03 August 2012

Cheese Caves of Cambridge, MA

We at Fromage-du-Mois recently enjoyed a fabulous evening out for a cheese-centered event: a tour of the cheese "caves" (see below, right) of Cambridge, MA's own Formaggio Kitchen. The Kitchen is nationally recognized and is certainly the premier imported cheese and specialty food distributor/retail outfit in New England. 

The 'Old Cave' in the basement of the store
The personally guided tour was a gift from very good friends of FDM (the "Muensters") who also accompanied us on the taste-expanding mission. Formaggio Kitchen has 2 other locations aside from its flagship store in Cambridge: one is in the the South End of Boston and the other is in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in the famous Essex Street Market.                                                                                
Our tour guide was none other than co-owner Ihsan Gurdal, who founded the Kitchen in 1978 with his wife Valerie. Originally from Turkey, Ihsan first came to California and then to Boston as a volleyball player and coach, always carrying with him a love for cheese and fine foods. He is a quite a kind and knowledgeable man.

The cheese "caves" are 2 connected rooms in the basement of the Huron Avenue shop in west Cambridge.  They were built out of an old office suite in 1996 and were "the first of their kind in the U.S." (according to Ihasn). As he explained, the rooms are maintained constantly at about 45-50 degrees F with a refrigeration system that needs fine adjustments. The rooms are also kept damp and musty with a 'mister' machine (that the Ihsan refers to as a 'shower'). These conditions, of course, are meant to mimic those of an Alpine hillside mountain cave. When you're inside, the air feels moist, it's chilly, and there is minimal air circulation. There are also small puddles on the floor that you have to step around.

A group of aging cheeses, pre-experimentation,  in the 'Old' room
The cheeses that line the wooden shelves are imported from all over the world, with a bias toward Europe. Ihsan and his team from Formaggio may spend weeks at a time travelling to (often) small towns, meeting dairy farmers and cheese producers. As they establish these relationships, it makes it easier for them to import entire wheels of cheese that they fall in love with and also be able to return in the following years to buy more. Difficult life, eh?

When they are brought back to this rooms, the cheeses are personally attended to, sometimes for months. They may be flipped every other week or so to change the side that gets air/moisture exposure. The staff at Formaggio also experiments with different preparations. When we visited, they was ready to rub fresh herbs and different olive oils on some newly acquired wheels. After a certain amount of time (months, up to 2 years), Ihsan and his team decide that the cheese are ready for prime-time and they bring them up to sell in the shop.


If you are ever in the area, you will have to check out the store. They have a really unique selection of imported and regional artisinal cheeses. And, according to the website and to Ihsan, the staff would also be happy to give you a small peak at their urban cheese undergound.

Here is a virtual tour of the cheese caves that Ihsan took part in : Link

Additional photos from our tour:   (We were fortunately able to taste most of these!)

The primary FDM tasting team
Recently imported sheep's milk cheese from Pyrenees-Atlantiques (Department) in Southwest France*

*Available at Formaggio Kitchen: https://www.formaggiokitchen.com/shop/product_info.php?cPath=&products_id=2618 

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