Serious Cheese

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A Cheese Grows in Brooklyn

20080318salvatorebklyncheese.jpgNot long ago, the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission began a program to outfit all yellow cabs with a backseat multifunction TV screen, one that can track the cab's location with GPS, show up-to-the-minute weather reports, and broadcast clips from local news shows. I kind of hate these screens because they make me nauseated (as does reading in cars), but the other day when I happened to see a short clip from ABC news about a local ricotta cheese making operation, I just had to watch.

Salvatore Bklyn is a small operation run by partners Betsy Devine and Rachel Mark in the kitchen of Lunetta in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. The company has been getting lots of good press lately, and for good reason: Its rich, milky, slightly lemony ricotta is truly a thing of beauty. At around $14 a pound it is quite expensive but totally worth it. You can't get ricotta like this outside of Tuscany.

Serious Eats recently sat down with Betsy for a quick Q&A.

When was the company founded, and is there a story to go with it?
We founded the company last summer. The story? Hmmm...basically, Rachel met Salvatore. She was in Italy a month or two before I was. While she was in San Gimignano, she wandered into Salvatore's enoteca and they hit it off and became fast friends. When I finally got there, Rachel took me to meet him right away. He is just a really generous, gregarious guy who took the time to get to know us and share with us his wonderful way of life. Salvatore had us over to his place for lunch one day and served us some ricotta on grilled bread. It blew our mind, it was so good, so much better than the stuff we knew back home.

When we came back to New York, we tried to find cheese as delicious as his was, with no luck. Rachel mentioned one night that we should try to make some at home, and we did. Our first milky, messy attempt brought us right back to Italy. After some tweaks here and there, we got a recipe we liked and started bringing some to dinner parties, etc. I was working as Sous Chef at Lunetta in the meantime, and Chef Adam Shepard started putting it on the menu. The customer response was really positive and that helped give us the idea to sell cheese on the side. Slowly, one pound at a time, we gained some accounts. And thats where we are now.

Needless to say, we named our company after our friend.

How do you make your Ricotta cheese? Is it a whey-based recipe, or
do you use milk? What do you use to curdle the milk?

We use whole milk and we curdle the milk with lemon juice.

Do you make any other cheeses besides ricotta?
We are trying to make mozzarella. So far our attempts have yielded white balls that resemble plastic in texture. Cheese-making is definitely a science, a recipe, but the more I do it the more I find it has so much to do with how you feel that day, your timing, your technique, your patience, and your experience. So we will keep trying.

We are planning a trip to Italy early next year to hang out with some buffalo mozzarella producers to see how they do it.

Where does your milk come from? Do you use cow's milk or sheep's milk?
We use cow's milk from Hudson Valley Fresh, a very cool cooperative from upstate New York. I think their milk is delicious, sweet. We would like to start playing with sheep's and goat's milk cheeses soon too.

Are your cheese available for purchase in any retail locations, or
are you only in restaurants as of now?

Right now, we are in the following stores: Bedford Cheese Shop and Marlow and Sons in Williamsburg, Blue Apron and Grab in Park Slope, Stinky Bklyn in Boerum Hill, and Saxelby Cheesemongers in the Lower East Side. Restaurants we've sold to are: Dell'Anima, The Tasting Room, Italian Wine Merchants, and Cafe Gray.

What are your future plans for the business?
We don't know yet - but there are a lot of ideas running around our heads. Right now, we want to get our systems in place, get a good small production facility, and concentrate on handling the work load so all our customers remain happy. The broader picture? Nail down some moreItalian fresh cheeses like mozzarella, maybe a burrata? Basically, we want to take it slow, do it right, keep it smallish. We would like to continue sourcing good dairies and farmers and integrate that into our business too.

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