The Story of Us

By Alifair Skebe

Customers often ask, “How long have you been open?” While this question seems to warrant a fairly straightforward answer, such as, “Our shop was established in 2012,” it begs a larger question: when did this all begin? And as all things begin in the same manner, The Cheese Traveler began with an idea.

Like a refined cheese, the development of The Cheese Traveler was a process. Eric Paul, cheesemonger and owner, long held the desire to own a cheese shop, but the business truly solidified only after the building had been leased. In June of 2012, Eric and I escaped for a weekend vacation to celebrate our ninth anniversary. Eric had just signed the lease at 540 Delaware Avenue, and the space was deep in renovations. The weather was balmy and beautiful. We set out for Little Falls, one of New York’s hidden gems, especially for hikers and climbers. What we didn’t realize at the time was that it was also a hidden gem for cheesemongers. Little Falls, New York is not only nationally recognized for its Moss Island, an igneous intrusion along the Mohawk River with prehistoric glacial potholes, it was also at one time nationally recognized as the cheese capital of the United States.

Little Falls, NY

Eric has been interested in all things cheese since I met him. When we started dating, he was Cheese and Meat Manager at the local Albany co-op Honest Weight, but he soon left to take a position at Siena College’s library in order to complete his undergraduate education. Siena offered Eric a tuition reduction as an employee, and Eric could take classes part-time in the Classics program. While these two positions on the surface may seem unrelated, the connection is that Eric is a researcher at heart.

Starting with ‘cooperative’ ideology of local, small production foods, at Honest Weight Eric developed a way to retail Slow Food, the small, local, farmstead and artisanally-produced foods from around the world. Slow Food International began in Italy as a reaction against the fast food industry. Eric brought ‘slow foods’ from neighboring New York valleys – Schoharie, Hudson, Columbia, and Washington in the form of grass-fed meats and farmstead cheeses – and international ‘slow foods’ specialty chocolates, confections, and accompaniments from Europe and the U.S. into the small, specialty foods section of the co-op. These were the best slow food that the regions had to offer.

Missing slow foods, but capitalizing on his research skills gained from his years at the co-op, Eric sought in his new position at Siena to find the nationally-recognized films of each country – those which were banned, contested, and controversial as well as innovative for their technique and quality. Even though Eric had no library science degree, nor the authority to request or buy the films for the department, he enlisted the help of faculty to sign off on his purchases and use the films for their classes. At my behest, he brought in a collection of Surrealist films, making Siena’s one of the few libraries in the world to own these special, art-house films.

Eric left Siena to complete his bachelor’s degree full-time in Classics at Bard College. Afterward, he worked for a start-up co-op in Troy, NY. However, he had always wanted to get back to cheese. He began translating passages from ancient Greek that referenced cheese in any way, and gathered them in a compendium to classical literature. He worked a short stint at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA to get a feel for the small, specialty food business. Through understanding the business, Eric realized that he could open a cheese shop of his own, and he began to devise ways to make that happen in Albany. And that’s really when his idea of a ‘cheese traveler’ began. A ‘cheese traveler’ is a researcher who travels to bring the best and most unique flavors of the cheese world to you.

But as your humble author, I must admit that a refined palate was never my forte. Words and visual design were my aesthetic. The poor immigrant life of my ancestors was one of survival and of sometimes empty bowls and hungry bellies – it didn’t matter what it tasted like; if it was edible, that was good enough. In my 20s, I began branching out in cooking. A vegetarian must exist on more than bread, pasta, vegetables, and soy. I bought a funny little book with pictures of carved pumpkins called Play with Your Pumpkins, which to date has the best recipe for French pumpkin soup, Paul Bocuse’s ‘Soupe de Courge.’ I like to think that it was his recipe and a wedge of Gruyère that brought Eric and me together.

Before I even knew Eric was the cheese manager of the co-op, I had bought a slice of six-month Gruyère with the intent of making Bocuse’s soup. I put the cheese in my bare fridge, right on the top shelf. Eric and I then met while I was member-working as a cashier at the co-op. After we had been on a few dates, I invited him over to my apartment for Sunday brunch. He chanced to look into my refrigerator. Truthfully, on any other day, it could have been a block of cheap cheddar sitting there. Fortunately, this stunning little cheese stood out. I’d like to say that I passed the food test, but it was much more than that. We connected on our shared love of researching the past and experimentation, of learning and discovery. Consequently, I am no longer a vegetarian

Flash forward to Little Falls, NY. Eric and I had just eaten a lovely meal of oysters, lamb, and duck made by Chef/owner James Aufmuth at the French bistro and hotel Canal Side Inn. We were walking through the town from the canal up to the main drag. (Little Falls is also known for its haunted hotels.) And along the sidewalk were historical markers with a narrative of the town’s cheese industry during the nineteenth century. Pictured in black and white on the placards were enormous cheddar wheels, railroad cars, the first industrialized and bottled rennet, factory houses, and more. Photos of factory workers, administrators, town residents. Surprised by our discovery, we ran from marker to marker to find out more about the town’s history, but also of our own, our nation’s, the history of the business we were now entering with our little Albany cheese shop. We had a name and location with no logo, a name without a brand. And here in this place, we realized something. That what we were doing was important. It was the refining of an idea, the ripening of something unique, and Little Falls affirmed us in our journey. That night is the moment that we, cheese travelers were truly ‘open,’ and like Walt Whitman’s uniquely American ‘yawp,’ we sounded ours over the proverbial rooftops of the Capital Region.

Extended Holiday Hours for New Year’s

Extended Holiday Hours for the last week of December:

Friday 12/27 11-7
Saturday 12/28 10-7
Sunday 12/29 10-7
Monday 12/30 10-7
Tuesday 12/31 10-6
Wednesday 1/1 closed for New Year’s Day

Just arrived: A few special Cheeses in store for your New Year’s Celebration include:

Truffle Brie from Maison de la Truffe in Paris, France – Black diamond creme infused Brie

Tunworth from Neal’s Yard Dairy – an English Camembert

A selection of specialty Robiolas:

  • Robiola D’alba Tartufo – cow’s milk robiola with truffles
  • Robiola Di Castagna – mixed milk (cow, sheep, goat) wrapped in chestnut leaves
  • Robiola Incavolata – mixed milk (cow, sheep, goat) wrapped in savoy cabbage
  • Robiola Roccaverano di Capra – goat’s milk robiola

L’Ami du Chambertin “Gaugry – soft, pasteurized cow’s milk cheese washed in Marc du Burgundy wine, similar in style to the award-winning Epoisses (also available in store)

And there are many more beautiful cheeses available for your holiday cheese plates and new year’s entertaining. Come in and our exceptional cheesemongers will help you put together the perfect pairings or let us cater your cheese plate to order. We will also help you find the perfect cheeses to pair with your wines and beers.

Christmas 2013 cheese and charcuterie platters

Extended Holiday Hours in December and Gift Ideas

Hey y’all we will be open additional days and hours this holiday week for your last minute shopping pleasure.

Monday 12/23 10-7
Tuesday 12/24 10- 4 Christmas Eve
Wednesday 12/25 closed
Thursday 12/26 closed

We will be open Friday with extended hours up until New Year’s Eve. Check back for details.

Remember The Cheese Traveler offers gift certificates and gift baskets in a variety of themes and prices to meet your budget.




Special Class: Holiday Cheese Plates

Holiday Cheese Plating: A New Class at The Cheese Traveler

Where: The Cheese Traveler, 540 Delaware Avenue, Albany
When: Wednesday, December 18, 6-8pm
Cost: $40, Go to or visit the shop to purchase tickets

A beautiful cheese plate can be highlight of your holiday entertaining. Join Cheesemonger Eric Paul for a 2 hour workshop featuring cheese sampling, beverage pairing, and learning the art of crafting the perfect cheese plate.

Starting with styles, textures, and milks, Eric will show how to choose cheeses that will both compliment and contrast to create a well-rounded selection. To take it to the next level, we’ll introduce pairing nuts, preserves, meats, fruits, crackers, beverages, and more. Once you know what you want on your board, we’ll show you how to cut, plate, and present your delicious work of art.

All class attendees will receive a 10% discount on their holiday cheese order from The Cheese Traveler. Buy your tickets in the shop or at

Eric and Alifair's Workshop "Making Elegant Cheese Plates" at Wine and Dine for the Arts 2013

Eric and Alifair’s Workshop “Making Elegant Cheese Plates” at Wine and Dine for the Arts 2013

Former Dairy Farm Thrives by Raising Organic, Heritage Meats in the Hudson Valley

Tilldale Farm Pasture

by Alifair Skebe

Autumn pastures are turning into winter at Tilldale Farm’s Open House on October 20, 2013. The farm, located in Hoosick, NY, is offering fresh pressed cider, hay rides, roast beef made of their red Devon, heritage breed cattle, and pulled pork from their Tamworth herd. Dan Tilley, co-owner of Tilldale Farm with his wife Joanne Tilley, has converted his family’s old dairy farm into a thriving, organic meat farm. This year Tilldale Farm was named Rensselaer County’s 2012 Conservation Farm of the Year. Walking across the lawn, Dan points, “That’s the barn where I milked for 37 years.”

The old Tilldale white milking barn is covered in dust. An old Horizon milk plaque, washed over with a coat of primer, hangs on an outside wall. Inside, silage and cobwebs hang off the steel bars of the stalls where cows used to milk. In the center of the room, adolescent Tamworth pigs graze at makeshift troughs. At the sound of our footfall and voices, the pigs stand at attention, then march forward in a line formation like a standoff, or maybe they’re just looking for a feeding.

Tilldale Farm Dairy Barn Tamworth Pigs

For years, Tilldale farm provided organic milk to the large organic, dairy corporation Horizon and other businesses. A few years back, a friend of Dan’s introduced him to the red Devon breed. When Dan tasted the superior texture and flavor of the breed, he was hooked. Dan began to sell off his dairy cows and introduce red Devon into his remaining herd. His cattle are now over ¾ red Devon with trace features of Angus. To diversify, he also raises a small herd of heritage breed, organic Tamworth pigs and organic chickens for meat and eggs.

TIlldale Dairy Stalls

Keeping to his organic roots, Dan and his wife Joanne decided to pasture-raise the animals and to go through the expensive process to label their pastures and meat USDA certified organic. Joanne, a certified dietitian and nutritionist, says, “Pasture-raised animals have a higher nutritional content than grain-fed animals, are high in essential fatty acids and Omega-3s, and are free of industrial contaminants such as hormones and antibiotics.”

Dan walks us through the herd of cattle – the old mammas, young calves, and castrated adolescent males. On a two-day old pasture, they graze contentedly. “The red Devon is a docile breed,” Dan says. A black-faced lady follows me. I’m standing on her grass. She comes within two feet of me and stares at me from the side, with one large eye. Then she turns and stares me down face-forward with her two big brown eyes, wide wet nose, and tuft of wiry curls on her forehead. Not as docile as a dairy cow, she stands at a distance, resisting touch.

In a small patch of pasture just beyond her, Dan points out his moveable chicken coop. These organic chickens will use the pasture as 20% of their feed, and the rest is a mix of organic grains. The Tilleys plan to increases the number of organic chicken they raise from 100 this year to 250 next year. Off in the distance, a Holstein stands out with its characteristic black and white fur, a legacy of Tilldale’s dairying days. Dan remarks, “The Holsteins were all sold off to the neighbors.” They don’t make for good meat. The devon breed, in contrast to other breeds, has a strong, dense flavor with good marbling. As a heritage breed, it was bred to be raised entirely on grass.

Tilldale Farm Chicken Coop

As we walk a little further into the field, more cows notice our presence. They look up from their grazing. Intruders into their space, we are more curiosities than offenders. Dan explains the rotation schedule of pasture-raising cattle. “They never graze for more than a day in any one area of the 60-acres of pastureland,” Dan says. (The total acreage of the farm is 300 acres.) Dan rotates them acre-by-acre over a 30-day cycle. He says, “The cows graze constantly and will take a pasture down to dirt quickly. By rotating them in a cycle, the first pasture is back to two feet tall by the close of the month – the best condition for the cows and the pasture.”

Tilldale Red Devon Cattle

As the summer season closes in Upstate New York, the cows are just beginning to feed off of this year’s bailage. Bailage is a fermented hay taken from Spring pastures and cured over months in white, plastic-wrapped bales. Once baled, the hay must be half-dry to ferment into bailage, a nutritious mix of grasses that allows Dan to overwinter his cattle without grain supplement. This will keep the animals organic and solely pasture-raised all year round, even as they spend the coldest months in the barn.

Five years ago, Dan retired the dairy farm. Currently, Tilldale farm has around twelve purebred red Devons. The breeding mother is eleven years old, and this year she gave birth to her first bull. For six years she bore heifers. A Devon herd is highly sought after and takes time to build.

Overall, Tilldale Farm is home to about 150 cows. Each cow will pass the seasons happily there for about three years. The first year mother and calf will spend together; the second they distance themselves, growing larger; and the third year they will achieve the desired weight for them to be ready for market.

Tilldale Cow

The time and energy the Tilleys put into raising and overwintering the herd is different than other local livestock farmers who will buy adolescent cows at auction in late winter to early spring and push to get them up to weight and market ready by fall. This method saves them the expense of feeding the cattle through the cold, New York State winter. The cows purchased at auction may or may not have been raised on pasture. Even farmers who are pasture-raising their herd may feed the cows some grain both to get them up to weight and to give the meat the grain-fed flavor that Americans have grown accustomed to in the last thirty years. The Tilleys, by contrast, are committed to maintaining their herd from live birth to market on nutritious, organic grasses, and to raising their animals ethically, responsibly, and in a low-stress environment. This process takes about three years, and includes overwintering in the barn on bailage for at least two winter seasons.

Walking back to the farmstead, we notice a woolly bear caterpillar sauntering along the grass. Eric Paul, owner of The Cheese Traveler, picks it up and lets it meander across the palm of his hand. Old farmer’s lore tells that the longer the black band of the woolly bear caterpillar, the colder the winter. A yellow band in the middle presages a hard snow. “Looks like it’s going to be a cold winter this year,” Dan says.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Tilldale beef and pork can be found in the Capital District at various local restaurants and markets. Flash frozen meats are sold at The Cheese Traveler and The Delmar Farmer’s Market. Chef Ryan serves up a delicious pulled pork sandwich at The Cheese Traveler’s cafe, and Chef Ian of Capital City Gastropub on New Scotland Ave. makes a delicious Tilldale organic beef burger. You can experience Tilldale meats in a variety of dishes at Gastropub and Mingle on Delaware Ave in Albany. The meat is also available for sale right off the farm – Tilldale sells CSA shares and individual packages. You can contact them by phone at (518) 686-7779 or by email at Their website is and they are also on Facebook