Consolidating the cheese: Columbia Cheese in Long Island City/NY

Long Island City ain’t Brooklyn, and it certainly ain’t gentrified. Walking north from Williamsburg, you soon leave the condos with pet-grooming salons and the waves of freshly roasted coffee behind, and once you pass Broadway Stages, you’re in a different world. Ten years ago, Adam Moskowitz tells me, this was a dangerous area. Five years ago, there still weren’t any sidewalks. Today, it continues to be a male dominated world. Its main feature: trucks, of all sizes and all sorts. Trucks are also what Adam’s business is built on: Larkin is a warehouse specializing in food of all kinds. And food of a special kind: Adam’s special little pet business under the Larkin roof is Columbia Cheese.

LarkinTo give you an idea: all those wheels and tomes and what-have-you from oversea not only have to get over the big pond, they also have to get through immigration, so to say, just like you and me at JFK, flying into New York. They are painstakingly grouped together on pallets, the pallets in containers, each with their own stash of documents and invoices (in foreign languages and metric weights, Adam says with a grimace), all of it time-sequenced.

Adam MoskowitzAdam (who took over from his father Joe) and his capable team are the consolidators who actually make it happen: they get all those lovely beauties off the pier, past the FDA and customs and to cheesemongers all over the US. That means they also deal with the FDA regarding raw milk alerts, having samples drawn, and cheese put on hold… „The best practice people are the small business people, and they are suffering,“ is Adam’s laconic comment when I recently went to see him.

As if Columbia Cheese as such wouldn’t be enough, Adam created his own stage within the Larkin realm: Since a year or so the Barnyard Collective is residing in a beautiful corner of the warehouse, an education space furnished by custom-made furniture created from pallets, with DJ tables and a piano. Here cheesemongers and sommeliers congregate to talk cheese, flavors, pairings, wine, beer, spirits… „I am an artist first,“ Adam tells me, „I am a DJ, a poet, a painter. I love cheese because I love culture. I am a city kid, and through cheese I connect back to the land. For me it’s a philosophy, and we’ve seen a big wave of interest and support.“ This could all be a lot of sweet talk, but the man knows what he’s talking about. He gets out his special, custom-made set of mongers‘ knives and has me tasting a southern French cheese from the Pyrenees made from raw ewe’s milk. A little strong on the salt, we both agree, but a cheese with a story, something we both appreciate very much.

Adam's cheeseknivesIt is thanks to Adam and Columbia Cheese thatI’ve been able to tour the US east coast (and Toronto!) with those gorgeous Alpine cheeses from my friends at Kaeskuche – who are the only people who, believe it or not, bring high quality, artisan German cheese to US cheese counters. That seductive, addictively sweet Bavarian blue with the curious name of Chiriboga, that’s them too… and all of it goes through Adam’s realm in Long Island City, about half a million pounds of cheese a week.

Barnyard CollectiveAs if that wasn’t enough seven years ago, Adam came up with the idea if the Cheesemonger Invitational. It started as a party. „I just wanted to invite my cheese friends to the warehouse to have some fun,“ Adam tells me. Moskowitz senior wasn’t much in favor of such a frivolous idea, so his son turned it into a more serious sounding proposition. Today is a three day professionals‘ get-together and ambitious if friendly competition with panels and discussions that takes places every year in New York in June and in San Francisco in January and has been instrumental in building the community.  For some reason I have never been – needless to say it’s top on my list.

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