Bedford Cheese Shop’s Evolution

This Manhattan gem sources more obscure cheeses, while going the extra mile to educate customers.

When friends Jason Scherr and Jason Jeffries established Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, NY’s Williamsburg Mini Mall back in 2001, they had no idea it would become a beloved part of New York City.

Fast forward about a decade the flagship location moved down the street in Williamsburg and a second location opened on Irving Place in 2012.  As of 2020 the Manhattan location is the sole location with a thriving business and loyal clientele.   and following the closing of this flagship and a second Williamsburg location, and the shop’s thriving sole Manhattan location on Irving Place (opened in 2012) is thriving with a loyal clientele.

In 2019, friends Christina Earle and Samantha Hourihan become co-owners of the shop.

“Sam and I have known each other for 15 years and have worked on a variety of projects together, like fundraising, community programs ventures,  and volunteering,” Earle says. “I have a business background, and Sam worked in fashion, so our skill sets are very complementary and additionally, we have a strong work ethic which all lends itself to a successful work experience.  we work very well together and complement each other’s skill sets.”

The women were coming to a point in their lives where their kids were getting older and more independent; they were looking for a challenge and found one in Bedford Cheese Shop.

“We live in the neighborhood where the cheese shop was located and were frequent customers,” Hourihan explains. “We knew there was a change in management and an opportunity to become investors in the business in terms of finances and sweat equity.”

Even without formal cheese training, Despite a lack of relevant cheese experience, the duo was well versed in organizing, structuring and customer service plus innately competitive go-getters..

“We love love working with people, so we jumped right in and focused on our Team and our customers.  grew the business,” Earle says. “We are vested in the  community; this is where we put most of our energy.” 

Bedford Cheese Shop – An Old World Ambiance

As customers walk into the spacious shop, they are greeted with an open floor plan and loads of natural light exuding from the large windows that look out onto the charming busy city street. When one walks up to the full-service cheese counter, they are greeted by a case of more than 150 cheeses from all over the world. From cheddars to bries to Roquefort, it is immediately evident that great thought was given into the selections.

“It feels like an Old World European cheese shop, with a beautiful case that bombards the eyes,” Hourihan says. “Our desire philosophy is to bring people in to taste the cheeses we’ve sourced from all over the world and to enjoy this experience.”

Like its ambiance, the goal at Bedford Cheese Shop is to honor the Old World traditions when it comes to purveying and mongering

“Our cheesemongers are very seasoned and can walk the customer through different cheeses with the customer to find what flavors and pairings they prefer, while expanding their palate,” Earle explains. “What we strive to do here and focus our energy on is differentiating ourselves by creating an experience.”

Bedford Cheese Shop’s cheeses are sourced in a variety of ways. Earle and Hourihan along with the Cheese Manager work with select distributors who have access to domestic and international cheeses. The co-owners also source product directly items through small farms on their own, developing relationships along the way.

“They will reach outcome to us or we will find them through doing our research,” Hourihan says. “The Farm at Doe Run is an example. There are not many New York City cheese shops offering their cheeses, so this is where we  benefit of working directly with certain makers. Switching out our cheese case with new, and seasonal options is very exciting for our customers and our Team.”  from being in the heart of Manhattan. We can expand our cheese caves and are grateful for that.”

The shop focuses on a wide array of cheeses spanning from at least 20 countries and 5 continents.

“We have blues, Stiltons, bloomies and washed rinds, in addition to gorgeous Alpines,” Earle says. “We are now heading going into our fresh chevre season.”

She calls out Leanora, a goat cheese made by Oscar, a small producer in León, France. Its white mold rind envelops this brick-shaped cheese’s compact paste. The cheese features a layered, complex flavor and lingering finish. Another standout is The Netherlands’ Cono Kaasmakers’ L’Amuse Signature Gouda, with its sweet caramel and toasted nut flavor and firm yet creamy paste texture. A more local variety, Kunik Mini Button from Nettle Meadow Farm in Thurman, NY, is a bloomy rind with a voluptuous triple crème cheese. 

As for bestsellers, some of these tend to be seasonal. During the holidays, Vacherin Mont d’Or Uplands Cheese Co.’s Rush Creek Reserve sells well as does the World Champion cheese, Rogue River Blue . Other popular varieties are Colston Basset Stilton, Manchego Gran Reserva, Campo de Montalbán from Toledo Spain, Brebirousse D’ Argental from France’s Loire region and Cave Aged Gruyere Kaltbach.

Bedford Cheese Shop is working with its distributors to expand its Portuguese selection and in some instances .

“We were the exclusive carrier of these cheeses in the city,” Earle notes.

Diversifying Offerings

To diversify their offerings, Earle and Hourihan have added shelves of interesting small-batch specialty foods within the shop along the wall. These include olive oils, crackers and jam and so much more. It also has a popular foodservice business that includes housemade salad, soup and sandwiches, along with breakfast all day. Its sandwich names pay homage to the city, with the Gramercy (goat cheddar, roasted turkey and peppadews with homemade aioli), Hell’s Kitchen (peppa spread, sopressata, greens and pepperoncini) and Broadway Junction (spicy cheese whip, smoked turkey and spicy cherry peppers). Everything is made to order.

“Our stunning catering platters hold up with the best of them,” Earle says. “We call them ‘edible art’, since it’s bringing our amazing cheese experience to homes and events.”

Although Bedford Cheese Shop does some wholesale business with local restaurants, it is more of a neighborhood institution.

“Every year brings something new,” Hourihan notes. “We have a gorgeous fulfilment program where organizations and companies reach out for us to create artisanal baskets for their clients, events, or their team near and far. It’s a fun and exciting branch of our business.” 

For the recent opening of Julie, the Netflix series on noted celebrity chef Julia Child, Bedford Cheese Shop was hired to create custom gift baskets with a French theme for the cast and crew.

“Being in the heart of New York City, we get these requests often,” Earle says. “We like to find other small businesses that fit with the basket theme we’re working with and support them. It’s a ripple effect that we’re grateful to be a part of.”

A Cheese Education

The shop supports the continuing education of its cheesemongers, as well.

“When you come in, you’re not just getting ½ pound of Stilton but will also be tasting new cheeses,” Earle says. “We want you to understand where it comes from, as our cheesemongers talk about the producers and create a memorable experience.”

Customers, too, can take advantage of in-person cheese classes held in the homestead, theira classroom space at the back of the shop, while those who are not local can attend virtual educational sessions.

The duo has helmed a new free program, Monger Mondays, with the purpose to further the educational experience and knowledge of cheesemongers and cheese professionals.

“Community is the core of Bedford Cheese Shop, and this strengthens connections between mongers, farmers and cheese professionals,” Hourihan says.

Although the shop shut down its indoor seating during COVID, Earle and Hourihan are considering adding it back in to supplement the outdoor dining area.

The pair is always seeking to expand its brand and reach without compromising the shop, team or relationship with its community.

“The two of us are working hard, always trying to identify different ways to grow our business without compromising our cheese integrity; simply put, our hands are in every aspect of our business,  and create looking at programs,  to get involved with,” Hourihan says.

With its new monthly Cheese Fix program, three cheeses are carefully selected to be shipped door to door each month. The variety is seasonal with a mix of milks, style and texture. Jams, spreads or honeys are included for pairing, and detailed tasting notes and information on the farms and cheesemakers are part of the package.

“Those looking to get into selling cheese should have a passion for it and start small,” Earle says. “It’s a seven-day a week business, and there’s a lot you’re relying on. It’s best to hand-select cheeses you truly stand behind. You don’t need a wide range, but tell the story of each cheese and share your authentic passion for it.  Then the cheese will sell itself. Stand behind the quality. Cheese has to be cared for.”

“We always had a love and appreciation for cheese, total authentic respect,” Hourihan says. “We also have a love and deep appreciation for the industry and are so proud to be a part of the whole life cycle.” 

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