Before I left home for college, my mother solemnly gave me a piece of very sage advice:
“Jocelyn,” she said “never buy cheap parmesan.”
So even when I was scraping the bottom of my purse for subway fare in my early twenties, I remembered my mother’s words and always managed to have good cheese. Luckily, my first apartment in the New York City was across the street from Di Palo’s in Little Italy and I visited weekly. It is the standard to which I hold all cheese purveyors. The line at Di Palo’s was predictably long and slow, but I never minded. When it was your turn, it didn’t matter if you were spending $5 or $150, owner Louie gave you his undivided attention. And this is what made cheese shopping there so satisfying. It wasn’t the quality and selection of cheeses- although these were stellar. It was the unhurried way in which Louie guided you through each taste- describing the environmental conditions that created the cheese (“This cheese came from cows who grazed on fresh spring grass on a hillside in Tuscany…”). He encouraged you to savor the nuances and waited expectedly to see if you recognized what he described.
Fawn is an artist; her work hangs on the walls of the shop, which also carries a wide array of specialty foods and custom gift baskets. She fell in love with cheese several years ago on a warm August day at her father’s lakeside Connecticut house. Her sister worked at a cheese store and brought a feast of cheeses for the family to try. Fawn described to me the coup de foudre she experienced as she tasted the perfectly soft and enticing Humbolt Fog. Fawn devoured the cheese and when it was done sat contemplating the plate, wondering if her family would notice if she used her finger to gather the remaining morsels. It was at that moment that she decided to open her own cheese shop. A woman after my own heart.
Foxglove and Madison Cheese carries a selection of cheeses, which are divided into clear categories on a large black chalkboard: “Bloomy Rind,” “Pungent and Stinky,” “Sheep Cheeses,”etc. Fawn was happy not only to give samples of cheeses I asked to try- but also suggested new cheeses, encouraging me to expand my palate. No rush, and no disappointment when I didn’t like something.
She proudly described Foxglove’s signature gourmet grilled cheeses. Let me first say I love the recklessness of a grilled cheese made with really good cheese. It is akin to Julia Child’s well known declaration that you should ”Only cook with wine you’d drink.”
Fawn offers many different sandwiches; I tried a sandwich made with fresh whole grain bread from Judie’s European Bakery and Cafe and a French Raclette. The texture of the Judie’s bread perfectly balanced the sweet melted raclette. Fawn used plenty of butter and a sandwich press to create this simple but gourmet lunch. It was filling and deliciously satisfying. I’ll never go back to Land-o-lakes again.
Make a point to visit Fawn Nebinger and her son Ian Hagerty – take your time, enjoy both the excellent cheese and service. You won’t be disappointed.
Foxglove and Madison Cheese
119 Samson Rock Drive, Madison, CT 203.245.5168
Hours: Tues.- Sat., 10am-6pm; Closed Sun. & Mon. (Call ahead if you might arrive after 6pm- Fawn often happy to wait!)