When you walk into the new cheese shop in Babylon Village, Babylon Cheese Cellar, the smell is an immediate sign that cheese is serious business. The aromas of cheeses from all over the world permeate the small Deer Park Avenue fromagerie, and it's no wonder: there is cheese everywhere. Big wheels are stacked on the counter, and cheese expert and consultant Patrick Ambrosio constantly cuts into different varieties for customers to taste while they browse.
Ambrosio, along with owners Nina and Anthony Latino, want the customer experience to be educational, and hope to inspire locals to explore the world of good cheese. Nina Latino admits that her cheese education is still a work in progress—"I've always been an adventurous eater, being from Russia, and living and eating out in New York City, but I am learning more and more every day," she says—and so when she and her husband decided to open the specialty store, they brought on their "cheese guy" Ambrosio, a Huntington resident.
A veteran cheese monger who has worked for Dean & Deluca, Ambrosio is excited to be on the forefront of a relatively new American foodie wave: the cheese revolution.
"Cheese is still new in America," he says, "but customers here have been very receptive and so far have had very sophisticated tastes."
Latino agrees: "The first week after we opened we knew we had chosen the right town to open in. We've gotten great feedback and we already have a lot of regulars."
Latino and her husband, who works in the wholesale food industry, live in Holbrook with a young son, and after considering opening shop in the city, decided to stick closer to home. They shopped around for a suitable retail space in a South Shore village and ultimately settled on Babylon Village, opening in early December.
Many customers on a recent weekday morning were eager to get suggestions and try out different cheeses. Some wanted to bring something special to a party while others were trying to remember the name of a cheese they had tried, and liked, once. One man reported that he had been chosen to bring the cheese to a New Year's Eve party but laughed that "they picked the wrong guy. I know nothing about cheese."
Ambrosio got right to work, slicing into some large wheels behind the counter, offering each one as a taste, and taking the customer's reactions as a cue for the next round of trial and error.
Latino notes that she wants shoppers to taste first: "How can you come in and spend money without knowing if you like it or not?"
"A lot of customers are surprised to learn that we sell some basic cheeses, like Parmesan, at comparable prices to the supermarket. There are some good value cheeses out there," explains Ambrosio.
Perennial favorites such as brie have been big sellers, he says, but he also finds aged goudas and gruyeres tend to please most people's palettes. The Cheese Cellar will carry a representative selection of the best American and European cheeses, according to Ambrosio.
The shop also sells appetizer foods that pair with cheese, like chutneys, salami and pate. Cheese sells for $10 to $32 per pound, with most in the $16 to $18 per pound range. The store also offers custom gift baskets at various price points. The Babylon Cheese Cellar is located at 51 Deer Park Ave, 631-983-8804.