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Cheese Smells. Deal With It, a German Court Rules.

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 18, 2019 - 12:48pm
A fight over the food stuff ended up in court after a neighbor posted signs outside a cheese shop to complain about the stench.
Categories: Food

The Most Delicious Holiday Dessert

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 18, 2019 - 10:30am
Alison Roman’s amazing salted chocolate pudding with whipped sour cream is beautiful and rare.
Categories: Food

How to Cook a Pig

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 18, 2019 - 5:00am
There is no other dish on the traditional holiday table that you can cook so beautifully this easily.
Categories: Food

Hummus, the Book

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 18, 2019 - 1:19am
This coffee-table tome on hummus follows the dish throughout the Middle East.
Categories: Food

Hard Times for a Hot Commodity, the Prized New Mexico Chile

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 18, 2019 - 1:14am
Years of drought, erratic weather and other stresses are taking their toll on the peppers that are central to the state’s economy and identity.
Categories: Food

Veronika at Fotografiska Comes Into Focus

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 2:15pm
This restaurant, whose name is inspired by the patron saint of photography, is set to open at a new Swedish photography center and museum in the Flatiron district.
Categories: Food

8 Ways Restaurants Have Changed in the Past Decade

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 1:18pm
Our chief restaurant critic tries to make sense of the past 10 years in American dining, with a little help from Twitter.
Categories: Food

The T List: What to Try, Read and Know About This Week

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 12:00pm
Glittery eyes, a classic Nan Goldin book and more ideas from the editors of T Magazine.
Categories: Food

What Happens When a Fitness Chain Opens a Restaurant?

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 11:44am
Electric Lemon, in the Equinox Hotel at Hudson Yards, answers the question with vibrant flavors and a “feel the burn” playlist.
Categories: Food

Desserts That Bring the Party, but Not the Fuss

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 11:34am
After a giant ham, Alison Roman wants something sweet, celebratory and a little grand — but not too difficult to make, either.
Categories: Food

What a 5,700-Year-Old Wad of Chewed Gum Reveals About Ancient People and Their Bacteria

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 11:29am
Scientists dig into the diet, health and history of Danish hunter-gatherers in a new study.
Categories: Food

On First and First, a Homey Bakery

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 11:06am
Red Gate Bakery features rich desserts like brown-butter blondies and a stout-infused white chocolate cake.
Categories: Food

Death by a Thousand Cuts

Planet Cheese - December 17, 2019 - 11:00am

When a super-smart cheese merchant with a beautiful store in a big city has to close, I get nervous. What’s going on out there, people? Where are you buying your cheese? Apparently not enough people were buying from Pastoral, a Chicago retailer that shuttered last week after 15 years in business. Almost any list of top cheese shops in the U.S. would have included Pastoral. The owners won multiple retailing awards. If they couldn’t make it, you have to wonder how any independent cheese shop can compete against behemoths like Amazon, Costco, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

Greg O’Neill and Ken Miller opened Pastoral in 2004 in Chicago’s East Lakeview neighborhood. Over time, they added two more locations, a restaurant and a cheese-focused bistro. They sold cheese cut to order, stocked wine and other cheese accouterments, made sandwiches and assembled cheese trays for parties. They developed a wholesale program for local restaurants. O’Neill was an industry leader, serving as president of the American Cheese Society. And then…

I know you don’t want to talk about the gory details but what happened?

We opened as a wave was cresting for artisanal products and retailers who sell them. There was a need, and you could see it. It’s still happening in smaller markets in the U.S. You see great cheese shops opening in Ft. Collins, Colorado, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. What happened to our business is like a death by a thousand cuts. There was no one reason.

Consumer patterns are changing. Different generations shop differently. There are more experiential things going on now, like cheese boards and tastings. People want to consume on premise. They want to enjoy the beer and cheese that you paired for them and then take some home.

We were too big to be small, and too small to be big. To grow, we needed to have managerial roles that you don’t need if you have one or two small shops. We didn’t have a $10 million mail-order business, so we were in this strange “tween” place that you have to break past. We were close to doing it and it didn’t happen. We definitely don’t live on regrets. “Woulda coulda shoulda” is Monday morning quarterback stuff.

You were selling wine, wholesaling cheese to restaurants, doing mail order, sandwiches and catering. Do you still believe that you can’t just be a cheese shop?

The dirty little secret is that sandwiches are essential. The high margins of catering trays and sandwiches pay for the ability to do the other stuff: the cheese and charcuterie. Sandwiches give you the opportunity to turn product, to add value, to add creativity.

Somebody comes to you and says they want to open an independent cheese shop. Words of advice?

Start small. You can always go bigger. In some towns you can have 2,000 square feet, but do you need it? If you have it, you’ve got to merchandise it. I’m a big believer in having a party in a room that’s too small. Our first store was 383 square feet and we won the Specialty Food Association’s Outstanding Specialty Food Retailer of the Year. We were able to cross-sell just standing in place.

If you’re going to be an independent retailer, it has to be about the experience. As Ken used to say, no one needs anything we sell. You’ve got to create an ambiance and make people as excited about the product as you are.

Better days: O’Neill (left) and Miller
Source: Gourmet Retailer

You’ve got to find a way to pay staff fairly so they’re not leaving you for fifty cents more. It’s hard when there’s low unemployment. There’s a line-cook crisis in Chicago right now. You can’t keep opening restaurants if you don’t have the line cooks.

I never thought online cheese sales would be a big thing. It’s such an expensive item to ship relative to its value. Was I wrong about that?

The jury’s still out on that. There’s a market for gift baskets of cheese. But most people I know in the retail cheese business, they’re making their money in only five to six weeks of the year. The shot heard ‘round the world was when Amazon bought Whole Foods. I think cheese is more experiential than other products. I don’t know how much online sales have increased for Whole Foods under Amazon.

What do you think the cheese-retailing landscape will look like 10 or 15 years from now?

The good news is that the average supermarket has upped its game, and I’m honestly thrilled about that. Led by companies like Wegmans and Whole Foods, others have gone that extra step. You can now find quality cheese in almost every channel of trade. The big question isn’t what retail is going to be like. It’s what the producer situation is going to look like. Are there going to be as many small, artisanal producers of cheese? There’s a supply chain co-dependence there. A lot of cheesemakers are being bought or have succession issues. The pioneers of artisan cheese are retiring. If small producers fall away, that would have a real effect on independent cheese retailers.

You can have a small, independent shop where you’re the labor and you keep your overhead low, and you can probably continue that way for some time. But can the “tween” survive? That’s the future question.

Our tale is not a sad tale. We had a great run. There were things we did wrong, and things we did really well. We had some Michelin-starred chefs in our warehouse yesterday, buying cheese, and they were saying, “Who amongst us hasn’t had a major closure?” You dust yourself off and think about what you learned. One of the things I refuse to do is let the last 10 minutes define the last 15 years. As I said in my public letter, not all dreams last forever, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t worth doing.

Categories: Food

Letter of Recommendation: Cheap Sushi

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 17, 2019 - 5:00am
It makes the sublime available to the masses — what’s so bad about that?
Categories: Food

Instant Fish Stock, the Escoffier Way

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 16, 2019 - 3:33pm
SeaBags is a powdered stock based on a 1921 recipe from the famed French chef.
Categories: Food

Gift a Brick of Caviar

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 16, 2019 - 2:23pm
Pressed into a block, this new caviar product can be grated to add rich flavor to eggs, warm toast and pasta.
Categories: Food

This Space Is for the Baristas

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 16, 2019 - 2:18pm
A sprawling Coffee Project NY space in Queens will hold certification classes for coffee lovers.
Categories: Food

An Olive Oil Adventure Awaits

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 16, 2019 - 2:15pm
New tasting kits from Olive Oil Jones offer the chance to explore European oils and vinegars.
Categories: Food

The Best Biscuits? There Are a Few Tricks

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 16, 2019 - 11:12am
J. Kenji López-Alt swaps ingredients, and grates and rolls his way to biscuits that are simultaneously crisp, flaky, soft and light.
Categories: Food

Cook for Comfort

NYTimes Dining and Wine - December 16, 2019 - 10:30am
Make someone roast chicken with mashed potatoes, caramelized carrots and pan gravy.
Categories: Food