Cheese as art
Antonelli's: Hyde Park's little cheese shop that could
As the daughter of a French Chef, cheese was always a staple in our household. I’m not talking about the kind that is manufactured by Kraft; I’m talking about good, old stinking cheese. The kind of cheese that at room temperature, begins to turn runny and buttery. The kind that smells rancid and looks moldy, but tastes heavenly. These are the kind of cheeses that bring me back to our family vacations in France.
But now, there’s no need to travel all the way to France to stock up on fine cheeses. A simple drive to Antonelli’s Cheese Shop in Hyde Park will do. And very much like Cantin, my favorite cheese shop in Paris, Antonelli’s is a boutique cheese shop with an incredibly knowledgeable staff and a small yet robust selection of cheeses that are handpicked by cheese buyer and connoisseur, Kelly Sheehan.
“If I were a cheese curator and this was my gallery; these would be the cheeses that I would want to display.” - Kelly Sheehan
I dropped by Antonelli’s and spent an afternoon picking Sheehan’s brain about cheese, finding out what it’s like to work in one of Austin’s coolest gourmet shops.
Sheehan’s experience with cheese is impressive. As a college student studying abroad, her obsession with cheese was sparked by frequent trips to Barthélémy, a well-known fromagerie located in her Parisian neighborhood. Soon thereafter, she began attending cheese fairs and visiting cheese makers in Southern France.
When Sheehan returned stateside, she joined the cheese department at Austin's Central Market and was later promoted to lead cheesemonger, a role that allowed her order cheeses and ultimately expand her palate further. “[Central Market] carried over 800 cheeses, but whenever I saw something cool or different, I would order one wheel and sneak it in and try it. That’s when I truly started learning about cheese and their different ripeness,” she says.
While working at Central Market, Sheehan befriended John and Kendall Antonelli, who would rely on Sheehan’s spot-on recommendations and pairings for their DIY cheese club. About a year ago, the Antonelli cheese club became Austin’s first cheese shop and when they were in need of an ace cheesemonger and buyer, they tapped Sheehan, who has since drawn the attention of New York’s most famous cheese shop, Murray’s.
But it’s very apparent that Sheehan is not going anywhere. She proudly glances over at Antonelli's display cases as if they were works of art and says, “If I were a cheese curator and this was my gallery; these would be the cheeses that I would want to display.”
And what makes Antonelli’s Cheese Shop so special? They offer an intimate cheese buying experience, as well as carry a number of local charcuterie meats, breads, olives and spreads. Customers are encouraged to sample all the wonderfully handpicked cheeses and each cheesemonger is happy to offer recommendations and information about each product.
It was also imperative to owners, John and Kendall Antonelli, that they act as a voice for all the cheese makers they work with and learn about the process that goes into each item they sell. The store tries to carry 50% domestic cheeses, but don’t be fooled; these aren’t boring Wisconsin cheddars. Their domestics include one of my favorites, Caveman Blue by Rogue Creamery in Oregon and Kelly Sheehan’s top pick, Landaff, which is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, VT.
Leaving Antonelli’s with a bag full of delicious things, I was inspired to go home and make a mind-blowing grilled cheese sandwich. (Sidenote: When it comes time to properly storing cheese, Sheehan recommends using parchment or wax paper rather than plastic wrap. For stronger smelling cheese, storing it in Tupperware and placing it in your crisper is ideal.) Here’s what I came up with:
Lavie's Ultimate Grilled Cheese:
Two slices of thick sourdough, each slice buttered on one side
Several slices of Raclette cheese
½ of a Spanish onion
1 Cup of Cherry tomatoes
1 Clove of minced garlic
1 Sprig of Rosemary
¼ Cup of Thompson raisins
Salt and sugar to taste
I started by caramelizing the onions with olive oil and some water. Once the onions turned a rich brown, I removed them from the heat. Then I buttered a side of each of my bread slices and set them aside. I sliced the tomatoes in half and placed them in a small saucepan to stew with a little bit of water on low heat. I added minced garlic, a sprig of rosemary and a pinch of salt and sugar to the tomatoes, before covering them with a lid. I covered the saucepan and began heating my cast iron griddle (You can also use a well oiled sauté pan). Once the tomatoes started to lose color and burst, I removed the rosemary sprig and pureed them in a food processor, making a paste. I returned the paste back to the saucepan and re-heated it on low, adding the raisins and sugar to taste. Once the paste reached a good spreadable consistency, I removed it from the heat and left it covered. I placed each slice of bread, buttered side down on the griddle. I quickly added slices of Raclette to one slice and smeared the tomato paste and added the caramelized onions to the other slice. Then I closed the sandwich by stacking the two slices and used a clean cast iron pan to weigh down the top slice (almost like a pannini). Once the cheese melted nicely, I removed it from the griddle and cut in half before eating. Bon Appetite!