About six months ago, I wrote this piece about how shopping for great cheese in New York City is mostly a downtown and Brooklyn affair. This week I looked at the cheese departments of two respected Manhattan retailers, and I was disappointed to find how little has changed.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think my little essay would be the impetus for change, but rather that shops in the city would respond to the growing level of market sophistication and offer more hand crafted cheese. There are wine shops in every neighborhood of Manhattan where you can find delicious small producer wines from every nook and cranny of the oenophile world. You’d like to think that someone would be ambitious enough with their cheese selection to offer something better than Saga Blue.
Saturday morning I visited a well known Italian specialty shop in Kips Bay. It’s a place I used to frequent 18 years ago when a good friend was the cheese manager there. It doesn’t look like the selection has changed since then. They had a large array of pre-wrapped cheeses and a case in back with a bunch of blues sweating away and marinating in their own juices. Some of the best newer great cheeses are available from the larger distributors, but this cheese section looked so 1993, I thought someone might refer to Mariah Carey and a new artist in casual conversation.
Five days later I went to the new, much ballyhooed market on the Upper East Side. I happily visit this market’s West Side location to scoop up produce at prices far cheaper than any outlet near me, but I was quickly disabused of that notion when the first bounty I saw was for pluots at $1.50/lb more than I pay in my neck of the woods.
The cheese department is large and bustling. It’s designed for volume and there are neat piles of middlebrow cheeses lining the front of a case. I have nothing against Petit Basque, and if that’s your standard this is your place. But the shop, once a leader in the cheese movement, had little of the Dorsets, Avonleas, and Green Hill’s that make the shops downtown and in Brooklyn such a pleasure. They did have Hoch Ybrig and Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which means there should never be dull fondue uptown this winter.
The continued reluctance on the part of major Manhattan retailers to embrace the new world of hand crafted cheeses puzzles me. This isn’t about embracing the future; it’s about catching up to the present. I wonder what it will take to get them with program.