When we shopped at Fairway Harlem every week, the trips I’d make to the cheese counter were pretty seldom, because it required navigating past the deli and around the bloc of shopping carts that belonged to the people waiting at the deli. I’d usually stick to the self-serve cheese area with the goal of getting in and out as quickly as possible with a chunk of cheddar or Grana Padano, but sometimes I would indulge if I was looking for a very specific cheese. The Stamford store is not quite the cluster since there’s more room to maneuver, and the cheese case is so inviting and not nearly as chaotic as the deli, so I’ve been finding myself over there more often in the two months we’ve lived here than I did in New York, well, ever.
There are many things that are great about the Fairway cheese counter, and two of the most useful are the friendly staff behind the counter and the colorful tags they have on each cheese that describe country/region of origin, the kind of milk the cheese is made from and also whether it’s raw or pasteurized, and a handful of tasting notes to pique your interest. The cheesemongers are happy to slice practically anything for you to taste, and as a result it’s really hard to walk away empty-handed when I venture over there, because invariably I find something new that I really enjoy and my mind is jumping ahead to the wine I’ll serve with it.
So every so often I’ll share some of my particular favorites with you, and to start I’ll share two recent favorites from Spain: Queso Romao and Garrotxa.
When Michael’s parents came to visit our new place a few weekends ago, it was inevitable that a trip to Fairway was in order to make dinner on Saturday night. We had decided that tapas were the way to go because it was rather hot out and we had spent the day breaking in M’s new ride by driving through a little bit of Connecticut’s wine trail, so little bites were all we needed. On the menu were gazpacho, wild mushrooms and albondigas from the Barcelona cookbook, but I also wanted a little cheese to pair with one of my favorite everyday table wines from Catalonia, Clos de Pinell. So I headed over to the counter, scanned the tags for anything from that part of Spain, and found just what I was looking for: garrotxa (the x is the ch sound in Català, but not a hard –ch). It’s a semi-firm goat’s milk cheese with a natural grey rind (that you slice off when eating) that comes in kilo-sized wheels. It definitely has an earthy flavor to it but it’s not overwhelming, and it’s so creamy once it hits your tongue. It’s lovely both as an afternoon snacking cheese and also as an after-dinner cheese with a glass of aforementioned Clos de Pinell.
Queso Romao was my pick for something a little more familiar (it’s very similar to a Manchego) but still not completely expected, because instead of the familiar wax rind that you’d see on a wheel of Manchego, Romao is covered with rosemary needles. If I had to pick one favorite herb, rosemary would be it for me I think: it’s strong, it’s fresh, and it’s so, so savory. And you need something strong and savory to cut through the milkiness of this cheese, because otherwise it would taste like any other semi-aged Manchego. This cheese is much more suited for tapas or as part of a charcutería platter rather than dessert, at least to me…but then again I also hacked little bits away at it while watching Argentina play Uruguay in the Copa America quarterfinals.
You may not have the 600 cheese selection that Fairway boasts (and no, no one is paying me to talk about them–I just really like Fairway), but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a great cheese counter nearby–either try out your supermarket or do a search for a local shop–you never know what you may find there. And good cheese is always something that’s worth doing a little bit of research.