Where to Go: Brooklyn
Brooklynites are famously proud of their borough, a sprawling space that covers some 71 square miles and counts 2.6 million residents, making it the most populous borough of New York City. After all, they have trees, parking spaces, a beautiful bridge, famous authors (Gary Shteyngart, Paul Auster, and Colson Whitehead, among others), the Wonder Wheel—and plenty of cheese.
Press a local hard enough and he or she may admit to the occasional pilgrimage across the bridge to Murray’s or a dip into Saxelby Cheesemongers. But when it comes to cheese, there are few reasons to leave the borough. In fact, there are many reasons to stay. Here are 17 of them.
BEDFORD CHEESE SHOP
Opened in 2003, Bedford Cheese Shop was one of the businesses that inspired others to make Williamsburg the foodie destination it’s become. The small corner storefront belies the riches inside—150-plus cheeses, curated by co-owner Charlotte Kamin, as well as an extensive selection of things to put on, around, or under them. Half the fun is reading the cheese tags, written by the irreverent, cheese-smitten mongers behind the counter; the other is being led by them to a perfect slice of Hoch Ybrig from Rolf Beeler, a gooey slice of Vermont’s Lazy Lady Buck Hill Sunrise, a goaty square of Stracchino di Capra, or other lesser-known surprises.
229 Bedford Ave. (at N. 4th St.)
Sergio Hernandez is the man at this shiny, modern shop, a refuge from the chaos of Flatbush Avenue. He opened the place with Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens of Franny’s cafe, itself a destination since the day the duo fired up its brick oven in 2004. The Larder is stocked with a full array of takeaway food and gourmet goods, but cheese is Hernandez’s passion, as evidenced by the temperature- and humidity-controlled cheese room he helped design—a rarity in space-starved New York City. Ask about a cheese and be ready for a story, for Hernandez has visited nearly every cheesemaker whose product he stocks—and he’s schooled his staff about them, too.
228 Flatbush Ave. (btw. Bergen St. and 6th Ave.)
BLUE APRON FOODS
Like a Dean & DeLuca without the attitude or the tourists, this Park Slope shop has a top-notch selection of goods—from Stumptown coffee to Jacques Torres chocolates, and everything in between. The best part, however, is the friendly, knowledgeable staff. Owners Ted Matern and Alan Palmer each have 30-plus years of experience working with cheese and charcuterie at places such as D&D, Petrossian, Bloomingdale’s, and Balducci’s—shops that spawned a good number of their staff as well. So when you ask the difference between the “franks” and “wieners” in the charcuterie case, expect a detailed explanation; when you mull undecidedly around the cheese case, an intuitive monger will most likely start handing you tastes without even asking.
814 Union St. (btw. 7th & 8th aves.)
D. COLUCCIO & SONS
Yes, it’s a hike from downtown Brooklyn. But inside this drab building, fronted by pallets of Lurisia Natural Mineral Water and San Pellegrino Chinotto is an Italianophile’s dream store, packed with hard-to-find items at bargain prices. The main attraction, however, may be the 24-month-old Parmigiano-Reggiano chisled from giant wheels for $11 a pound. Or perhaps the tangy Pecorino Romano for $9, the caciocavallo, the meltingly sweet Gorgonzola Dolce, or the Calabrian burrata. Whatever you go for, remember to grab a ball of fresh mozzarella and a roll on the way out to shorten the ride home.
1214-20 60th St.
GRAB Specialty Foods
Laura Nuter was a pioneer who brought high-quality food to the South Slope when she opened GRAB in 2007. In the years since, she’s become even more focused on unusual cheeses, stocking her store with some 120 kinds, from the kid-friendly Cypress Grove Lamb Chopper to Beemster Wasabi (don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it on a burger) and Hirtenkäse from the Allgäu mountain region of Germany. All are labeled with a suggested beer pairing, a nod to the tightly edited selection of craft beers lining the wall—although if beer isn’t your thing, just stop in at Slope Cellars next door, where a savvy staff will be glad to help you find a suitable bottle of wine, or three.
438 7th Ave. (btw. 14th & 15th sts.), Park Slope; 718.369.7595, grabspecialtyfoods.com
Burnt out on Manhattan restaurants, Patrick Watson and Michele Pravda fled to Brooklyn, where they opened Smith & Vine, a tiny wine store jam-packed with top-notch wines and spirits. But they soon missed the food world, and, over a strong, washed-rind cheese one evening, the couple decided to open a cheese store, Stinky Bklyn, in 2006. The shop is stocked to the gills with the borough’s best (Salvatore Bklyn ricotta and Aiello Brothers mozzarella, both made mere blocks away) and a range of international gems aged to perfect pungency in its own aging room.
261 Smith St. (btw. Douglass & Degraw)
The rule at Caputo’s, opened by Puglian expat Joe Caputo in 1976, is that the mozzarella never gets wrapped or refrigerated. This, of course, necessitates making the cheese many times over the course of the day, so when you get it—scooped from a metal pan of milky water and given a quick dip in salted water, if requested—it’s so tender that it oozes immediately into the shape of its container. All it needs is a splash of good olive oil and a loaf of crusty bread—available at the counter, or, if they’ve run out, down the block at Brooklyn Bread.
460 Court St. (btw. 3rd & 4th pls.)
The guys around the card table might be slow to serve you when a game is tense, but stand there long enough and they will sell you a ball (or 30). Don’t expect them to do anything with that ball, however; that’s what the sandwich shop at the other end of the block is for. With 139 sandwich selections—90 percent of them starring fresh mozzarella (there’s a separate menu for smoked)—there’s plenty to keep you amused until your turn. Or pick a roll from the bread bins and ask for straight mozzarella dressed only with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Heaven, to go.
7819 15th Ave., Dyker Heights
RUSSO'S MOZARELLA & PASTA
It might look like any other bodega in the nabe, but this tiny store—the Brooklyn branch of an East Village shop opened in 1908—is packed with Italian delicacies, from jars of Italian tuna and liters of olive oil to a wall of fresh, house-made pastas. The big draw, however, is kept up at the counter, next to the stuffed artichokes, fried eggplant slices, and sandwich fixings: baseball-sized rounds of mozzarella, a bit saltier and firmer than most. They may be tightly wrapped in cling-wrap, but it’s safe to assume from the high rate of turnover that they haven’t been that way for long.
363 7th Ave. (btw. 10th & 11th sts.)
The Flea draws great antiques; all sorts of cool, modern, artsy stuff; and crowds of cute hipsters, but the real reason to make repeated trips is the food. In the cooler months, Bedford Cheese Shop sets up a booth; sometimes Salvatore Bklyn sells their creamy ricotta, straight up or slightly sweetened and stuffed into crisp cannoli shells. Follow the sound of a roaring fire to PizzaMoto, a wood-fired oven on wheels, or stop by Milk Truck Grilled Cheese for a warming sandwich. Then there are the cheese accoutrements—Rick’s Picks and McClure’s Pickles; fat, chewy pretzels at Sigmund Pretzelshop; tantalizing loaves from SCRATCHbread. . .The selection is always in flux, but rest assured: you’ll never go hungry—or cheeseless.
Saturdays and Sundays throughout winter.
1 Hanson Pl. (at Flatbush Ave.)
It’s easy to forget just how close New York City is to fertile farmland until you visit one of the city’s Greenmarkets. These outdoor farmers’ markets are devoted solely to the people who raise the vegetables or protein or artisanal products they are selling—including cheese. Some markets take a hiatus over winter, but the year-round markets at Grand Army Plaza and Fort Greene on Saturdays yield aged, raw cow’s milk cheeses from Cato Corner Farm in Colchester, Conn.; McCarren Park and Borough Hall offer goat cheese from Lynnhaven Dairy in Pine Bush, N.Y., and sheep’s milk cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley, N.J.; and McCarren Park also features selections from Consider Bardwell Farm in Pawlet, Vt. (which also sells on Sundays at Cortelyou Road in Kensington).
This small, elegant space offers one of the borough’s best bangs for the buck: a $25 three-course menu that is anything but pub grub. It also boasts one of the most exciting beer lists in the city, a tightly edited selection highlighting micro-batch brews and obscure international offerings on draft, from cask, or by the bottle. Frequent special events, from hops seminars to cheese tastings, offer extra incentive to stop by often, as does the ever-changing cheese plate, a $15 selection of three local, beer-friendly cheeses.
427B 7th Ave. (btw. 14th & 15th sts.)
This two-year-old restaurant in Carroll Gardens may be most known for its fried chicken, but cheese lovers know the secret is really the cheddar waffle it sits on. Named for the channel that runs between Brooklyn and Governor’s Island, where a strong current used to threaten to turn the island’s milk to butter on its ferry ride to the mainland, the restaurant’s focus is decidedly local. Mozzarella comes from Caputo’s, just down the street; goat cheese from Lively Run in the Finger Lakes region upstate; and a stellar cheese plate from neighbor Anne Saxelby, who spends her days in Manhattan running the all-American Saxelby Cheesemongers. Who needs Époisses, anyway?
524 Court St.
THE COUNTING ROOM
After stints in several Manhattan restaurants and Brooklyn wine stores, Doria Paci opened this sleek space on an industrial block of Williamsburg last spring. Her wine list attracts hardcore wine geeks with its selection of traditionally made, small-production wines. It’s perfectly pitched to the like-minded cheese and salumi plates, curated with the help of nearby Bedford Cheese Shop.
44 Berry St. (at N. 11th St.)
THE JAKE WALK
Another venture from the Stinky Bklyn team (see p. 30), this cozy space presents a menu that far outstrips any reasonable expectations of a wine bar. The beverage list runs 13 pages, with 80-some wines and a slew of brown spirits, plus a seasonally changing cocktail menu; the cheese menu includes at least 20 choices, and sometimes far more. There’s also a full menu that takes advantage of the bounty. Chalk the excess up to pure excitement: Jakewalk is the laboratory for both wine and cheese, a place to explore various combinations or to simply unwind after a long day over a bowl of silky fondue.
282 Smith St. (at Sackett St.)
The pizzas are chewy and charry, topped with tender local mozzarella, but Mark Iacono’s five-cheese calzone is really the star here: a hot, melty, hedonistic blend of ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, buffalo mozzarella, cow’s milk mozzarella, and a secret cheese, all unfettered by tomato sauce (unless you dip into the container on the side) and cradled in a chewy, charry disk of bread.
575 Henry St. (btw. Carroll St. & First Pl.)
718.858.4086 (cash only)
Adam Shepard opened Lunetta in 2006, specializing in traditional Italian food made with local ingredients. This was the birthplace of Salvatore Bklyn ricotta, a creamy, high-fat version invented by a line cook that’s turned into a full-fledged stand-alone business; now the kitchen turns out its own, using milk from Battenkill Valley Creamery in upstate New York. The ricotta makes an insanely delicious bruschetta with a little lemon and honey, and it enriches many dishes, pushing them further up the sinful scale. Make room for a plate of formaggi e salumi; tight cheese-distributor connections and house-cured meats place it far above typical antipasti.
116 Smith St. (btw. Pacific & Dean sts.)
by Tara Q. Thomas
Tara is a New York City–based wine writer and the author of the second edition of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Wine Basics.
Photos by Rachel Barrett