Consider the grilled cheese sandwich. As a child, you were given bland slices of American pealed from individual plasticene packets and slid between two pieces of innocuous white bread. After being browned in a buttered pan by your mother, that simple sandwich achieved a singular wholesome status in your mind: comfort food.
But when you become an adult, you put away childish cheeses. You are taught to appreciate the creaminess of a Comte, the unctuous funk of an aged blue, the salty tang of Manchego. And the seed of an idea is planted in your mind that perhaps that beloved sandwich of yore could be elevated to a level in keeping with your matured palate.
When such inspiration strikes, it would be best to visit Valley Shepherd Creamery. Recently relocated from Manhattan to its new home at 211 Seventh Avenue, between Third and Fourth streets, Valley Shepherd is the type of shop where every cheese you try is good and the next one is even better. Customers frequently ooh and ahh over the deli case and the staff happily answer questions about rinds, goat versus cow milk, and how to round out the perfect cheese plate at an upcoming dinner party.
The enthusiasm and knowledge of so many different cheeses is fueled in part by the fact that 25 varieties being sold were made at the store’s own farm. Owner Eran Wajswol and his wife run their creamery out of Long Valley, New Jersey with 600 sheep, 100 goats and 50 cows.
The couple controls every aspect of production, from the grasses being fed to livestock to aging proprietary blends in their very own cave. Some recipes, such as the Somerset—a soft, Alpine-styled cheese made from pure Guernsey milk and containing no less than four different flavors once bitten—are prepared solely by Wajsol himself to protect the integrity (and secrecy) of the product. Paired with a piece of freshly torn baguette, the Somerset could eclipse all memories of grilled cheese sandwiches forever.
But at $10 per half pound, sophistication is expensive. Better to save such a splurge for sharing at holidays with other deliriously tasty choices such as the Shepherd Basket, a textured and salty Basque-like cheese made from sheep’s milk aged at least four months.
Or the Crema de Blue, a melty riff on Gorgonzola. Or the Scentsation, which announces it’s heady arrival long before it is even unwrapped and then slowly oozes into a spreadable form as it reaches room temperature. All of this will put you back about $33.
But if you’re the type of host who likes to offer other accouterments with your cheese boards, the Valley Shepherd has you covered there too. Smoked meats, quince paste, olive tapenades and fig crackers have been mindfully chosen from artisanal producers around the country—many of them friends with the Wajsols. Lamb meat is sold seasonally, but fresh milk and Greek yogurt are available year round.
If you are still dreaming about that perfect grilled cheese sandwich, there are a variety of breads, ranging from pretzel croissants to sour dough rounds. Even better: Let the creamery do the work for you; try one of their daily Panini. Mom would approve.