Still cheese, but more: Grazery at Water Street Market in New Paltz offers an unusual mix

Greg and Melissa Gagne of The Grazery located at Water Street Market in New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

When longtime Gardinerites Melissa and Greg Gagne opened Grazery at Water Street Market in New Paltz this past August, they found a way to combine their background in the food business with their love of plants and flowers, all while preserving a beloved local cheese shop.

Grazery has an unusual concept: a self-proclaimed “cheese, plant and lifestyle boutique,” there are four components to the business (five, if you count the seasonal workshops offered). As a cheese shop, they sell domestic, cut-to-order artisanal cheeses. As a café, the Gagnes’ cheese-centric menu features items such as fondue and grilled cheese sandwiches. But the business is equally devoted to the sale of greenhouse plants — and cut flowers or holiday greens, depending on the season — in varieties not always carried by the usual places one buys house plants. And accompanying all this is a carefully curated selection of gourmet food products and home-related gift items that will enliven a cheese plate or serve as a hostess gift; items that range from unique spices and sweets to candles and handmade soaps.

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Before they launched Grazery, the Gagnes owned and ran the Red Rooster Café in Gardiner (in the space now occupied by Café Mio.) With four young children at home — currently ages 20 months to 12 years old — Melissa stayed home with the kids while Greg managed the café. But when the couple felt the pull of starting their own business together again, their idea was to open a café and flower shop, incorporating plants into the mix.

The two are avid growers, able to supply Grazery with their own stock of cut flowers in season; dahlias, sunflowers, zinnias, lilies, peonies and roses, among others. Most of the house plants come directly from greenhouses in Florida, which, Greg notes, means savings passed on to customers since there’s no middleman involved in the process.

Opening a cheese shop wasn’t part of the original plan, but when customers of the site’s former tenant, The Cheese Plate — founded in 2002 — were distressed at losing their special cheese shop, the Gagnes decided to incorporate the longtime local favorite into their new business venture. “We didn’t want to disappoint their loyal following, so we decided to become stewards of it,” Greg adds. “We felt an obligation to keep it going.”

The café menu will change seasonally. Currently sandwiches include the Mountaineer with cheddar, pesto, prosciutto and hot sauce ($8); the Dutch with cheddar, apple butter and dark ale mustard ($8) and the house grilled cheese sandwich, a blend of Swiss and cheddar cheese on focaccia ($7), available with a number of add-ons such as prosciutto or olive tapenade for $1 extra. There are cheese boards ($12-$16) with charcuterie added for an additional $5. The traditional raclette fondue ($12) includes dippers and a baguette, and scones or buttermilk biscuits are paired with jam and brie cheese ($6) or hot honey and parmesan ($5).

Gift items available are intended to be “not run-of-the-mill,” says Melissa. At the high end are sheep pelts ($190) from Gardiner’s Willow Pond Sheep Farm, which can be used as rugs or decorative accents, and food items include things like dried guava chips, gluten-free crackers and Turkish oregano buds packaged in their own grinder.

Customers familiar with The Cheese Plate will be on familiar ground when entering the Grazery, viewing the deli cases filled with delectable-looking cheese selections. But all resemblance to the former shop fades away as an awareness of the abundance of plants in the shop and café areas takes over the senses.

Visiting the Grazery is as much an experience as it is a shopping destination. (And its location at Water Street Market seems particularly well-suited to the venture.) With so many varieties of foliage so artfully arranged, it takes some time to take it all in. But that’s okay; the coziness and beauty the plants provide makes one want to hang out there for a while, with all that greenery imparting the sense of well-being that only nature can provide. The experience of going into Grazery has, in fact, inspired some customers to ask if the plants are for sale, says Melissa; apparently the ambiance created is so distinct people haven’t been sure if the plants weren’t there just to provide atmosphere for the café.

The plants are definitely for sale, though. Seasonal paperwhite bulbs grow in mossy wooden boxes and there are terrariums and topiary ivy plants. People inexperienced with plants will find varieties they’ll have no trouble growing, but there are also some unusual varieties that even plant-people will not necessarily be familiar with.

Particularly striking are some unusually large tillandsia (air plants), Brobdingnagian specimens quite sculptural in affect. Also quite interesting are some examples of Kokedama (co-keh-dah-mah) created by Greg. The Japanese art form involves encasing the roots of plants in moss — the word kokedama means “moss ball” — which is then wrapped in twine or something similar to secure the whole thing. Kokedama can rest on a surface or be suspended for display, like the ones at Grazery incorporating staghorn ferns.

A number of the plants are sold in handmade pots carefully sourced by the Gagnes from ceramicists around the country. The pots are also sold individually without plants, as are the macramé plant hangers made by Melissa’s mom, Cathy Gordon.

Learning how to make a macramé plant hanger is one of the winter workshops being offered at Grazery. The class will be held at the shop on Friday, January 31 at 6 p.m. The cost is $75, which includes the supplies, a plant and instruction by Lindsey of El Marie Macramé. Earlier in the month, on Sunday, January 19, an all-day course on making a willow cachepot will be offered at Grazery from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a cost of $115. Basic weaving techniques that serve to hide a plant pot and its saucer will be covered. Instruction is provided by Willow Vale Farm.

Previous workshops on making holiday wreaths and centerpieces filled up fast; signing up early is recommended. Winter hours for Grazery are Sunday-Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. For more information, call (845) 255-2444 or email grazerynewpaltz@gmail.com.