There has been a lot of talk about the newest New York Whole Foods that opened up a few weeks ago on the Lower East Side. The store features Whole Foods' first ever Fromagerie. Though they have always had a reasonably large cheese selection, I’ve never been impressed with the cheese departments at other WF stores. There’s simply too much precut (great for the grab-and-go consumer, not so great for the cheese itself) and lackluster cheese. After hearing that both French affineur extraordinaire Hervé Mons and England's Neal’s Yard Dairy were involved, my interest was suitably peaked. I had to investigate.
I arrived in the early afternoon on a weekday. Unlike the Union Square location, the Bowery store was surprisingly quiet, almost serene. The Fromagerie is easy to spot with windows from the street allow passersby to peer in at the cheese inside. A short trip past their normal cheese department brings you to a pair of sliding doors, inside or which is the Fromagerie.
Since it was early, I was the only customer in there and found myself positively surrounded by cheesemongers (not exactly an unfamiliar experience for me). Samples were not only freely given, but, for a bit, I felt positively inundated with them. As soon as I finished one, it seemed another cheesemonger was there, ready to offer more. There was no pressure to buy, and the mongers were very friendly. It felt a little like I’d stumbled into a staff tasting.
As for the cheese offerings themselves, I was incredibly impressed. In that small, temperature controlled room were wheels upon wheels of what would be considered “top shelf” cheeses. American varieties, like Sprout Creek’s sharp and salty Ouray, sat next to Italian gems like Cora’s Caprino Noce and Robiola La Rossa. An epoisses from Hervé Mons looked so good, it inspired awe. As a cheesemonger, I was even secretly excited by the sleek workstations, with wires built into the countertop above a line of shelves for cheese paper and the like, all so well designed that they almost seemed hidden. Yes, I was a little jealous.
With all of this high quality cheese, though, comes the price tag. These are not inexpensive cheeses (for that, they still have the same regular cheese department right outside the Fromagerie doors), but the prices are comparable and certainly not out of line with what you’d pay elsewhere. Truly, I can’t see the average person shopping there. The Fromagerie is definitely catered toward the cheese connoisseur, something there seems to be no lack of in this city. Personally, I walked out of there having spent considerably more and enjoyed myself considerably more than I had planned. I strongly encourage any cheese fans in the city to make a beeline to the Bowery Whole Foods and check it out for themselves.