The popularity of artisanal cheeses in the United States has been growing over the past few years. Once the near exclusive domain of French restaurants throughout Europe, these cheeses have taken root in the United States. Americans are developing their palates beyond their local supermarket and are seeking out cheese specialty shops.
Here in Westchester we have several choices. The newest one is in Pleasantville. Ivy Ronquillo, a local resident who realized her long-term dream in April, owns Second Mouse Cheese Shop at 357 Manville Rd., diagonally across from the Jacob Burns Film Center.
Recently, I sat with Ronquillo to gain her perspective on cheese as a specialty food and to better understand the underpinnings of her palate. We sat at a dining table, replete with a cheese board, in the sunny window, where customers can enjoy cheeses, charcuterie and prepared foods.
Here is a summary and excerpts from my conversation with Ronquillo:
“As for types of cheeses, my palate embraces goat and sheep. Their range of texture and the flavor of the places of origin keep me experimenting as new offerings arrive at the shop. Goat cheeses with bloomy rinds and bold minerality are my favorites.”
“Overall, I enjoy unique cheeses, those with their own personalities and traits. One of my favorite cheeses are Alpine cheeses. For my palate, they are buttery and nutty and pair so well with so many foods and wines. The artisanal cheeses of Switzerland consistently surprise me with their finesse, diversity and true expression of their place, their cheese terroir if you will. Try a Gruyere from one of the small producers in the Alps.”
Ronquillo clearly has a passion for her profession, her shop, her employees and especially her customers. I’ve seen her signature smile and bubbly effervescence each time a customer’s eyes light up when they sample a suggested offering of a previously unknown artisanal cheese or charcuterie. And each encounter seems to fuel her passion and enthusiasm for the next customer experience.
“I have always been a strong advocate of local products,” Ronquillo said. “Here at the Second Mouse I have the opportunity to offer local cheeses with local wines. Many folks don’t realize the bounty of the Hudson Valley, which is continuously gaining in popularity and esteem. I carry several outstanding cheeses sourced from the Hudson Valley and upstate New York. I typically pair them with a locally produced wine, which I offer in my shop.”
We shared our opinions on pairing individual cheeses with wine. With Brie? Ronquillo: Chardonnay and perhaps an Albarino from Hudson Valley’s Fjord Winery. Nick’s alternative: sparkling wine.
We both agreed on these two wines. We also agreed that the overall go-to wine for many cheeses is sparkling wine. The acidity of the underlying grapes, coupled with the carbonation of the finished wine, are marvelous for cutting through the fatty coating imparted by cheese on your tongue and mouth, clearing your palate and setting it up for the next bite.
But how did Ronquillo develop her love of cheese? What inspired her to open a retail cheese shop?
Her passion for specialty foods developed as she followed a winding path with several diversions. She tried her hand in the corporate advertising world, but never lost her inner passion. She decided to enroll in culinary school, further fueling her desire.
She then worked in the kitchens of celebrity chefs, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Terrance Brennan (where she realized her love for specialty cheese), then followed her dream to Murray’s Cheese Shop in Manhattan. After a side trip back to the advertising world, Ronquillo decided to venture once again into the world of cheese, working at a specialty cheese shop in Greenwich.
And 15 months later she opened the doors of Second Mouse, fulfilling her dreams of being an entrepreneur in the specialty foods market.
You can view the video interview with Ronquillo on my show, “Pleasantville Raw,” at the Pleasantville Community TV website www.PCTV76.org.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.