If you want to make a name for yourself, you head to New York, and the cheese industry is no exception to this rule. With the nation’s fourth largest cheese output, New York is home to 4,650 dairy farms, some of the nation’s (dare we say, the world’s?) most reputable cheese shops, and the man who wrote the literal book on cheese, Steven Jenkins of Cheese Primer fame (Workman, 1996).
Ambitious cheese entrepreneurs get right down to it in New York—whether by building the first cheese factory in the US in 1850 (Jesse Williams), establishing a one-woman distribution operation (Anne Saxelby), broadcasting podcast episodes from the back of a pizza joint (Cutting the Curd’s Diane Stemple), making cult-status goat cheese at an animal sanctuary (Nettle Meadow Farm), or throwing biannual bi-coastal Cheesemonger Invitationals (Adam Moskowitz, who also runs the monger-educating Barnyard Collective out of his warehouse in Long Island City).
Upstate, recent grads of Cornell’s dairy business incubator pasture herds alongside generational farmers. In the city, young mongers earn their stripes behind the counters of Foster Sundry, Campbell & Co., BKLYN Larder, Bedford Cheese Shop, Eataly, Le District, Murray’s, and more. The city even has two vegan cheese shops—sacrilege, we know.
“New York is a special place for cheese because you have some of the best dairy farms in the country in close proximity to one of the biggest and best cities in the world,” says Owen Footer, affineur at Crown Finish Caves (a facility 30 feet below Brooklyn that ages wheels from some of the region’s best cheesemakers). Murray’s affineur Peter Jenkelunas agrees: “We have a large, well-informed customer base…that pushes our cheesemakers to innovate.”
And innovate, they do. New York has 60 Certified Cheese Professionals and three Certified Cheese Sensory Evaluators, and bagged 22 awards at ACS 2019. In fact, two Best of Show winners were collaborations from major New York institutions Old Chatham Creamery, Wegmans, and Murray’s.
So what is the distinct terroir of these award-winning empire state cheeses? “Grassy and clean,” says Shaleena Bridgham of Stephentown, New York’s Four Fat Fowl creamery. She chalks it up to the region’s healthy soil and lush pastures: “The flavor of the milk really comes through in the finished cheese.”