Mention the name Anne Saxelby among civilian caseophiles or food industry elites and faces will light up. The 34-year-old former art student has long been a force of nature. She was a cheesemaker at Cato Corner Farm, a monger at Murray’s Cheese, and an apprentice affineur to the legendary Hervé Mons before going into business for herself nine years ago with Saxelby Cheesemongers, a closet-size store in New York City’s Essex Street Market. Today, in addition to overseeing the nano-shop, Saxelby and business partner Benoit Breal run a thriving, mostly wholesale enterprise that sells sought-after and esoteric cheeses from New England and beyond to New York’s top restaurants. Culture caught up with the always amiable Saxelby to find out what inspires her and how she does it all.
ON DISCOVERING FOOD
Growing up outside of Chicago, ours was the house with all the junk food, so the neighborhood kids liked to come over for snacks. It wasn’t until I moved to New York in 1999 to study studio art at New York University that I became interested in food. While studying in Florence, Italy, my sophomore year, I was floored by the Central Market—[it sold the] same foods as in the States, but they all tasted exponentially better. When I got back, I started shopping regularly at the Union Square Greenmarket.
ON HER FAMOUS BIKE LOGO
When I opened my shop, I would deliver in Manhattan and Brooklyn by bike—all in one day. I had a huge backpack and would carry as much cheese as would fit—about 25 pounds. I once put a five-pound bucket of feta in there along with my usual load . . . we did some crazy stuff back in the day. There’s still some cheese transit that occurs by bike, but now, with over 100 restaurant accounts, we usually use our delivery van.
ON HEALTHY COMPETITION
Since I started my business, there are more cheesemakers making better cheese. We have over 150 in our case now, and when something new comes out, it has to be exceptional as well as different to fit into the mix. But more cheese appreciation from consumers means the industry will continue to grow and improve . . . I think a rising tide floats all boats. I worry about the viability of cheese shops with the rise of online retail for absolutely everything. I hope the shift in people’s shopping habits still allows a place for them.
ON HER BACKUP PLAN
I have no idea what I’d be doing . . . I’d be rudderless without cheese. It would be traumatic.
ON LOCAL EATS
I love the cheese at Casellula
—the focus is on creating perfect pairings with regard to accompaniments. The concept is similar to sushi in that every bite is designed to be its own perfect edible entity. You’re meant to savor and linger over each pairing. I also love the cheese board at ,a href=”http://www.gramercytavern.com/” target=”_blank”>Gramercy Tavern. There are at least 20 [cheeses] on offer any given night, and the presentation is like a still-life work of art.
ON FAMILY LIFE
With a two-and-a-half-year- old son and a one-year-old daughter [with husband and Heritage Foods USA
/ Heritage Radio Network
founder, Patrick Martins], I don’t sleep much! To unwind we go out to eat or do ridiculous home projects. They’re mundane, but cathartic. I also love yoga, biking, and art.
ON THE FUTURE
We want to grow our wholesale business. When the Essex Street Market relocates to its new building [part of the Seward Park Mixed-Use Development Project] across Delancey Street from our current location, we’ll have a bigger space, make our own mozzarella, and have a dedicated area for tastings and classes. I’d also love to write a book.
This interview was condensed and edited.
Photo Credit: C. Bay Milin