Gourmet cheese shop embodies an easy charm
Picture a postcard-perfect, charm-filled town. On the way there, the hills roll gently and the roads are dotted with farm stands. As you enter New York’s downtown Hudson, Federal, Victorian and Queen Anne buildings are home to cute cafés, pedigreed restaurants, art galleries, antique stores and vintage clothing shops. The picturesque main drag is Warren Street, which slopes gently towards the Hudson River and boasts the gourmet shop and cheese mecca Talbott & Arding.
Hudson takes its name from the English explorer who arrived on the river in 1609. It got its start as a hub for whaling and trade in the 18th Century, and then its economy transitioned to brickyards, cotton mills and cement plants. After a long decline in the 20th century, it has become a prime weekend destination for New Yorkers and a thriving community in its own right. About 6,400 residents call the town of Hudson home.
Two of those residents are Mona Talbott and Kate Arding, proprietors of their eponymous shop. “I came back from living in Italy with the intention of settling in the Hudson Valley,” says Talbott. “I didn’t want to be in New York City anymore. I wanted to be close to the source and farms, to have the daily inspiration of the ingredients.” At Talbott & Arding, the women and their team turn local ingredients into truly special eats. They have created a cheese-centric culinary destination in the heart of the Hudson Valley.
Talbott’s culinary career started with a job as a cook in a remote reforestation camp in her native Canada. She graduated with honors from the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR., then cooked for five years at the highly acclaimed Chez Panisse café and restaurant in Berkeley, CA. The stint at Chez Panisse inspired an appreciation of fresh, seasonal ingredients and simple, well-prepared food. Her time there instilled “the foundation for my career and my approach to cooking,” says Talbott. After Chez Panisse, Talbott launched her own catering company and then became the founding executive chef at the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome from 2006 to 2011. Talbott also authored two cookbooks: Biscotti and Zuppe: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome.
Talbott met Arding for the first time more than 20 years ago over dinner at Chez Panisse while Talbott was cooking in the famed kitchen. At the time, Arding was working at the newly-founded Cowgirl Creamery artisanal cheese company in Point Reyes Station, CA. She would go on to become Cowgirl’s head cheesemonger and cheese buyer. Arding had arrived in California by way of beloved cheese retailer Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, where she worked since 1993. “I just loved cheese,” says Arding. She had been working with her family’s mustard and sauce business Trackelments, and delivered mustard regularly to Neal’s Yard. “I thought it was a really great place, so I asked if they had a job,” she remembers. They did have a job, and Arding got a serious education in the practice and “philosophy of small scale cheese production and mongering.” At the time, English food’s roots were being rediscovered as the cuisine was being transformed, and cheese was at the heart of the country’s culinary revolution.
At Cowgirl Creamery and after, Arding fast became an important influencer in the world of cheese. In 2008, she co-founded the print and online cheese magazine Culture: The Word on Cheese. Her new job brought her from the West Coast to New York. Arding is a member of the board of directors for the American Cheese Society (ACS), a former co-chair of the ACS’s Regulatory and Academic Committee and an area editor of the Oxford Companion to Cheese. In 2011, she was inducted into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers. She’s worked on cheese projects in Uganda, Ecuador, the Netherlands and Macedonia, among other places, and appeared on The Martha Stewart Living Show to talk cheese.
In 2012, after many years apart, Kate and Mona reconnected on the East Coast. “I was ready for my next project after Culture” says Arding. “[Talbott and I] started talking and decided we wanted to do something together.” That something was a cheese, provisions and gourmet shop in the Hudson Valley. Talbott & Arding was born. “It’s a business partnership and a life partnership,” adds Talbott.
Shop Embodies Owners
Talbott & Arding opened their doors right in time for the start of the 2014 holiday season, and the shop has been busy ever since. It is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays, closed on Mondays. From the beginning, their mission was to be an integral part of the Hudson Valley — to support nearby farmers and cheesemakers and create a spot for supporting and nurturing the community. “We wanted to create a business that reflected what was going on locally,” says Arding. Being “close to the source mattered very much to us.”
Walking into the shop on Warren Street feels like entering a distilled version of Hudson, full of beauty and quirky charm. The space is minimalist, yet warm, with white walls and sunlight streaming in. Vibrant fresh flowers from Tiny Hearts Farm in Copake give the store a burst of color. A long white counter serves prepared foods and baked treats, and a well-stocked cheese case beckons in the back of the cozy store. The focus is clear here — high-quality, delicious ingredients, especially those sourced locally.
Arding and Talbott felt immediately at home in their new town. “There’s a very real element to Hudson,” says Arding. “It has blue collar roots and was founded on whaling, prostitution and bootlegging. It’s really fun and lively.” Many New Yorkers and Bostonians choose the area for second homes, and plenty of neighbors live in Hudson full-time.
Dividing the Duties
At the shop, Talbott oversees the production and lineup of freshly-prepared salads, sandwiches and baked goods, which change daily depending on what’s available seasonally. When I visit, puffy focaccia, crusty baguettes, cloud-like meringues and ginger cakes drizzled with lemon icing and crystallized ginger make my mouth water. There are tiny breakfast sandwiches that fit in my palm as well as abundant salads with greens and grains. Talbott & Arding also caters parties, weddings and events. Recently, the shop made its first cheese wedding ‘cake,’ assembled with wheels of cheese that was simply, yet beautifully, decorated. When I chatted with Talbott, winter was approaching and she was making a big batch of chicken bouillon with ginger and star anise, a perfect defense against the impending cold. “The menu is all about sourcing from local farms,” explains Talbott. “We have beautiful local produce and meat. We try to make the kind of food people will want to eat every day.”
Talbott makes the most of every part of an animal. “We use everything,” she says. And she has plenty of other projects going, including brining local turkey, making a batch of Porchetta and duck confit. The pair also crafts house-branded products by canning and preserving meat, fruit and veggies and sells the beautiful jars both wholesale at the shop and online — think rich duck rilletes and pickled spring ramps. Plum and apple chutney and sour cherry preserves are packed with flavor and make excellent accompaniments to the various cheeses. The caraway rye crackers are quite addictive, so be warned. The store also offers seasonal items, like traditional British Christmas pudding.
At Talbott & Arding, “everything goes together — you can get a beautiful piece of cheese and a gorgeous salad,” explains Talbott. A beautiful piece of cheese indeed. At the small shop, every product gets carefully selected and cared for, including the 40 to 60 cheeses that Arding curates, many of which hail from the Northeast. Some favorites include Meadowood Farms Ledyard, made by Veronica Pedraza, a longtime friend of Arding and Talbott who resides in nearby Madison County, NY. Ledyard is a soft-ripened cheese made from the East Friesian sheep raised on lush pastures at Meadowood. The bundles of buttery cheese are wrapped in grape leaves that have been soaked in Empire Brewing Co.’s Deep Purple, a wheat beer infused with Concord grapes. Dutch Knuckle is another stunner. It’s made from the raw milk of Brown Swiss cows at Sugar House Creamery in the Adirondacks and aged to coax out layers of complex flavor, full of meaty, herbal and grassy notes.
It is obvious that Talbott and Arding don’t do things half-way. “We’ve always thrown ourselves into whatever we’ve done with a lot of gusto,” says Arding. At their shop, it really shows.
Opening and running a store — plus wholesale business, catering business and kitchen — is not for the faint of heart. “We put in very long hours because we care deeply about everything we do,” explains Talbott. There are long days, and plenty of boring work that accompanies the more inspiring tasks. But Arding loves “being back in the trenches and getting my hands dirty.” Plus, “being able to work alongside and help encourage and empower young staff, see them get excited about cheese or cooking” is incredibly rewarding, she says.
“I love seeing customers’ faces when they come in the store,” says Arding. “I love playing a small part in helping them get access to delicious food. We’ve received an enormous amount of support from the community. It’s been a wonderful experience.” And it is only the beginning for Talbott & Arding.