Back in 2003, before “Brooklyn” was global shorthand for artisanal cool, Bedford Cheese Shop opened in the borough’s Williamsburg section and helped launch its burgeoning indie food & drink movement. In the years since, Brooklyn has become a brand and Bedford Cheese Shop has expanded with a second, larger shop in Manhattan, replete with aging caves and a classroom/event space called The Homestead.
We chatted with owner Charlotte Kamin about life as a successful independent cheesemonger, working with small batch makers, her current favorite domestic producers, kick ass mustard, and more. Our exchange follows.
First off, congrats on ten successful years in Brooklyn and the recent one year anniversary of your Manhattan shop.
Well thank you very much!
Were there any particular cheesemongers or shops that you looked to for inspiration during the planning of your shops?
The biggest inspiration to us when we were building out the shops were the producers themselves. I have been very fortunate to spend a great deal of time travelling and visiting cheese makers and food creators all over the world. The great pride these people have for their craft and their community has always been the biggest inspiration for us.
Your second shop is in Manhattan’s Gramercy neighborhood. And although it’s a mere two subway stops away from the Brooklyn location, have you noticed anything different about the shop’s respective clienteles?
Although the shops are curated almost identically, certain offerings are more appreciated in different communities. There is definitely the old school neighborhood feel to Gramercy, that Williamsburg used to have as well. Brooklyn has changed so much in the last 10 years, and the clientele has changed with it.
Your classroom space, The Homestead, offers workshops and classes dedicated to everything from cheesemaking basics to how to make the perfect pour-over coffee. How do you decide what classes to offer?
The Homestead offerings have evolved from us planning classes and events that we thought we would enjoy attending or orchestrating and kind of letting them evolve from the base.
In the classroom setting you’ve made some interesting cheeses- like a goat cheese made with Mast Brothers chocolate- have you ever considered making and selling house-made cheeses, especially since you have aging caves on-site?
We are very proud to be cheesemongers, not cheese makers. Although we love teaching how to make cheese, we are very honored to represent so many family farms and would much rather promote the real craftsmen and women, and continue to share their stories. Affinage and cheese care is where we rather focus our attentions.
You stock cheese from around the globe, but there are great things happening domestically in artisan cheese. Any domestic makers that you’re currently excited about?
Being a part of the domestic cheese evolution is incredible. Vulto Creamery is doing some amazing gooey washed cheese in Walton NY. Andy and the crew at Uplands Cheese are geniuses when it comes to their Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek. Soyoung at Andante Dairy still makes some of the best small format goats around, and Michel Lee and Emily up at Twig Farm in Vermont are always coming up with amazing tommes.
What’s the most difficult aspect of running the shops? Most rewarding?
The most difficult aspect of running the shops is the reality of running small businesses. The most rewarding is the community we get to be a part of, both of the producers and the customers.
You surely do a lot of your buying through direct relationships with producers- do you find that small batch producers are generally able to meet the demand for their product?
We see a lot of small batch producers growing too fast and taking on too many accounts and then ending up not able to meet demand. But most small producers learn and grow a lot within the first 3 years of their work- We’re happy to be a part of that education.
Any pet peeves you have about working with small batch producers?
The most frustrating thing about working with small batch producers is something I am super guilty of- slow response time via email. Sometimes you just need to know when an order will arrive, and it’s not always easy to get that answer.
Any advice for new producers hoping to get shelf or case space at Bedford Cheese Shop? How do you like to be pitched?
The best way to get your goodies onto our shelves is to make a good product, drop off samples and pricing info, and follow up about a week later.
Aside from cheese, the shops stock a curated selection of small batch goods- many of them awesome accompaniments to cheese. What are some of your favorite small batch products? Anything brand new that we should look out for?
I’m always a sucker for a kick ass mustard. We just got some Scottish mustard in, Uncle Roy’s, that comes in some wildly good flavors like Earl Grey and Hickory Smoke. And candy, gotta love candy–Salty Road taffy hailing from Brooklyn is the bomb.
And finally- because we love indie music makers as much as we love indie food and drink makers- what’s in heavy rotation on the Bedford Cheese Shop sound system these days?
The staff chooses the music so who’s behind the counter on any given day dictates what you hear. Today we were jamming to Lou Reed in his honor- RIP.
229 Bedford Ave
67 Irving Place
New York, NY