October is American Cheese Month, which means it celebrates all cheese artisans in America. So how could I possibly honor it better than to write a really ‘cheesy’ blog.
Those of you who know me or have visited my website in the past may remember me mentioning “The Cheese Cave” as a place that I’ve been to. If you don’t live in New Jersey, you might be having visions of me walking through the woods, towards the Appalachian Mountains, fending off bears, and then entering a hidden cave where villagers are aging their cheeses. While that sounds adventurous, it’s not exactly what I do. (Especially not in designer heels!)
The Cheese Cave is a hidden gem in Red Bank, NJ along the main drag of Monmouth Street. As you walk towards The Cheese Cave, you won’t pass through woods, but you will pass by shop, after gallery, after restaurant, in a busy-but-not-too-busy downtown, eclectic, and thriving business district. Once upon a time, only locals knew about this delicious destination, but it is rapidly growing in its popularity and reputation since its opening in 2011. For gourmet cheeses that you simply can’t find anywhere else, come here. And if you can find them elsewhere, you’d have to go to many different cheese shops, countries, and purveyors to acquire them.
The Cheese Cave is like your one-stop shopping paradise for all things cheese, and carefully selected accompaniments.
There are varieties of goat, cow, and sheep’s milk cheeses, chutneys, crackers, preserves, charcuterie, sweets, and "sandwicheeses". (That last word is not a typo. The emphasis is on cheese in that coined phrase, invented by The Cheese Cave owner Stephen Catania.)
Many cheeses are aged in caves. Good cheese usually doesn't come mass-produced off of a conveyor belt. That is why the name "The Cheese Cave" is so fitting for this Red Bank, NJ foodie haven.
You can come into The Cheese Cave and take home some treasures, or stop in for a quick cheese fix; and they serve up cheese platters, salads, and sandwiches to stay or to go. Oh, and it’s BYOB, so bring your favorite wine or beer, and owner Stephen Catania will help you pair it with the perfect cheese.
That’s right, any time of day, walk right in and bring your beverage of choice; and sit down with savory cheeses, maybe a few baguette slices, or a menu selection, and enjoy it with the perfect pairing of wine or beer.
It may be a European concept, but you can’t go wrong with bread, cheese, and a good bottle of wine (or beer).
The taste experience you will enjoy is anything but rudimentary.
“I’m a hospitality professional. My roots are in the kitchen. I went to culinary school and was a chef. It’s people and hospitality that I love. It was a natural progression,” states Catania.
This could be why during the Red Bank Food & Wine Walk this past summer, the line was out the door to sample his grilled cheddar and complementary chutney, freshly made sandwiches; and more recently he’s explored the realms of matching fruit and cheese in signature “cheese pops” that made an appearance at The Reader’s Choice Awards in Monmouth County. This is not your basic cheese and cracker affair.
Catania elaborates, “It all starts with understanding the flavors and giving people an experience they might otherwise not try. You eat with all of your senses. There needs to be a visual appeal and a taste appeal. I won’t say cheese makes a lot of noise – but maybe after someone tries it there will be lots of ‘oooohs!’ and ‘aaahs!’”
I have murmured a lot of “Mmmms” myself, every time I’ve visited The Cheese Cave.
Recently, The Cheese Cave was a winner of the Best Cheese Shop in Monmouth County in the Annual Best of Monmouth Health and Life Magazine Readers Poll, and The Lady in Red got to attend the Readers’ Choice Awards as a VIP as a guest of The Cheese Cave. What a delicious night!
I’ve also attended “Cheese School” at The Cheese Cave, where Catania explains which wines pair best with certain cheeses. It’s a social event of sampling, where you create cheese and wine combinations you didn’t even know could be so good, while you share your varietals and vintages tableside with your neighbors. There will be one more Sunday School at The Cheese Cave event (October 28, $20 per person, 5:30- 7pm) that you can sign up for, where you can try an assortment of cheeses and exotic accompaniments, while pairing them with wines you bring. Catania will teach you how to pair wines with each cheese he selects. October is American Cheese Month so the focus will be on different styles of cheese produced by American artisans.
I’m not a Cheese Cave virgin, so I already have my tried and true favorites. I love the Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, and I never leave the shop without Fromage de Meaux. (It has a slight broccoli aftertaste, as well as buttery and mushroom overtones which I find very appealing.) When I asked Catania if he had to select just one cheese to eat, and only one, which would he choose - he responded:
“I can’t do it. I just can’t do it. It’s like trying to pick a favorite child – can’t do it. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something mild and creamy; sometimes I want a grana, like a Parmesan. There’s a seasonal cheese I like right now – Rogue River Blue by Rogue Creamery. It’s a seasonal blue cheese. It’s only made at certain times of the year. The producer will only make it between the fall and winter solstice because that’s when the cows milk is the creamiest. They wrap it in syrah grape leaves soaked in local bandy. It has a plethora of flavors. It’s salty and sweet. It’s won best in show at the ACS for 2 of the last 5 years.”
I tried a sample, and this is not your supermarket blue! It’s a strong cheese that would definitely complete a meal with a glass of port on the side. (By the way, did you know that The Cheese Cave keeps its blue cheeses separate from the others because of the different molds used? This, is how cheese is done.)
Ok, so let’s say you go buy some cheese at The Cheese Cave to enjoy at home – or maybe you order it online. How in the world should you store it? We all don’t have climate controlled facilities and proper cheese paper to wrap the leftovers in. Catania shared some tips.
“The best place to store your cheese is in your stomach,” joked Catania. “When you have a local cheese shop like The Cheese Cave, it’s best to buy it as you need it. The enemies of cheese are cold temperature and dry air. This is why Europeans don’t refrigerate cheeses. U.S. laws require retailers to refrigerate cheeses. Keep any remaining cheese in the vegetable bin. I recommend buying two-ply cheese paper [to wrap it in].”
If you don’t have two-ply cheese paper, just rewrap it in the original wrappings The Cheese Cave used upon your purchase, like I do. (The Cheese Cave does sell two-ply cheese paper, too.)
Cheese won’t last forever once you get it home, though. Did you know cheese is alive!? It is!
“Different cheeses have different life. A young, fresh, rindless cheese like goat cheese or mascarpone has a much shorter life than a Parmesan or aged Gouda. We aim to help people understand that the cheese we have is ready to enjoy now. If your cheese grows some mold on it, just scrape it off and the remaining cheese is edible. Cheese is alive and constantly changing.”
I'll let you in on a little secret for the most fun foodie Friday night you can have. Pick up a bottle of wine or two. (I recommend two - a white and a red to complement the span of cheese flavors that you will encounter.) Then, head over to The Cheese Cave at 5 o'clock on a Friday for "$5 Friday". For just $5, you can indulge in creamy cheeses and good company, almost making a meal of it. Then for dessert, sneak out to The Cupcake Magician a few doors down, and sample the most amazing cupcakes on this side of the Eastern seaboard. (I highly recommend their red velvet cupcakes, by the way.) It's delicious dinner and dessert, for just a few dollars. I speak from personal (repeated) experience here.
Afterwards, don’t worry – there’s plenty to see and do in town. One of the reasons why Catania decided to open The Cheese Cave in this location is because he views Red Bank as a destination town.
“Red Bank is really one of the foremost towns where people say ‘Let’s go someplace to walk around.’ It’s good to be in a town where people have something to do and see, and there are independent retailers.”
So if this blog leaves you craving cheese and you are wondering ‘Quel Fromage?’ – come to The Cheese Cave and have your question (and craving) answered with a taste experience you won’t soon forget!
- A menu for lunch specials is posted every week on The Cheese Cave’s Facebook page and website.
- You can also contact them to host your own custom wine and cheese tasting event.
- Sunday School at The Cheese Cave event (October 28, $20 per person, 5:30- 7pm)
- The Cheese Cave also has an American Cheese Month Passport Program for the month of October. When you think of American Cheese, don’t think of Kraft Singles! What ‘American Cheese’ in this instance means is specialty artisan cheeses made in America. If you purchase a passport de fromage for $10, it entitles you to a 20% discount on a designated cheese of the day during the entire month of October. All of the revenue from passport sales benefits the nonprofit American Cheese Education Foundation.
- The Cheese Cave always participates in the culinary event of the season, Red Bank’s Holiday Flavour, and will be doing so this year, too. And if you are searching for that perfect holiday gift, The Cheese Cave has a cheese of the month club, and also offers gift certificates for purchase!