Do you say “cheese, please”? Let’s be fromage friends. A slice on a sandwich, a cube on a toothpick, a square on a cracker, a whole course – you don’t rind, do you? (Too cheesy?) Whatever your pleasure, there’s bound to be a local cheesemaker or -monger who will have you waxing poetic. The Hudson Valley cheese scene is in full bloom.
I took a trip to Hawthorne Valley Farm, home to one of the few 300-gallon Swiss-style copper kettles in the country. In it, milk reaches havarti heights with heat, rennet and salt. The basement houses row upon row of butter-yellow wheels, archived by type and date. It’s all made from the milk of cows that graze on the farm’s 200 acres; but exceptional taste isn’t solely terroir. “The caring, initially, is what makes the difference. The intent in a person, who’s making your food, is critical to its final flavor,” cheesemaker Pete Kindel told me.
Shops that stock cheeses both local and international take the same care in curation as Kindel and company do in creation. Like bakers and florists, they specialize in mood-elevating goods, and can make your day with the flick of a wire or a holey knife. Try before you buy, and be open-minded when it comes to unknown cheeses. “Those with a bouquet can be bordering on the offensive to your nose, but delightful on the palate. Cheese has those nuances. You can open it up and go, ‘Oh, my god!’ and get it in your mouth and it’s a different kind of oh-my-god,” said Rick Regan of Cheese Louise in Kingston.
To top off a dinner party for four, Regan recommends a trifecta: one soft, brie or camembert; one hard, cheddar or gouda-style; and one wild card, something aromatic, a semi-runny cheese that will assert its bouquet at room temperature. The permutations are limitless, but whatever you get, make sure that your wedge isn’t larger than your wallet. Purveyors will gladly cut to size to accommodate your budget. Store these treasurers in the refrigerator wrapped in two-ply paper. Some swear by Tupperware or refrigerating a whole cheese dome, but I don’t know.
However you store whatever make, shape or size, three cheers for cheese! Here are some places to quest for the best.
The Big Cheese
The Big Cheese at 402 Main Street in Rosendale, (845) 658-7175. Owned by Lisa and Yuval Stere, this funky spot has hundreds of cheeses to choose from, representing France, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, the Hudson Valley and then some. Try the Piave, an aged cow’s-milk cheese from Italy that resembles Parmigiano Reggiano. A café up front and thrift store in the back make for an eclectic experience. Lots of samples, super-friendly staff, good prices.
The Cheese Barrel
The Cheese Barrel at 798 Main Street in Margaretville, (845) 586-4666, https://cheesebarrel.com. The Cheese Barrel is a bright and airy gourmet foods store specializing in cheeses from around the world. Its case is packed with goat gouda, St. Andre, stilton, manchego, bleu cheese and brie: something for everybody. A café serves breakfast and light lunch fare: sandwiches, baked goods, homemade soups, salads.