A Homage to Fromage
By Judith Hausman
Photography by Phil Mansfield
creamy, chewy, sharp or mild, smooth or
shops, the cheese stands alone
Hay Day Market
15 Palmer Avenue, Scarsdale
(and other locations in
Fairfield County, CT)
Count on a wide international selection here from the most popular (Lioni’s mozzarella from the Bronx) to the most expensive (Corse aux Herbes Brin d’Amour; $25/lb), an herb-wrapped sheep cheese that Hay Day’s cheesemonger Michael Raffert brings in “just for love.”
Hay Day carries many cheeses from around the globe. From England, try the Shropshire Blue, a full-flavored cow’s milk British cheese nearly a foot
in diameter, and Keen’s Farmhouse Cheddar, an aged, small-production cheddar, fruity and sharp. From Italy, consider the square-shaped, creamy Robiola, made from a mix of sheep, goat and cow’s milk. From France, there’s a delicious sweet and delicate ProvenÃ§al chevre du Poitou, which has a faintly acidic finish. From Spain, Roncal, a dry-tasting sheep’s milk cheese with a hint of olives, or the wine-drenched Umbriaco. There’s also a complex and sweet Sweetgrass goat cheese Tomme from, of all places, Georgia.
Sample Hay Day’s cheese accompaniments, which include slices of membrillo (quince paste), or a spoonful of almonds bathed in honey—medieval combinations still popular in Spain and Latin America. Look for loaves, date cakes, baguettes and “boules” from artisanal bakeries, too.
Auray Cheese Shop
1935A Palmer Avenue, Larchmont
This is where the county’s French residents go to buy French cheese and to feel as if they’re back home. It even smells like a Parisian cheese shop. Says Dale Saffir who co-owns the shop with her husband and business partner, Warren Reid, “We focus on cheeses made as they were a hundred years ago. We avoid industrial cheeses and offer only the best artisanal cheeses.”
Although small in size, Auray has more than 100 selections, including strong, creamy Burgundy-washed Epoisses, Camembert and Reblochon. Winners include mellow, fine-grained, ash-covered Valencay de L’Indre goat cheese from the Loire and the authentic, pungent, velvety Vacherin Mont d’Or from the Franche-ComtÃ© region of France. There’s also cave-aged Gruyere, which has a wonderfully nutty taste, and Le Peilloute Brie, which is tangy and soft with no ammoniac aftertaste.
Saffir and Reid opened Auray, named after a village in Brittany, in 1999. Reid offers courses on cheese and wine
pairing through Mamaroneck Adult Education. Auray also sells jambon de Paris, Spanish chorizo and authentic baguettes to complement the cheeses.
The Bedford Gourmet
Route 22, Bedford Village
“When my customers buy a cheese from me, it’s been tended correctly
and it’s ready to eat,” says Bedford Gourmet’s owner Mona Spilo proudly. “If they read about a cheese in The New York Times or Saveur, they come here looking for it.”
Look for Serra, a Portuguese sheep’s milk cheese, which is soft enough to be eaten with a spoon, and check out Fromage D’Affinois, a triple-cream cow’s milk cheese more flavorful than Brie. Stracchino, a fresh Italian cheese, is liquidy and tangy; served with strawberries and butter cookies, it makes a stylish alternative to strawberry shortcake. Or try Canadian cheeses, such as the soft, wine-washed Sir Laurier d’Arthabaska, which is bright yellow and aromatic (read “stinky”). The Triple CrÃ¨me du Village is silky and soft. As for American artisanal cheeses, go for the Westfield Farms goat cheese with wasabi, and Cyprus Grove’s Purple Haze, a crisp, bright California goat cheese flavored with lavender and fennel, which is delicious but not cheap ($20/lb).
Shops such as Spilo’s offer expertise and custom cutting that even high-end supermarkets cannot. Plus, the shop is crammed with capers, cornichons and crackers, and Spilo is an experienced and popular caterer.
215 East Hartsdale Avenue, Hartsdale
Hartsdale Cheesery depends on diversity. “When the business started 30 years ago, it was unique,” owner Cliff Hall remembers. “People moving out of the city thought it was a vast wasteland out here in the suburbs. This was the only place of its kind then, but we can’t survive on just cheese anymore.”
The Cheesery’s house specialty is
its own cream cheese spreads, on which, owner Hall says, “the store was built.” As many as 16 of the 25 varieties the shop makes may be available on any given day: sun-dried tomato spread, a garlic and herb variety, a rum-raisin version, cinnamony apple strudel spread with raisins, all at $8.99/lb. The all-time decadent favorite is caviar and onion, layered generously with the shiny black pearls ($10.99/lb). The shop also carries Morbier and genuine Roquefort, Tallegio and fontina from Italy,
and Hudson Valley’s Old Chatham Sheepherders’ luxurious and delicate Camembert. Cheese boards, knives and napkins can be assembled with cheeses for classy gourmet gifts.
In addition to cheese, the Cheesery offers some terrific prepared foods, such as country coleslaw, lentils and rice, artichoke hearts and chickpeas, or bow-tie pasta with spinach. Take home some of the hand-sliced smoked fish or order a platter for the Jewish holidays, the Cheesery’s busiest season.
380 Downing Drive, Yorktown
381 Central Avenue, Hartsdale
“There is life after Fairway,” Turco’s Yorktown store manager Ray Zaccardi assures former city dwellers. “Since we first opened, our cheese business has grown and grown.”
Zaccardi loves hot-selling Spanish cheese. The Cana de Cabra goat cheese ages well, developing a softer ring around the cylinder, and is even creamier than the more common French BÃ»cheron. Cana de Oveja (sheep’s milk), Campo de Montalbon, a rich and buttery mixed milk cheese, and Majon, a pale yellow cow’s milk cheese with a nutty finish, are delicious, too. Turco’s is expanding its New England cheese selection with historic Shelburne Farms raw milk cheddar from Vermont, and Fiscolini, a cheddar wrapped in cheesecloth from California.
Turco’s may be less schmoozy and expert than smaller shops, but it is arguably more convenient. Pick up fresh figs, apples, walnuts, almonds and prosciutto while you’re there and make it a meal.
This Yorktown-based virtual cheese shop is a welcome alternative for cheese lovers who enjoy shopping online. Owner Spencer Chesman took his family’s wholesale supply company online in 1997, and business has doubled every year since 1999 to $4 million this year.
A real bestseller is hard, flaky Grana Padano from Northern Italy, which is similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano but with overtones of pineapple or strawberry ($10.95/lb). Smoky Ibores, with its rind ruddy orange from a roll in paprika, is sent all over the country from the warehouse, and owner Chesman also ships the Spanish Tetilla after aging it briefly in-house.
The company is expanding its domestic artisanal choices, offering Berkshire Blue from Massachusetts,
a buttery blue cheese with a long
finish; mild and crumbly Bingham Hill Blue from Colorado; firm, grassy Putney Tomme, a rustic, earthy cow’s milk cheese from Vermont Shepherd; and, from California, the tangy,
vegetable ash-veined Humboldt Fog from Cyprus Grove.
Order with confidence: 80 percent of igourmet’s business is cheese, so it knows how to make sure cheese arrives in perfect condition. “A strong and consistent percentage of customers are local and just like to shop online,” explains Chesman. “Our prices are competitive, even with the, on-average, $8 shipping costs, especially if you are buying four or more pounds of cheese.”