Do you know how to make a 70-pound wheel of Gruyére disappear? For Rick Regan and Megan Sam McDevitt, owners of the five-year-old Kingston shop Cheese Louise!, the answer is simple: Just put out a sample tray for customers, and the stuff will fly out of the shop in a matter of days. “We have people who walk in and haven’t eaten anything but New York State cheddar,” says McDevitt. “But with sampling and chatting and having fun with trying new things, they expand their palates.”
Both world travelers, the co-owners know all about exposing themselves to new foods. Fortunately, Ulster’s large contingent of Europeans and its lively cultural scene produce an environment conducive to cheesy experimentation. “Our customer base is adventurous home cooks,” says Regan.
This shop carries about 300 cheeses, including top New York names, like Nettle Meadow and local-powerhouse Sprout Creek Farm, known nationally for its excellent sheep-milk cheeses. And there’s also no shortage of European gems, like Manchego and Iberico from Spain, Saint Angel Triple Cream and Cremeux de Bourgogne from France, and blue cheeses from far and wide. We ask the experts to fill us in on some of their hard-earned knowledge.
What’s a safe bet for a gift or to bring to a party?
The so-called bloomy rind cheeses, like creamy Camembert or Brie, are crowd-pleasers. And, yes, the rind is edible.
Why you should learn to love stinky cheese:
“Sometimes, what’s rough on the nose is delightful on the palate,” says Regan. Start with a milder one, like Italian Taleggio, and work your way through the spectrum to the ultimate room clearer: Stinking Bishop from England. “It’s full flavored and bold, but if you get it on the palate, it’ll take to you another place.”
It’s not necessarily wine and cheese:
Fruit beverages, like pear juice, cherry juice, and sparkling cider, are nonalcoholic options that work nicely with cheese. “You want a little bit of acidity, to bring the flavor out of the cheese,” says Regan.
Blue cheese 101:
As with stinky cheese, start with a mild one, like Borgonzola (with a B): It’s a blue Brie-type cheese, so it’s creamy and gentle on the tastebuds. Then work your way up to Maytag blue (yes, made by the famous washing-machine people), which people have been enjoying since the 1940s. It crumbles nicely in a salad. Or try a nice British Stilton. On the extreme end, the pungent French Roquefort could put you in the blue-cheese beyond.
Why this cheese is $40 per pound:
“Truffle cheese is like black licorice,” says McDevitt. “You either love it or hate it.” Even if you like the taste, the price tag might put you off. That’s because of the complex process and expensive ingredients used to produce it. For example, Moliterno, from the island of Sardinia, is a raw sheep’s milk cheese that comes in 12-pound wheels injected with black-truffle paste. Then the wheels are rubbed with vinegar and local olive oil, resulting in a highly perfumed product with deep truffle veins.
The hottest cheese that you can’t get your hands on:
If $40 per pound sounds like a lot, try $209. That’s what a 20-year cheddar made by the Hook’s Cheese Company out of Wisconsin goes for. “It’s something that hasn’t been tried before,” says McDevitt. “They made something like 450 pounds of it, and it’s all been spoken for.”
A cheese that even some foodies don’t know about:
Scandinavian alpine skiers fuel up on this stuff, but Norwegian Gjetost is little known here. Dark brown and sweet, with a caramel-like taste, it’s made with whey and works great as a dessert cheese, or pair it with dishes that are completely the opposite, like a briny fish.
Bimi’s Cheese Shop Chatham
No need to get intimidated here. Reviving the tradition of the neighborhood cheese shop, this laid-back oasis has regulars who drop in a few times a week. No one cares if you can’t pronounce something, just as long as you try it. Just ask and they’ll cut you a chunk. There’s a big representation of uncommon European fromage, like Brillat-Savarin, a triple cream dessert cheese; Râclette for melting; and goat Gouda from Holland; as well as kitchen classics like aged Parmigiano and homemade mozzarella. It’s a café too, so treat yourself to something from the Grilled Cheese Bar. Closed Wednesdays. 518-392-8811; www.bimischeese.com
The Big Cheese Rosendale
Equal parts cheese emporium and café/coffee bar, this small but mighty shop is a local gathering spot. Catch the energy of the breakfast crowd, when customers order up the Brie and jam panini. You’ll also get about seven choices of house cheese for a breakfast sandwich. To sample a couple, order a sweet or savory cheese plate (selection changes) served with Turkish flatbread and oodles of condiments. After you dine, it’s time to shop. Extra-aged goat Gouda and raw sheep cheeses are specialties. Check out the daily specials, like one pound of raw French Râclette for $5. When you’re all cheesed out, a surprise funky vintage clothing nook in the back offers offbeat charm. 845-658-7175; www.thebigcheeserosendale.com