which causes foot odor. When/if you’ve expanded your cheese experience to include a variety of washed-rind cheeses, you’ll find the odor to be almost welcoming since these surface, purposely cultivated, bacterium contribute to the overall taste of the cheese. If you can’t take the rind, avoid it, cut around it. I, however, try to have both the cheese’s interior AND some of the rind for the entire taste experience. Many “stinky” cheeses are also the most mild tasting. The Grayson hits your tongue with a quick snap, but them the butter-like consistency and creaminess heals any wound from the initial taste, and your cares melt away.
Another cheese we picked up at the Bedford Cheese Shop was a little medallion of Buure Weichkäesli. Buure is the farm or brand name, and Weichkäesli means; “soft little cheese”. The word Käesli, is very Swiss due to the “li”. In the German speaking areas of Switzerland, anything that is small, or cute (or small and cute), gets “li” added to the end of it. This cheese is a cow’s milk cheese, very soft, deceptively light for its 60% fat content, and hails from the Canton of Bern in Switzerland. If you gave me a bowl of these, I’d eat them like popcorn, but due to their creamy nature, I suggest having it spread on bread after reaching room temperature.
As the last treat for ourselves at Bedford, I asked the Cheesemonger what she was excited about lately, and she let us have a sample of Tomme Crayeuse, which is from Savoie, France. In the world of cheese, it is fairly new, only having been developed about 12 years ago. The complexity of these lovely semi-soft cow’s milk cheese left me reeling. It has distinct textures from rind to center… I’ve read the the rind on this cheese is best discarded as it does not add (in tasting) to the perfection of what it conceals. Yep, we bought some.
While Kathy went to have her hair cut, I accompanied Janet on a few errands to help prepare for her and her boyfriend Eddie’s party. When a town is as old as Brooklyn, you thankfully don’t have huge gleaming supermarkets, but instead, a wonderful hodge-podge of places which have their own character. One such place is Tops on the Waterfront, which through its rambling isles and rooms, has a huge “cool room” where all meats, cheese and chilled beverages are kept. Besides having a very respectable selection of imported cheeses, I was also really happy to see an entire shelf dedicated to mostly American consumer cheese (ie mass-produced/non-artisan). Click on the Cracker Barrel picture below to get a pop-up of the entire shelf.
Im staving off my “Inner-Cheese Voice” by warning you that what I have to say next doesn’t involve cheese. Janet took us to a fairly new “authentic” German Bier Garden in Brooklyn; the Radegast Hall & Beer Garden. Designed and decorated to look older and more traditional than it actually is, Radegast DOES have the charm and near authenticity of a German Beer Garden. They’re doing everything right at the place, from the shaded patio with long tables and benches to perfectly prepared wurst and hard-to-find German beers served as pints or whole liters. They may not be serving cheese, but there’s nothing quite like a Beer Garden in the Spring or Summertime.
Running more errands with Janet (yes, this is all part of the same day), Kathy and I accompanied her out to the Redhook waterfront area (from which you can see the Statue of Liberty), where there’s a huge supermarket named the Fairway (it’s on the bottom floor of the beautiful brick re-purposed building you see in the picture). Walking through it is akin to a labyrinth, ‘cept that if you keep going in one direction, you’ll eventually make it to the exit. Towering shelves of food and prepackaged foods make for a dizzying effect as you navigate the isles. Naturally I got stuck at their extensive “Cheeses of the World” cheese counter. Middle-aged men in white supermarket aprons gave generous samples of anything that was asked about, and they were making swift sales too. It was at this stop that I noticed a trend. Every place we had been that sells cheese by the pound has signage which states the price per quarter pound. Sure, the math’s not hard if you’re comparing prices to California’s per pound price system, but it did lead me to believe (briefly) that the Fairway had excellent cheese prices. We got out of there with me thankfully not overloading by buying even more cheese. …before leaving Redhook, however, we did stop at Steve’s Authentic Key Lime Pies, which are said to be amongst the best in the world.
Jumping forward to a day later, we did make it to one more cheese shop that I had been hearing about; Stinky bklyn. This small shop (about the same size of the Bedford Cheese Shop) is also very well stocked with cheeses from around the world. Their Cheesemongers were also very helpful and knowledgeable (who knew that New York would have so many people who know their craft so well? Don’t you wish that your local shops hired people as well-informed as these specialists?). Again, looking for cheeses specific to New York, my search was awarded this time with Toma Celena made by Cooperstown Cheese Company of Milford, New York. The Toma, like other cheeses from Copperstown Cheese Company, is based on similar Italian cow-milk cheeses, but are produced in New York, and as they are distinctive to where they are from, bear their own names. Since I did have some trouble locating many New York Artisan cheeses during our brief visit to Brooklyn, this is a good chance to promote the New York State Artisan & Farmstead Cheese Makers Guild. They’ve got a brochure that I’ll be sure to use if I ever have the chance to take a cheese tour of New York State. Back to Stinky bklyn, the store its self, however– It’s an impressive set-up, and they have their own aging “cave” at which they help some cheesemakers by continuing the aging process on-site. Another thing I found interesting, was that the store, like Bedford Cheese, also had the traditional tin-plated ceiling. Perhaps it is something about Brooklyn’s architecture, but I love the “traditional” touches that both of these cheese shops have. Another offering that Stinky has above and beyond cheese is Prosciutto, thinly cut before your eyes in the shop to order.
If you have additional favorite places in Brooklyn to buy cheese, please use the comment section to let me know!