Rebecca Schneider hails from the Finger Lakes, only moving to Rochester about 4 years ago. Today you can see her at Hart’s as our resident Cheesemonger. Read on to learn more about Rebecca and her love of cheese!
What do you like about living in Rochester?
I immediately felt at home and was relieved to discover that there were still places to hike and swim, and even more places and opportunities to see and make music. This city is brimming with art, creativity, and fresh ideas so it’s pretty incredible to be a part of it. My favorite thing is writing short and silly little ditties using somewhat unconventional instruments as well as hanging out with my cats, Franchesca and Salvador. I started at Hart’s when it first opened!
When did you realize you wanted to get into the cheese business?
I took a job in a cheese shop while I was studying horticulture and environmental conservation in the Finger Lakes. It started as an after-school job, but I found myself becoming more curious and interested in cheese.
How does one become a Cheesemonger?
The title ‘Cheesemonger’ literally means a seller of cheese or; a tradesperson who specializes in cheese. A cheesemonger that I was learning from when I first started told me that there was at least a two-year learning curve when becoming a serious seller of cheese. She was right! From knowing all the styles of cheese and their respective history to cracking a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano using traditional Italian tools, there are so many aspects of being a cheesemonger that I never really considered before getting deep into it.
What is it about cheese in particular that interests you?
There are SO MANY elements of cheese that fascinate me, but I’d have to say that the number one thing would have to be the significance of terroir and what role it plays in the world of artisanal cheese. Terroir is essentially the environmental conditions in which a food is grown or produced, giving the food its unique characteristics. What the animals eat, the geography of the land, the weather, the milking schedules, and a wide variety of other factors are a huge part of what shapes an artisanal cheese.
What do you think makes a great cheese above the rest?
There are some cheeses that will always stand out to me more than others. I’m always kind of drawn to ‘outlandish’ cheeses. Especially local ones! For instance, we have a washed rind from Walton, NY that is washed in Absinthe. It’s a real stinker too, but with a deliciously creamy texture and a lovely finish. It’s strange, unique and I’ve certainly never had anything like it in my 6 years as a cheesemonger.
Let’s talk pairing. Are there any basic rules of cheese and food pairing that people should keep in mind?
When it comes to pairings, either basic or elaborate, the most important thing should be to not limit yourself. This should be fun! Try something new! Try something weird! With that being said, there are traditional pairings that will always be a safe and delicious way to entertain either yourself or your party. Some of the best advice I could give is “what grows together, goes together”. If you have a French wine at home, waiting for a special occasion, you can always go pick up a French cheese (like an Epoisses, yum!) that will most likely pair quite beautifully together. Or perhaps you have a local semi-dry cider sitting in your fridge at home? That is going to pair well with rich and buttery cheeses, such as Manchego, or an aged Gouda or Cheddar. The tannins in the cider will cut through the protein and butterfat, leaving notes of fruitiness and nuttiness. Should I also mention pairing Blue Stilton with whiskey? The possibilities are endless. Just remember, when trying different pairings together, it’s always best to go from ‘mild to wild’, starting with the mildest cheese/beverage to the most intense, and cleansing your palate in between.
What can people expect from our cheese department that they might not be able to find elsewhere?
Our cheese department is ever-changing. Always striving to find something new, something to excite the fellow cheese lover. While we have our staple cheeses and crowd favorites, it’s always fun to pick a cheese that stands apart from the rest. We also take customer requests pretty seriously. There have been more than a number of times that a customer has made a suggestion, asking for us to carry something very specific, and it has worked very well for us. Win-win for everyone! People can also expect a wide variety of local cheeses at the store. We believe in supporting local farmers and cheesemakers, and there have been so many popping up all over New York. We want to encourage our customers as well as educate everyone we can about the importance of choosing local goods!
Are there any new cheeses coming in that you’re excited about?
I’m super excited about ALL of the cheeses we’ve gotten recently from East Hill Creamery in Perry, NY. They specialize in french-style cheeses. As of right now, we carry their ‘Underpass Reserve‘, ‘Silver Lake‘ and ‘Happy Accident‘, all raw, grass-fed cow’s milk cheeses. Fantastic!
If you had to pick a favorite cheese, what would it be?
Yikes, tough question! I suppose my favorite cheese currently is Jake’s Aged Gouda from Deansboro, NY. It’s nutty, complex, and has those delightful little crunchy crystals that give it such an amazing texture.
If you had to pick a favorite recipe including cheese, what would it be?
My favorite food to make is sandwiches. Fancy, elaborate sandwiches. So I’d have to say some Manchego, fresh ricotta, eggplant, field greens and roasted red tomatoes on a crusty multi-grain baguette would be my favorite grilled cheese sandwich recipe.