This coming Monday is National Cheese Lover’s Day, which is celebrated each year on January 20th.
What better way to rejoice in the joys of cheese than to talk about this dairy-based delight and pay homage to some of the most beloved cheesemongers and merchants in our amazing Borough.
However, before we do so, let’s embark on a cheesy journey of knowledge about this much-beloved food.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary cheese is defined as “a substance used as food, consisting of the curd of milk (coagulated by rennet) separated from the whey and pressed into a solid mass.” I don’t know about you, but this does not sound very appetizing to me! And yet, this “substance” has made its way into nearly every civilization and culture around the globe!
Cheese dates back to 8000 BCE
Historical records vary, as to when cheese was first made, and from all accounts, it is clear that its beginnings predate recorded history with the earliest proposed dates for the origin of cheesemaking range from around 8000 BCE, when sheep were first domesticated.
A Thriving Enterprise during the Roman Empire
There is also no conclusive evidence indicating where cheesemaking originated, whether in Europe, Central Asia or the Middle East. However, what is clearly documented is that the practice of making cheese had become a pretty sophisticated enterprise by the time the Roman Empire came into being.
3000 Thousand year old cheese found in Egypt
The earliest evidence of cheesemaking in the archaeological record dates back to 5500 BCE and is found in what is now Kujawy, Poland, where strainers coated with milk-fat molecules have been found, according to Nature News’ article "Art of cheese-making is 7,500 years old". There is even early archeological evidence of Egyptian cheese depicted in Egyptian tomb murals, dating to about 2000 BCE. Further, a 2018 paper published in Analytical Chemistry stated that the world's oldest cheese, dating to approximately 3200 years before present, was actually found in ancient Egyptian tombs!
Is Cheese the by-product of preserving?
Some speculate that cheesemaking may have even begun as a way of preserving by pressing and salting curdled milk leading researchers to the conclusion that the earliest cheeses were likely quite sour and salty, similar in texture to rustic cottage cheese or feta cheese.
Did you know??
Americans consume over 31 pounds of cheese per year.
But that's nothing compared to the French, who eat over
50 pounds of cheese per year.
What’s in a name
According to CultureCheeseMag.com, “Cheese, as well as the Spanish queso and German Kaese and a few other cheese words, all can be traced to the Latin word for cheese, caseus. Going back a little further, the earliest known proto-Indo-European root is *kwat-, a term that refers to the process of making cheese as it means “to ferment, to become sour.” Who knew!
The Development of commercial cheese production
Fast forward to 1815 and Switzerland is the site of the first factory for the industrial production of cheese. But, interestingly enough, it was in America where large-scale successful cheese production first began and it was none other than a New York dairy farmer in Rome who began making cheese in an assembly-line fashion in 1851 using the milk from neighboring farms.
Modern cheese production worldwide
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world production of cheese from whole cow milk was 18.7 million tons, with the United States accounting for 29% (5.4 million tons) of the world total, followed by Germany, France and Italy as major producers.
Hundreds of cheese varieties
And as any great cheese connoisseur knows, the variety of cheeses is incredibly extensive with a plethora of types from an array of milks and even nuts for the non-dairy cheese lovers. The International Dairy Federation recognizes around 500 different varieties, and up to 1000 identified by other sources. The range in textures and flavors is as diverse as the sources from which they are made. From cow to goat to sheep and buffalo milk to almonds and even cashews, and whether salty, tangy, creamy or gooey, the options are truly boundless!
Did you know??
The world's largest cheese was put on display in 1964 at the
New York World's Fair. It weighed over 34,000 pounds.
The Bronx is home to some of the most incredible purveyors of fine cheeses, categorically recognized throughout the Borough and beyond as go-to resources for this dairy delectable. A number of these prized shops can be found within the confines of Little Italy and Arthur Avenue, while others are scattered throughout the Borough. Whether Italian, Hispanic, African American, Asian or any other ethnicities that comprise the fabric of The Bronx, good cheese is embraced and prized by all!
It was no easy task to narrow down our favorites, but here are seven shops worthy of mention! We listed them alphabetically as not to rate them.
1) Ann Clairs Salumeria
1130 Morris Park Ave, Bronx, NY 10461
Located in the Morris Park section is Ann Clairs Salumerua which has been serving the local Bronx community with its specialty Italian food since 1972. Offering extensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menu options, this family run eatery is particularly well known for the homemade mozzarella they make. It makes no difference if you are in the mood for a wrap or sandwich, a salad or one of their home-made pasta dishes, there are fresh cheese choices galore for any craving.
2) Calabria Pork Store
2338 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458
Growing up Italian, one very prominent memory is walking into the pork store literally embraced by a ceiling of hanging cured meats and cheeses. Calabria Pork Store embodies the best of this quintessential characteristic of old school Italian pork stores.
One online reviewer referred to this mom and pop shop “Phenomenal, awesome, fantastic - no exaggeration, no embellishment, just amazingness” and another one “cheese heaven.” Suffice it to say, you will find one of the greatest selections of cheese from Parmigiana Regiano,, Calabrese table cheese, homemade mozzarella and bocconcini and burrata.
3) Calandra's Italian Cheese
2314 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458
With a history that dates back to 1942, Calendra’s Cheese is a cheese lover’s dream. It’s huge selection of cow, sheep and goat cheese includes its homemade ricotta and mozzarella that will not disappoint. Just walking in overwhelms the senses with the waves of sharp and salty fragrances. Free samples are always offered to customers.
4) Casa Della Mozzarella
604 E 187th St, Bronx, NY 10458
We are simply preaching to the cheese lovers’ choir in naming Casa Della Mozzarella one of THE best cheese shops in The Bronx. In fact, not only has this humble little shop been Zagat Rated As The Best Mozzarella In New York City For Over A Decade, but, one will find it nearly impossible to get a less than 4.5 rating on any review site including Trip Advisor, Thrillest, Menupix, Yelp or Four Square.
Founded in 1993 by Orazio Carciotto, an Italian immigrant and his son, Carlo, this tiny shop located on 187th Street in Little Italy is an old-school Italian deli known for its legendary hand-pulled mozzarella. Not only is their renown “mootz” considered the best in the city and their paninis are to die for, about which fans continually rave all over social media, but the service and family atmosphere has customers willing to wait in long lines for their coveted delicacies!
The texture of the cheese from this local cheese shop is the perfect quality as they do not make their mozzarella in bulk for the week, but rather make it fresh daily.
5) Joe's Italian Deli
685 East 187th Street, Bronx, NY 10458
LIke so many Bronx businesses, Joe’s Italian Deli is family-run known for the quality of the products it offers. Moving with the times, Joe’s has embraced the evolving population of the neighborhood and caters to the varied food cultures of the community. When it comes to cheese, this Little Italy-based deli has built a reputation as a valuable resource for its home-made mozzarella and fine imported cheeses with both local customers and beyond. Since opening its doors more than three decades ago, they have over 40 different cheeses, mostly from Italy, that include Parmigiano Reggiano, Provolone, Fontinella, Fontina, Fiore di Sardegna, Gorgonzola,Piave and Prima Donna. And if you are reading this and are not located nearby, do not fear - Joe’s Italian Deli ships!
6) Mike's Deli The Original Arthur Avenue Deli
2344 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY 10458
Whether you are taking out or dining in, Mike’s Deli, owned by the Greco family, has gained national recognition for its food and specifically, their cheese. With a history that dates back to the late 1800’s, not only do some reviews claim that Mike’s Deli is the best lunch spot in The Bronx for authentic Italian food, but celebrity chefs rave about this Belmont-based deli! From Giada DeLaurentis who insists “You need to try the fresh homemade mozzarella from Mike’s Deli. It is the best around,” to LIdia Bastianich who has said, “I always pay a visit and get a sandwich at Mike’s Deli. There is an endless array of
cold cuts, marinated fish, olives, and even mozzarella,” Mike’s is on the national radar.
Clearly, Mike’s is revered as a cheese destination by professional foodies and the deli’s reputation is equally beloved by the local community and beyond.
7) Tino's Deli
2410 Arthur Avenue, Bronx, NY 10458
A fixture in Little Italy for over fifty years,Tino’s Deli recently relocated to a new location on Arthur Avenue in the bigger and renovated old Belmont Community Center. Among their many cheeses, one of the best is their bocconcini, which is available both salted and unsalted. According to Bronx Historical Tours owner, Alex Maruri “The bocconcini is delicious and so soft that it melts in your mouth.” Tino’s Deli is one of the stops on her Little Italy Tour for neighborhood students, where they offer the kids mozzarella making cheese classes.
Till next time,
The history of the Bronx and the people that contributed to its growth and expansion through the past few centuries is quite astounding, filled with remarkable facts.
For instance, were you aware that Sir Winston Churchill, one of England’s most prominent leaders, has a pedigree that hails from New York City, with relevant events and remnants that are important elements of the history of the Bronx? Indeed, and a colorful one at that.
England’s own son, Winston Churchill was the grandson of Leonard W. Jerome, an American financier. To any Bronxite, the name Jerome is a familiar one and quite common throughout the borough as a main Bronx thoroughfare, a reservoir, a park, a post office, apartment building complexes, and many other local businesses.
So how did one of the most influential and beloved leaders of the United Kingdom come to be a descendant of one of America’s wealthiest financiers? To answer this question, it is necessary to take an historic journey into the life of the man that Churchill himself referred to as “fierce.”
Born in 1817 in the town of Pompey in Onondaga County, New York, and raised on a farm, Leonard Walter Jerome was one of ten children, nine of which were boys, of Aurora Murray Jerome and Isaac Jerome. His father, Isaac, was a descendant of Timothy Jerome, a French Huguenot immigrant who arrived in the New York Colony in 1717.
Ironically, Jerome would drop out of Princeton, because he was not very good in math, and go on to attend Union College, where he studied law with his uncle, known as Judge Jerome and set up a practice in Rochester, New York. He later moved to New York City, where he became a stock speculator and promoter, becoming known as the “King of Wall Street.”
Both his career and personal life were filled with color, excitement and flamboyance. Achieving exorbitant financial success through his stock market investments, Jerome amassed and lost huge fortunes.
He socialized in high society circles and did business with other well known moguls of his time, including Cornelius Vanderbilt and August Belmont, and held interests in several railroad companies, among other ventures. As a patron of the arts, Jerome was a participant in the founding of the Academy of Music, one of New York City’s earliest opera houses.
His marriage to Clarissa Hall, the daughter of a wealthy Palmyra, New York family produced four daughters – Jeanette, Clarita, Leonie and Camille, who died at age eight. Rumor has it that his three daughters became known, in some quarters, as “the Good, the Witty and the Beautiful”. Leonard Jerome was known to indulge his wife and daughters to an enormous extent and this included them spending extended periods of time in Europe, where they socialized with the aristocratic elite of the day.
.The financier was also quite an outdoorsman with a strong affinity for hunting and horse racing. According to records, he went on hunting trips throughout the American west, guided by Buffalo Bill Cody. However, it was his love of horse racing for which he is most well known.
Before it was known as the Bronx, and still annexed as part of Westchester County, back in 1866, Jerome purchased the estate and mansion of James Bathgate near Old Fordham Village and built Jerome Park Racetrack on the Bathgate land. In partnership with August Belmont, the racetrack held the first Belmont Stakes in 1867 and remained active until 1891.
Jerome Racetrack was acquired and demolished by the city in 1894, to make way for Jerome Park Reservoir. The lovely Bathgate mansion was retained by the Jerome family and enjoyed as a summer home for a few years. In the early 1900s, the mansion was razed and replaced by the Kingsbridge Armory, which still stands.
So, where does Winston Churchill fit into this picture? With Jerome’s wife and daughters spending much of their time in Europe, all three of his daughters would eventually marry British men. His daughter Jeanette, known as “Jennie” married Lord Randolph Churchill, the younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, and would thereafter become known as Lady Randolph Spencer-Churchill.
Together they had two sons, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill and John Strange Spencer-Churchill. Winston, would of course become Prime Minister of England from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955.
As a child Winston was not the best of students and often misbehaved. Receiving news that young Winston “seemed backward,” as a result of poor school reports, it was his maternal grandfather, Jerome, who is quoted as saying, “Let him be. Boys get good at what they find they shine in.” And nothing could have been more accurate as history has proven from Winston Churchill’s illustrious career as a statesman.
It is evident that the grandfather of the British Prime Minister left his legacy on the Bronx through the numerous namesakes which still exist today with that legacy extending across the pond to the United Kingdom!
- Till next time,
Elisa is a travel blogger and freelance writer. She is co-founder of TravelinCousins.com travel blog and writes a weekly column for ThisIsTheBronx.info.