Whether it’s cow, sheep, buffalo, or goat, the cheese you’ll find at Westchester’s counters is the crème de la crème.
Add a glass of Chardonnay, a sprig of grapes, perhaps a few slices of crusty bread, and a cheese board becomes a wonderfully complete meal.
Truth be told, I don’t need much more than a robust glass of Bordeaux and the mellow nuttiness of an interesting cheese plate to be happy. I’m also a big believer in starting off dinner parties with an assortment of tempting fromages. To assemble a cheese board, go to a specialty cheese shop or a market with a diverse selection and, more often than not, you’ll not only get a lesson from the affable cheesemonger as to the best pairings for your palate but wine suggestions too. Here are 13 fabulous shops that offer delicious cheeses of all kinds.
Italian cheeses are among the specialties at A•S Fine Foods (986 Broadway, Thornwood 914-747-1449; asthornwood.net) where Parmigiano-Reggiano and provolone aged two years take center stage (a one-year version of provolone is also available). You’ll also find homemade mozzarella, Italian fontina, ricotta salata, oil-dipped Manchego, fresh ricotta, and three kinds of Gorgonzola, as well as interesting table cheeses such as pistachio and hot pepper.
Those pining for Paris’s gastronomic pleasures should head to Auray Gourmet (144 Larchmont Ave, Larchmont 914-833-2274;
auraygourmet.com), where, despite the American accents behind the counter, the experience is quite European. What began as a narrow cheese shop on Palmer Avenue has morphed into a European café experience with cheese at its epicurean heart. A bestseller is Ewephoria, a sweet, silky sheep’s-milk cheese from Holland with hints of caramel and whiskey. Also worth a try: Challerhocker, a firm, earthy cheese made from partially thermalized cow’s milk. For Francophiles, there’s Bleu de Laqueuille, a robust, somewhat salty blue that pairs well with most red (and dessert) wines.
Treat your taste buds to a Portuguese experience at Chaves (360 Mount Pleasant Ave, Mamaroneck 914-698-2640), a specialty food shop that feels as if it were plucked from a Lisbon street corner. The cheeses here span the spectrum from soft, creamy, and smooth to medium, sharp, and edgy. Among our favorites: Queijo da Serra, a moist mountain variety with just enough zing to make it interesting. The medium creamy Pinheiro Manso or Ponte Nova are crowd-pleasers.
Dobbs & Bishop (107 Pondfield Rd, Bronxville 914-361-1770; dobbsandbishop.com) stands apart, thanks to Scottish-born Kevin McNeill’s dedication to beauties from the British Isles as well as to other European cheeses of centuries past. From Comté with its nutty, aromatic finish to silky Saint-Nectaire to Tome d’Aquitaine, you won’t be disappointed—and you might just get a lesson in cheese. For a pungent fall flavor, try Italian powerhouse Cacio de Bosco with black truffle bits. It’s delish shaved over pasta or on a baguette, thanks to its dry flaky paste (cheesemongers’ term for the inside of a cheese). Tome d’Aquitaine, a dynamite French washed-rind goat’s cheese, is another unusual addition to your table. Set it on a white marble platter with fresh figs, Quadrello di Bufala, and Great Hill Blue from Marion, Massachusetts. Ask about its cheese of the month club, which gets you a third of a pound of two cheeses, plus an accompaniment like jam or crackers for $30 a month.
There are always exotic edible offerings in baskets and bins outside Mint (18 Main St, Tarrytown 914-703-6511) enticing you to move farther into the store to try something new. Though the store is crowded, owner Hassan Jarane is big into offering samples. Cheeses are among his specialties, with approximately 75 varieties, the selection ebbing and flowing with the season. His most popular is a cheddar from England with caramelized onion and balsamic vinegar, though I’m partial to the honey goat cheese from Belgium. Highly recommended as accompaniments: cherries infused with vanilla or an Israeli roasted pecan with fig-cabernet jam—or both.
Test your cheese boundaries with a visit to Plum Plums (72 Westchester Ave, Pound Ridge 914-764-152; plumplumcheese.com), where the abundant range will have you stretching your palate. There’s Valdeon, a cow-and-goat blue cheese from Spain that is wrapped in a sycamore leaf and goes great with Syrah. For those with Champagne tastes, try the ever-creamy Pierre Robert or the Humboldt Fog with a ribbon of ash that adds a subtle mineral flavor.
The diversity of cheeses—usually around 85—is impressive at Tarry Market (179 N Main St, Port Chester 914-253-5680; tarrymarket.com), where one display case is devoted solely to Italian varieties, while another carries items from other parts of the world. The store offers 10 different pecorinos, which range in taste from tangy to smoky to salty. Parmesans are equally favored, as are the blue cheeses. And with the wine store next door, it’s a shopper’s heaven.
Don’t expect ordinary Jarlsberg and French brie at Turco’s (380 Downing Dr, Yorktown Heights 914-243-9100; turcos.com), where owner Preston Turco prides himself on carrying more than 100 choices, some of which cost as much as $30 a pound. Among the most interesting: an Italian Caciotta al Tartufo with truffles, Kerry Gold cheddar with Irish whiskey, Point Reyes Blue with no antibiotics or hormones, and Queso al Romera, made from a cave-aged Spanish sheep’s milk. Each cheese has its own story and no one tells it better than Ray, the cheese guru who is here most days after 11 am.
Attention feta lovers: Yaranush Mediterranean Foods (322 Central Ave, White Plains 914-682-8449) stocks four delightful varieties, many of which are perennial favorites among foodies on Chowhound. Of the Greek imports, you’ll find feta, kasseri, kefalotyri, kefalograviera, manouri, and halloumi, each one with its own distinct taste. Among the Bulgarian imports are feta and kashkaval. There’s also Armenian string cheese and Syrian cheese.
Nothing goes better with the long French baguettes at Zeytinia Gourmet Market (51 Maple St, Croton 914-271-5600; zeytinia.com) than a solid hunk of cheese. There are 400 specialty varieties here, spanning the globe from France to Bulgaria. It’s the house-made mozzarella, though, that ranks among the store’s greatest assets—and one of its bestsellers. Also popular: the house-grated Parmesean and Romano. There’s also a first-rate selection of fresh goat cheese and bries including Saint Andres, Ledel de Cleron, and Ile de France.
Cheeses have moved front and center at many area grocery stores.
• DeCicco Family Markets (21 Center St, Ardsley 914-813-2009; deciccos.com)
• Fairway (847 Pelham Pkwy, Pelham Manor 914-712-0011; fairwaymarket.com)
• Morton Williams (381 N Central Ave, Hartsdale 914-761-4414; mortonwilliams.com)
Larchmont-based freelancer Jeanne Muchnick (jeannemuchnick.com) grew up eating grilled American cheese. Today she’s a fan of those with lots of buttery richness, texture, and zing.