Mac-N-Cheese, Cheese Traveler-Style

Mac-n-Cheese? Yeah we do that. On February 20, 2016, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York held it’s 7th Annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl competition. The Cheese Traveler, sandwiched in between 30 stations of Hudson Valley cheese-y competitors, served up four-cheese enrobed caserecci pasta curls topped with apple-jack, red wine, and goat horn pepper-braised lamb and garnished with preserved lemon gremolata. Representing The Cheese Traveler, Cheesemonger Ryan Skrabalak and his assistants Morgan and Marina assembled gorgeous little “bowls” of the finest pasta and cheese we could offer.

Around the Siena College Marcelle Athletic Complex basketball court, 2,500 mac-n-cheese enthusiasts wandered through mac-n-cheese laden tables dodging around makeshift lines, elbow to elbow, brandishing muffin pans filled with two ounce “bowls” of the day’s competing mac-n-cheese entries. Since it was the seventh annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl, many of these folks knew the ropes from previous years, and they brought their own muffin pans to line up, evaluate, and rank the pasta bowls.

At our station, smack-dab in the center of the court, people lined up from midcourt to the sidelines and down the aisle to the far corner. Hundreds of people pushed forward to the table at all sides, hoping to steal a chance to get some of the fast-dwindling supply of caserecci curls. Some waited in line a second or third time for another two-ounce portion. It was heated. It was flying. And it was totally crazy in there.

Our supply ran dry at 12:55 p.m. with over an hour and a half more of the event to go. Did we bring enough to spare? Probably not. We brought eleven pounds of Hessian Hill local, grass-fed lamb shoulder and leg (retailing between $12.95 and $14.95 a pound), over thirteen pounds of bronze-dye cut, fresh-water pasta, hand made by the Masciarelli Pastificio (pasta house), the oldest and smallest pasta producer in Abruzzo, Italy (retails $9.95 a 1.1 lb. package), and a four-cheese medley of Pecorino Fiore Sardo ($23.50 lb.), Tomme Chebris ($24.50 lb.), Edelweiss Havarti ($9.95 lb.), and Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar (donated by Cabot). With the crowd hopping and the mac-n-cheese bowls flying, we could barely keep up with the demand.

If you missed out on this year’s action, you can still try our delicious cheeses and prepared foods. Come out to the 8th Annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl, or better yet, stop in at 540 Delaware Avenue during business hours. See you soon!


Left to Right: Marina, Ryan, and Morgan Skrabalak


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.

Store Opening at 540 Delaware, Albany NY (update)

The Cheese Traveler has begun its soft opening. The cheese case is fully stocked with traditionally-made, complex-tasting cheeses from the US, Europe, and UK. All cheeses are cut-to-order, and we sample everything in the case. This month we are celebrating “American Cheese Month.” Buy a passport for $10 and get 20% off the featured domestic cheese of the day. The meat coolers are well-stocked with fresh and frozen organic heritage breed beef and pork. All cuts are available. Dry goods are arriving everyday and we already have some in: fine pasta, polenta, paella rice, risotto, demi-glaze and sauces, jam, mustards, chutneys, sea salt, olive oils, and vinegars. There are many more to come: fine chocolates, sodas, honeys, crackers, biscuits, gluten-free items, olives, spices, and fleur-de-sel, local lamb and chicken. We will soon be a place to find all the finest ingredients and specialty items you need for cooking traditional and modern recipes.

Our mission is to bring the customer handcrafted items that are produced locally as well as around the world. We share a taste experience with you by bringing the flavor of the locality to you. You can have the taste of your travels or where you wish to travel to in your own home. Soon to arrive are pastas, honey, and olive oil from the smallest pasta producer in the Abruzzo region of Italy, famed for its pristine water and flavorful grain. The climate, protected by mountains on all sides, supports a rich flora unparalleled in the world. The producer uses traditions passed down and perfected over hundreds of years, and through a small operation is best able to control the practices of production, thereby crafting a superior product. The French fleur-de-sel, which will arrive this week, is collected by a single Brittany salt collector who collects salt and dries it on his roof. These are the practices and environs that capture the terroir.

Our store hours are flexible this week. We are completing the finishing touches on the store, and when we are in the store, we are open for business. Follow us on twitter and facebook for up-to-the-minute hours of operation.

The store is very easy to get to. It is a minute from the end of 787 in Albany and exit #23 off the Northway I87. It is between the intersections of Rt 443 and McAlpin and Rt 9W.

next to All Good Bakers, The Yoga Loft, Mingle, and Nicole’s Bistro

Link to Google Maps


TCT and Sunmark Grant: Public Voting Starts Today

Hi Cheese, Meat, and Farm and Foodies!

The Cheese Traveler has applied for a $1500 start up grant through Sunmark Federal Credit Union and All Over Albany. 2 of the 3 finalists are selected by voting on the All Over Albany website. For the love of cheese, please follow these links to vote for The Cheese Traveler, Tilldale Farm, and the new store on 540 Delaware Ave in DelSo, Albany.

The Cheese Traveler’s application

Where to Vote

Thank you for your support. We look forward to posting more details on the new store as they develop. Follow us on facebook.