The third in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. Though chzday09 actually took place on Sunday, June 28, Colleen and I did a practice run, so to speak, in Brooklyn the previous day. After spending some time at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum with the extended dccheese family and feasting on pastrami at Junior’s Deli, we made a quick stop at Stinky Brooklyn before I headed into Manhattan and Colleen went to the No Doubt concert at Jones Beach (lucky!).

A slip of a shop in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood, Stinky Brooklyn nonetheless packs in a large variety of cheeses, meats (you can’t miss the selection of hams with hooves still attached) and all the classic accompaniments into its four walls. While the bus of visiting cheesemongers in town for the Fancy Food Show made the shop very crowded, we managed to squeeze our way in to pick out a couple of cheeses from the Wine Spectator list that we had yet to sample. Colleen and I usually like to take time to chat with the cheesemongers, taste a few (or several) cheeses and poke around the non-cheese items, but the volume of hungry customers made it impossible this time. Hopefully, we’ll make it back another time for a more leisurely visit and tasting session.

We were excited to see one of the two Portuguese cheeses on the list at Stinky Brooklyn – Nisa, a raw sheep’s-milk cheese made in the country’s Alentejo region. A creamy, yeasty cheese, Nisa seemed lighter than the Gabietou, though it had a similar consistency. We noticed a less pronounced “sheepiness” (i.e. oiliness) to the cheese but still enjoyed its drier texture and herbaceous flavor. Being Portuguese, Nisa is a can’t-miss match for Port or a light-bodied red wine.

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the tongue,
And therefore is fromage best sampled blind.”

– Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, adapted

Let’s get the disclaimer out of the way first: this is not an unbiased review. We first met Tia Keenan, mistress de fromage, virtually via Twitter. It was love at first tweet as we instantly sensed a kindred spirit in cheese. So when Jill and I realized the stars would align for us to meet midsummer in New York, Casellula was top on our agenda. On a night when the biggest and brightest of the professional cheese trade were in town, many also visiting this intimate cheese and wine cafe, Tia was a warm hostess and generous with her time and talent.

As cheese junkies, it is futile to ask what kind of cheese we like best. Would you ask a mother to name her favorite child? Well, right now we can, but that’s only because we each have only one. But back to the point, we prefer to do the asking when at a cheese shop or ordering a cheese plate, and our best finds are often those when we relinquish control and let the cheesemonger surprise us. This was certainly the case at Casellula, where we selected the New York flight as the most likely to contain cheeses we weren’t familiar with, and were delighted when Tia made a few adjustments for us. New York’s 3-Corner Field Brebis Blanche (so fresh!) and Red Meck were certainly delicious, but we were totally smitten with the Pipe Dreams chevre log and sweet pea puree pairing. Lazy Lady Farm’s Bipartisan, a fresh goat cheese ball dropped into a washed-rind cow’s-milk cheese, was a most welcome treat. The cheese plates Tia lovingly prepares are truly inspired, with pairings ranging from a typical mustard to pickled ramps and coconut macaroon balls.

While the rest of our trip was meticulously documented in photos, tweets and tasting notes, we declared ourselves off duty and simply savored our wine, cheese, plate of fresh anchovies with fennel and pickled shallots, blue cheese-laden endive salad and mouth-watering desserts. So we can’t tell you what wine we drank, other than that it was a lovely full-bodied white Czech tokai, but we can tell you that the parsnip cookies with Pipe Dreams chevre filling are simply not to be missed. Aside from that, entrust the wine suggestions and cheese selections to Tia’s capable hands, and you’re sure to walk away refreshed and inspired.

Casellula
Hell’s Kitchen NYC
401 W. 52nd Street
5pm – 2am, 7 days a week (reservations not accepted)
212.247.8137
Casellula Cheese and Wine Cafe on Urbanspoon

The first in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. We made a quick stop in Brooklyn the day before, but our real day of cheese grazing (#chzday09) began Sunday morning at Artisanal Bistro in Midtown. As this was our first joint cheese expedition in NY, we started by visiting the classic landmarks. We got some great tips from new friends for our next visit, and the day culminated in a truly inspired dinner at a new favorite spot. You’ll have to stay tuned for that review, however.

Back to our brunch. I had been to this original Artisanal bistro several years ago, and while we were tempted to check out the newer Bar Artisanal we decided to stick with the classic this time. While the food was satisfactory, the overall experience was underwhelming. The service was indifferent at best, and the cheeses were well-cared for but served naked and forlorn on a stark white plate.

We opted for the seasonal cheese plate and received two traditional European cheeses, Pierre Robert (France) and Monte Enebro (Spain), and one from our list, Thistle Hill Farm’s Tarentaise of Vermont. Of course we couldn’t resist peaking in to the well-lit cheese cave, where you can actually reserve a table to dine in the midst of the cheese. The cheese counter had a nice array of cheeses available for purchase. 
Artisanal Fromagerie & Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thistle Hill Farm is an organic-certified small family farm in North Pomfret, Vermont. They use raw, organic milk from their herd of grassfed Jersey cows as the base for this Alpine-style cheese. Check out their website for the full story of their cheesemaking education. They use a custom-made Swiss copper vat and cultures imported from France in their labor-intensive process. The curds are scooped by hand, pressed and molded and then aged four to six months in an aging room used solely for this cheese. The finished cheese is very smooth, golden in color and meaty but sweet. It has a soft, full-bodied flavor with notes of sweet hay. You’ll notice just a few of those crystals found in true Alpine cheeses (like Appenzeller). We found it too sweet for our brunch cocktails, but would suggest a medium-bodied red wine. 

Next stop: Murray’s.