Photos and Article by Barbara Heins
Every cheese has a story, and cheesemongers Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo and their able staff c an’t wait to share those stories with Greenwich, CT residents. After two months of renovation, transforming the former Laundromat in ‘The Hub’ of Cos Cob into Greenwich’s only cheese shop became a reality on December 11. Literally moments before Downey and Palumbo unlocked the front door of the 154 E. Putnam Ave. storefront, the cheese duo got the final thumbs-up from the Greenwich Health Department to let residents come, taste, and buy from the selection of nearly 100 artisanal cheeses and charcuterie that fill their cases.
Downey and Palumbo have been partners in the Fairfield Cheese Co. in Fairfield, CT for five years and they decided to take the plunge and expand their business to Greenwich. “This is the best selected, curated cheese selection. We select and choose carefully. It’s all fresh, it’s not pre-cut and wrapped in plastic like supermarkets,” Downey explained as customers checked out the gleaming shop moments after the doors were unlocked. “We can tell you the story of each cheese, where it came from. We encourage tasting — each cheese has a seasonality, variations from what the animals are eating. We know the story behind the cheese,” Downey said. The farms they deal with are sustainable and the animals are free-range. “Happy animals produce happy foods,” Downey said.
For Downey, her interest in cheese is a natural progression from growing up in Europe “and having European parents who knew what real food was. We cooked real food everyday — we didn’t go out to restaurants,” explained the long-time Fairfield resident. I love to entertain and serve great food.” As her children grew older, Downey pursued a career outside the home and eventually settled upon opening the Fairfield Cheese Co. with Palumbo. The pair have grown their Fairfield business to the point where it was named one of the top 10 cheese shops in the U.S. by Food & Wine magazine this year.
Whether it’s hard cheeses, or creamy soft cheeses such as brie, mozzarella, ricotta or burrata, or a subtle cheddar-like Cheshire cheese, the shop sources its inventory from small, artisanal craftsmen. The same goes for the charcuterie with an array of prosciuttos, pates, coppas, jamon serrano and salami. There are breads from the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and an olive bar. Shelves are filled with regionally-sourced specialty olive oils, pastas, jams and crackers — including crackers from Emilie’s Pure & Simple Kitchen in Old Greenwich.
Downey said that eventually the Greenwich Cheese Co. will carry on the tradition of cheese tasting classes, creating gift baskets and cheese platters that have become a staple at the Fairfield Cheese Co. After the New Year, the plan is to add a variety of sandwiches and soups every day. The shop is managed by cheesemonger Kevin DeFreitas who got his start at the Darien Cheese Shop, with Downey and Palumbo who will split their time between their two shops. “Cheese can be intimidating, just like wine can be intimidating,” said DeFreitas. “Here you can taste all of the cheese to find your likes and preferences. It’s nice to be able to have a conversation with someone who’s knowledgeable.”