Everybody knows that New York City is the great melting pot. When it comes to looking for cheese, the whole world is, quite literally, a subway ride away. Manhattan’s cheese sellers have some of the most diverse and delicious selections of famous fromage from all over the world.
Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than at East Village Cheese. Hidden behind an unassuming storefront covered by handwritten signs, East Village Cheese is a veritable playground for price-conscious cheese connoisseurs who want to get the maximum bang for their buck. The clientele generally ranges from hungry college students to locals who have been shopping here their whole lives, with the occasional thrill-seeking tourist thrown in. At this cash-only establishment, you will find unbelievably low prices. You can also find a global assortment of cheeses, including great Cheddar, Feta and Brie.
East Village Cheese is a great place for chefs on a budget who know exactly what they’re looking for. For the aspiring foodie looking to sit down and have a meal and maybe visit a highly recommended cheese shop look no further than Artisanal Fromagerie Bistro and Wine Bar. Armed with a focus on cheese with something of a French twist, Artisinal caters to high-end diners. The fromagerie offers four distinct cheese platters — European Union, billed as “the next best thing to a Eurail pass;” The Bistro, which aims to use five fromages to capture the essence of France; The American, which takes your taste buds on a coast-to-coast tour of the United States; and the Fromager Selection, a variety of cheeses handpicked by the bistro’s expert cheesemongers. These platters aren’t cheap, but they’re worth it.
When wandering around Greenwich Village, stop by Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleecker Street and pick up a bag of high-end cheeses. The cheese shop is said to be New York’s oldest. For those uncertain of what they want, Murray’s offers classes to teach even the most uncultured the basics of being a cheese connoisseur. From Cheese 101 for the budding initiates, to classes on pairing cheese with wine and beer, to a three-day weekend boot camp, a trip to Murray’s may prove to be educational as well as delicious.
On a corner in Little Italy, one can find Di Palo’s Fine Foods, the premier name in Italian cheese and meats. For $100, you can buy the Italian Cheese Primer, a collection of half-pound helpings of seven different fromages from Grana Padano to Provolone Piccante. Like the name says, the Primer is “a tool to get you started in the wide world of Italy.” The Di Palo family has been selling their authentic Italian goods since 1925 in New York City, so I’d listen to what they have to say.
For more of a farmers market type of vibe, check out the Union Square Greenmarket, which sells fruits, vegetables, preserves, artisanal breads, meats and award-winning farmstead cheeses. Farms from all over the Greater New York area show up to peddle their cheeses. 3-Corner Field Farm sells its signature sheep cheese products like Brebis Blanche, Frère Fumant and Battenkill Brebis — all are American Cheese Society winners. Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse sells cave-ripened Cheddar and a 22-pound wheel called Jean-Louis, named after Jean-Louis Palladin, the famous chef who inspired the cheesemakers on the farm. Ardith Mae Farmstead, founded by Todd and Shereen Wilcox, sells a Honey Lavender Chèvre, a Feta which they call “soft, crumbly and creamy all at the same time” and the Doolan, a salty and sweet treat named after Todd and Shereen’s own culinary inspiration, Kristin Doolan.
In addition to being one of the coolest places in the city to buy groceries, the Essex Street Market is one of the last remaining public markets, with more than 20 independent and niche specialty stores dotting the marketplace. The market specializes in a wide variety of culinary products, including premium meats, fish and gourmet cheeses. One merchant, Saxelby Cheesemongers aims to be “the bridge connecting cheesemakers to the food-loving public in New York.” Devoted solely to American farmstead cheese, owner Anne Saxelby has culled a unique selection from more than 30 dairies in the Northeast and beyond. Many of the cheeses at Saxelby Cheesemongers are available in limited quantities. If you get the chance, tune into Heritage Radio Network, where Saxelby can be heard on “Cutting the Curd.” She definitely knows what she’s talking about.
Still, probably the most famous delicatessen in the city is Katz’s Delicatessen on Houston Street. While it’s more of a salami and egg cream kind of joint, the place still offers platters made with any combination of American, Swiss or Muenster cheese.
Manhattan is great, and it’s definitely the face of New York, but unbeknownst to many, there are actually four other boroughs (five if you include Yonkers), and the people there also eat cheese! Shining a spotlight on Brooklyn reveals what may as well be a whole other city offering as much diversity in people and tastes as its more famous neighbor.
One of the most famous cheese stops in Brooklyn is the Bedford Cheese Shop, an old-fashioned shop dedicated to providing the finest quality cheeses from around the world and a constantly evolving array of prime goodies. In addition to its wide selection of cheese tended to by a friendly staff of well-informed cheesemongers, the store also offers classes along the lines of Murray’s in the West Village.
Campbell Cheese & Grocery is akin to a more intimate version of Manhattan’s Artisanal Fromagerie Bistro and Wine Bar, offering a cheese and meat shop and space to sit down and order a meal like Grilled Cheese with Fig and Bacon or Grilled Cheese with Romesco. The cheese shop features American and European cheeses and is managed by head cheesemonger Elena Santogade, one of just 253 of the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professionals, or CCP. She’s kind of a big deal.
Some people prefer their cheese to have more of a pungent bite, and that’s where Stinky Bklyn, located in the Cobble Hill neighborhood, comes in. Featuring the best in “stinky” cheeses from all over the world, nearly every Stinky cheese spends time in the cave — from a week to a year — where it might be brushed, soaked, washed or flipped. To go with the cheese, there is a delicatessen stocked with all the best in cured meats. Stinky also has a cheese-of-the-month club, offers recipes on its website and hosts an annual cheese- eating contest.
Tucked away in the middle of an innocent street in Greenpoint, Eastern District is another high-end shop hidden by an unassuming exterior. Eastern District is the conceptual opposite of East Village Cheese. The focus here is on American products, mostly local and regional, and some imports like English and Italian cheeses. Eastern District offers sandwiches, meats, sweets, and Belgian and German beers. At this shop, the price is directly proportional to the quality: spend big — win big.
Any cheese tour of this town would not be complete without the temptation of devouring at least two pounds of what Gothamist called “the best Mozzarrella in New York City.” Hop on the subway and stay there, because you’re going to the Bronx! On 187th Street and Arthur Avenue, you can find Casa Della Mozzarella. New York Magazine says this shop is a “maestro of ‘pasta filata’ (the family of stretched-curd cheeses such as Mozzarella and Provolone) as well as a purveyor of hard cheeses and other Italian essentials.” Made in the back of the store, Casa’s Mozzarella is sold alone or rolled up with prosciutto. While the storefront is particularly tiny, it adds to the charm of some of the most righteously delicious Mozzarella this side of Italy.
New York City knows how to do a lot of things, from creating baseball giants like Babe Ruth and Derek Jeter, to some of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands of all time. As for the locals, they know how to eat. Of all the cities in the world, New York is gifted with perhaps the most global of tastes. When it comes to cheese, they know how to use it. From mac and cheese at Cafeteria to the simple pleasure of a slice of pizza at 99 Cent Fresh Pizza, New York City is the place to be for anything and everything — cheese is just another entry on the list. After all, what better place for a nice fondue than the world’s largest melting pot? CC
New York Cheese Shops
East Village Cheese
40 Third Ave. | (betw. 9th and 10th Streets) | 212-477-2601
Artisanal Fromagerie Bistro & Wine Bar
2 Park Ave. (at 32nd Street) | 212-725-8585
Murray’s Cheese Shop
254 Bleecker Street, Greenwich Village | 212-243-3289
Di Palo’s Fine Foods
200 Grand Street, Little Italy | 212-226-1033
Union Square Greenmarket
Union Square West at E. 17th Street
Essex Street Market
120 Essex Street, Lower East Side
205 E. Houston Street, Lower East Side | 212-254-2246
Bedford Cheese Shop
229 Bedford Ave., Brooklyn | 718-599-7588
Campbell Cheese & Grocery
502 Lorimer Street, Brooklyn | 718-387-2267
215 Smith Street, Brooklyn | 718-596-2873
1053 Manhattan Ave., Brooklyn | 718-349-1432
Casa Della Mozzarella
604 E. 187th Street, the Bronx | 718-364-3867