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.

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

Washington County Cheese Tour This Weekend

This weekend, Washington County cheese makers will host the annual Cheese Tour on Saturday and Sunday, September 7-8 from 10 AM to 4 PM. Come sample fine cheeses in a bucolic setting, see the animals, and view the farms and countryside.

Washington County is home to some of New York and Vermont’s finest farmstead and artisan cheese makers in the country. Washington County bridges the rolling countryside between Eastern New York and Vermont, and each year, the cheese makers open their farms to visitors for a driving or 21 – mile cycling weekend tour.

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 - Corner Field Farm

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 – Corner Field Farm

Charming country pastures and six pristine farms are the perfect place to sample local sheep, goat, and cow’s milk cheeses. Washington County offers all the variety of traditional cheese making culture from yogurt, to young, soft, and bloomy-rind cheese, to natural aged, washed-rind, and blues.  Moreover, some of the cheeses have taken national awards at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition, placing first, second, or third in their category out of over 1,800 cheeses.

3-Corner Field Farm

3-Corner Field Farm

Among the farms to host the tour are:

1 – Argyle Cheese Farmer
2 – 3-Corner Field Farm
3 – Consider Bardwell Farm
4 – Homestead Artisans at Longview Farm
5 – Sweet Spring Farm
6 – Sugarloaf Farm

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Last year, The Cheese Traveler visited the two farms Consider Bardwell Farm and Sweet Spring Farm, and this year, we are a sponsor for the Cheese Tour. You can read about our trip last year in “Weekend Adventures of The Cheese Traveler.” We are very excited to support our local cheese makers. This week in the store, you can enjoy a 10% discount on Washington County cheeses including 3 – Corner Field Farm yogurt, Brebis Blanche, Shushan Snow, Battenkill Brebis, Frere Fumant, and Consider Bardwell Farm Manchester, Dorset, Rupert, and Pawlett. Come in for a preview!

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

You can access this year’s Cheese Tour Brochure at this link: 2013 Washington County Cheese Tour.