This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers: There's No Place Like Home, or All the World Loves a Market
off, sorry cheese lovers for the lack of communication over these past
few weeks. I was out of town, playing serious hooky and eating as much
Costa Rican cheese as I could get my paws on. The mecca to conduct this
glorious (and a bit gluttonous) sampling was none other than San Jose's
historic central market, a sturdy, amiable, and decidedly simple edifice
nestled into the heart of town.
into the cramped, bustling corridors of this 1880's market gave me
pause because for many years, customers entering the Essex Market for
the first time, though they hail from destinations across the globe all
have the same comment: 'This market reminds me of home.' There is some
kind of universal sensibility that allows people to recognize and
immediately identify with a public market. They wander the aisles, their
eyes taking in the myriad piles of fruits and vegetables, ogling tiers
of baked goods, smelling bunches of dried herbs hanging from hooks, and
sizing up slabs of meat.
many ways, San Jose's Central Market is very much like Essex: a simple
square of a building, low to the ground, stalls divided from one another
by steel beams, with high ceilings and skylights of glass enmeshed with
shatterproof wire to let the daylight seep through. However, if the Essex Market boasts 30 stalls, San Jose's has 300. The place is
absolutely labyrinthine, or perhaps more appropriately, onion-esque, with a core of stalls at the center extending outward towards the edges
of the building in hectic concentric layers.
sensation of wandering this market is one of true wonder (and a bit of
vertigo) as you try to make your way around, and is even more baffling when trying to find your way back to a particular stall. Hansel and
Gretel's breadcrumbed and backward GPS system would have definitely come
in handy more than a handful of times as I tried to retrace my steps back to some especially lovely vendors.
was the old gentleman with all manner of knives... I was in search of
one small enough to make a picnic with, but his shop was a nod to the
overwhelming nature of the rainforest, agriculture, and the sprawl of
the city over the years. He sold everything from pocket knives to full
on machetes. Coils of lasso with varying thicknesses and colors adorned
the walls from floor to ceiling.
there was the helados shop, a business started in 1901 and thriving
till the present day with just one perfectly sweet and refreshing flavor of sorbet: vanilla mixed with cinnamon. Young boys in blue caps and
aprons served a clamoring clientele that flanked the stall's three
outward facing countertops, dutifully scooping mounds of the ochre-colored confection as quickly as it was gobbled up.
cheese shops were simple affairs, consisting of refrigerated display
cases filled with trays of locally made fresh cheese. The most popular
was a cheese called Turrialba named after a nearby town. Soft
and queso fresco-like, the cheese was sold in three stages of ripeness:
'tierno' meaning soft and fresh, semi-curado, and curado. Then there was
the queso palmita: a mozzarella-like ball of cheese named for
its likeness to heart of palm.When cut open, circular layers of cheese
surround one another concealing a tart and lemony core of fresh curd.
But the most impressive sights of all were the sodas,
diminutive mom and pop lunch counters that served quick, hearty, and simple meals to marketgoers. The one that we stopped at made me blush
for ever calling my own shop small. It was no more that 6 feet by 6
feet, and contained three workers, a cutting board station, a sink, and a
small flat-top grill where my lunch of tortillas and salchichon with
shredded lettuce and crema was prepared. We cozied up next to our
neighbor on two of their three stools and savored our delicious lunch. The kicker came when the woman washing the vegetables loaded a bus tub
of dirty dishes onto what appeared to be a low-hanging shelf, only to
watch it be hauled up via pulley onto their second floor of operations! A
tiny room was perched atop the I-beams of the diner, cloaked in corrugated metal. It is to this day the tiniest restaurant I have ever
I sign off this week with a rallying cry (and I guess a bit of a gushy
love letter) for markets. In their very humble way, they are among our
cities' most important assets.
offers a premier selection of American farmstead cheese, focusing on cheeses produced in the Northeastern United States. Co-owners Anne Saxelby and Benoit Breal pride themselves on selecting cheeses from small producers who farm sustainably with respect for their land and animals. The range of cheeses available at Saxelby Cheesemongers changes throughout the year as we work with and celebrate the seasonal nature of cheesemaking.