#Shopsmall: Meet Anne Saxelby owner of Saxelby Cheese
November 7, 2020
To kick off our #shopsmall series for the month of November we’re highlighting Anne Saxelby, founder of Saxelby Cheese located in Chelsea Market. Saxelby Cheese is a neighborhood and NYC staple for American and artisan cheese. In fact, Saxelby Cheese was the first cheese shop in the city dedicated to American Artisanal cheese. We were thrilled to find out that Anne just released a book called “The New Rules of Cheese” which teaches you everything from how to build a perfect cheese platter to the history and fundamentals of cheesemaking, just in time for holiday gifting. Read more about Anne below from how she started her business to what her favorite cheese is, and remember to shop small this season and always.
How’d you get your start as a cheesemonger?
I never intended to get into cheese… (who does?) I was a wayward art student. I studied studio art as an undergrad at NYU, but didn’t want to get into the art world after college. I LOVED food, wine and cheese in particular, so I got a job as a cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese and later interned as a cheesemaker on local farms as well as farms in France.
What inspired you to open your own shop?
I always wanted to have my own business… from the time I was little I was always trying to think of a way to sell something… I’d have garage sales, lemonade stands, sell painted rocks around the neighborhood, anything really! As I learned more about cheese and traveled, I became inspired by the cheese shops in France, which are very focused on just a few products. They’re not catchall gourmet shops – they choose their cheeses carefully and really focus on that. When I opened, that’s what I wanted to emulate. Over the years we’ve added a few things to our lineup besides cheese (beer, cider, some accompaniments), but we try to curate the selection really carefully to showcase our favorite cheeses and cheese-friendly items.
Saxelby Cheese is Manhattan’s first cheese shop dedicated to American Artisanal Cheese. Why was it important to you to sell and highlight American cheese?
I was so inspired by the artisan cheese revolution that has been happening in America for the past 30 or so years. American cheesemakers literally reinvented the wheel here and grew an industry from the ground up. I find that very exciting and inspiring. Most of the cheesemakers we work with don’t come from cheese or dairy backgrounds. They’re creatives, activists, software engineers, social workers, who’ve all been drawn to cheese. To me their stories and who they are as people are just as important a piece of the puzzle as the delicious cheeses they make. When I opened in 2006, no one was focusing only on domestic, local producers. I felt like these cheeses needed a pedestal and a champion, and that’s who I wanted to be.
How do you decide which cheeses you’ll bring to the shop?
Whenever we hear about a new cheese or cheesemaker, either because they contact us or because the cheese world is small and word of mouth travels fast, we try the cheeses and learn as much as we can about the farm and their practices. We want to make sure that the cheese is delicious, but also that the animals are being treated well, the farm is practicing sustainable agriculture, and that the cheesemaker’s food safety plans are all in order. We also want to make sure that when we’re bringing in something new that it’s different enough and complements the cheeses we already carry.
You just released a new book “The New Rules of Cheese”, can you tell us a little bit about what’s inside (and where we can get a copy)?
‘The New Rules of Cheese’ is a quirky and informative guide that is made up of 52 short essays about cheese, cheesemaking, and cheese appreciation. I think of it as everything I’ve ever wanted to tell a customer or a chef or a cheese lover all bundled into one cute little book. There’s a bit of cheese history, cheesemaking 101, as well as tips on how to buy, store and serve cheese, how to cook with cheese, and how eating cheese can help save the planet! You can buy a signed copy on our website, saxelbycheese.com, or order a copy from your favorite independent bookseller. You can also get it on Amazon, but if you can get it from a small shop, so much the better!
What’s it like being at Chelsea Local?
We love being a part of the Chelsea Local. The Local is a collection of some of the best mom and pop grocers in New York. You won’t find better meat, cheese, pasta, fruits and veg, and now Asian grocery items with Pearl River Mart Foods! I love that the businesses in the Local aren’t just copied and pasted versions of places you can shop in other parts of New York. We’re a community of legit small businesses with expertise and delicious food to share!
Why is it important now more than ever to shop small?
Now more than ever, when 1 in 6 small businesses in the US are closing their doors, it is SO important to support your favorite local shops and restaurants. Amazon might be ‘easier’, but in my opinion, it’s worth the extra effort (not to mention WAY tastier and more interesting) to develop a relationship with local businesses. Also, unlike Amazon, small businesses owners and entrepreneurs want to find ways to help get you the goods, so to speak, and can be more responsive and personal and creative to help get you what you need. We need every customer we can get to pull through this! Small businesses are what makes New York a vibrant, interesting, wonderful place to live. We need them to survive this pandemic!
How have you navigated Covid-19 when it came to the shop?
We made the decision to stay open as an essential business, and have prided ourselves on being there for our neighbors – both in person and via Mercato.com and more recently via Uber Grocery. We had to downsize and have a smaller core staff, and are taking every precaution to keep our employees and customers safe.
Favorite cheese at the moment?
Ooh – Rush Creek Reserve. It’s a seasonal, raw cow’s milk cheese from Uplands Cheese Company that is only available in November and December each year. It’s a soft, bark-wrapped cheese that tastes like creme fraiche, fruit, mustard, and smoked meat all in one go. And it’s gooey enough to schmear on bread, crackers, donuts, whatever you need to do to survive these days…
What are some words of encouragement you’ve used for yourself or others for this year?
Keep going, stay positive, be creative, be willing to tear everything down and try a new way, but keep the faith. We’re going to get through this.