“A book of verses underneath the bough, a jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and Thou beside me,” wrote Omar Khayyam a few centuries ago, describing his idea of paradise. I first read those lines when I was about 12, and I remember thinking: Poems, bread, wine — all well and good. But you’d have to throw in a hunk of cheese to make it paradise for me.Who doesn’t love cheese? The Big Cheese on Rosendale’s Main Street is our local supplier, with cases full of fine cheeses from all over the world, and at good prices, too. (When did cheese start costing more than filet mignon?) It’s a quirky little shop owned by Lisa and Yuval Sterer, who know their fromages. They carry hundreds of kinds, including goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses; raw cheeses; popular varieties like the lovely, crumbly Wensleydale or Double Gloucester from England; and several unusual types like extra-aged Gouda (darker, harder, and tastier than the supermarket version); and Buendnerkaese, a semi-hard, aged cheese from the Swiss Alps with a wonderful tang. My favorite spicy Spanish cheese, Manchego, is a good buy at $10 a pound, and the almost nutty French Comte is well-priced at $12.If you’re from the Upper Mid-West, Lake Wobegon territory, where the Norwegians settled for reasons best known to themselves, you may already know about the goat’s milk cheese from Norway called Gjetost. (The name is pronounced yay-toast and means “goat cheese” — those no-nonsense Norwegians!) If it’s new to you, give it a try. It may be an acquired taste, but it’s interesting. It’s made by boiling milk, cream and whey, and has a sweet, pronounced flavor with caramel tones that match its looks — like a block of hardened caramel. Try thin curls on savory crackers, or flatbread, or maybe on Pepperidge Farm pumpernickel party slices to offset the sweetness. As with all good cheese purveyors, the Sterers will let you taste a sliver of anything you’re considering buying.They also serve light lunches in the store. You can sit at one of the four or five tables in the front and have panini or cheese pie, or lamb sausages, Lebanese potato salad, falafel, hummus, dates stuffed with blue cheese, or any of the Middle Eastern specialties made fresh or from the prepared-foods case. (Yuval Sterer is from Israel.) Baklava, a few fruits and vegetables, free-range eggs when the couple’s happy hens are laying, a range of condiments, crackers, organic candies, and a selection of healthy drinks round things out. Orange blossom water, anybody?The back of the space is devoted to clothes, books, housewares and gently used items, which explains why “The Big Cheese” shingle out front has a footnote: “and other stuff.” (I mentioned this is a quirky place, right?) And here’s a heads up for anchovy devotees: if you get to The Big Cheese soon, you can get a 28-ounce tin of flat fillets of anchovies packed in olive oil for only $8; a special sale and a huge bargain. I bought one, and I’m divvying the anchovies into smaller jars to store tightly closed in the back of the fridge.For a quick look at the store, check out this YouTube video.
A sample of some of the many varieties on display at The Big Cheese, including Gjetost of Norway (bottom center)
Gouda cheese wheels