When I first heard that Di Bruno Bros. on 9th Street was undergoing a rehab, I experienced a shockwave of panic. As anyone who shops at the family’s original store in the Italian Market knows, this 765-square-foot cheese shop is “cozy” – a dairy warren with cured meat stalactites. Around the holidays, the place turns into a sardine can with lines stretching around the block, and yet that’s part of the store’s charm. As you jostle and sample, random conversations get sparked, and you’re just as likely to swap cheer with a hipster as you are an old timer.
On Sunday, October 23, the old store got gutted. A giant deli cooler that had anchored the shop’s mid-section since the ‘40s was wheeled out on roller skates. Old countertops followed, along with battered cupboards. In their place, new metal shelving rose from the floorboards, and a shiny set of refrigerators – a low “coffin” cooler for soft cheeses and a wall fridge for hanging hams – appeared.
Ninth Street is now “a much better theater for cheese,” according to cheesemonger Ian Peacock, who has worked behind the counter for five years. “We’ve got more room to sample and demo, and the sight lines are clear. It’s going to help us serve customers better since we have more counter space.”
Next time you’re down in the Italian Market, stop in and have a look around. The changes may not be immediately noticeable to you, but you might sense a little more breathing room and notice a few new products on the shelves.
Here’s what I took a shine to this past week when I stopped in to sniff out the new digs:
If you need a fall cheese to pair with hard cider, try this lush mixed-milk softie from northern Italy. With a hint of hay and a finish that calls to mind yeasty beignets, Robiola is just right for transitioning into autumn. It’s also great paired with jams (try sour cherry) and toasted nuts.
Kimchi and cheese? You won’t believe it until you try it with an unctuous washed-rind cheese like Hooligan or Hudson Red. Big-shouldered, funky cheeses like these are tempered by heat, plus they emit a cellared cabbage smell that gyrates with anything fermented. Try a cheese and kimchi bánh mì, or just slather some stinky cheese on a chiabatta roll and stack some kimchi on top. Props to New York cheesemonger Anne Saxelby for inventing this combo. If you want to find out about MIL Kimchi, you can read up on it in The New York Times.
Communion Wafer Pasta
I can’t resist Catholic iconography in unexpected places, which is why these communion-wafer-shaped disks of pasta, called croxetti, caught my eye. Boil ‘em and smother ‘em in white sauce tossed with Gorgonzola, walnuts, and prosciutto. That’s the trinity, or at least a very decadent pre-winter meal.
For more cheese idolatry, please visit Madame Fromage.