As we know — sometimes all too well — there’s quite a bit lurking beneath this bustling metropolis. Rats. Roaches. Abandoned subway tunnels. Heck, even FDR’s old train car on the mysterious Track 61. This new addition to the bunch is undoubtedly the most delicious, though. Climb on down with us to the new pinnacle of subterranean NYC: the underground cheese cave.
The building at 925 Bergen Street has seen many days in Crown Heights, where it has watched over the mostly-industrial block since the 1880s. Since then, the red brick facade has provided a home for the likes of Nassau Brewery, Heinz Ketchup and Monti Moving & Storage. These days, the name remains, but the tenants have changed. A growing number of Brooklyn artists have set up shop in the Monti Building’s renovated skeleton, giving a new life to well-worn bones, with endeavors ranging from sculpture and painting to film production and woodworking.
The brains of the operation? Benton Brown and Susan Boyle. The husband-and-wife team first bought the space while looking for a place in the neighborhood that could double as both living quarters and sculpture studio. Fast-forward to 2014, and the place has a long lineup of Brooklyn businesses that call 925 Bergen home. The only thing still missing was a venture that could explore the maze of underground tunnels left behind from the building’s brewery days. Brown and Boyle’s grand plan? Crown Finish Caves. They’ve been quietly restoring the subterranean space to accommodate an unprecedented amount of fromage. The cave will be the largest of its kind in the city – sporting multiple tunnels. Each will home to different varieties of cheese, aging at varying climes until they’re ready to be sent out to markets around the city.
But why underground? Ever since mankind discovered cheese (good times!) aging it properly has meant doing so in an environment that is consistently cool and humid: i.e. caves. The process is commonly known as “affinage.” According to the American Cheese Society — what? of course we have one, you guys — the term “comes from the French verb affiner that comes from the Latin ‘ad finis,’ meaning ‘towards the limit,’” and the affineur is the person who ages cheeses.” In practice, it “describes the ageing and maturing of cheese.” So that Eagles song was referencing a 3-month-old block of cheddar. (Probably.)
For cheesemongers, time spent on cavern shelves is when young varieties begin to acquire their unique tastes and textures. Completing the process 100% by the book then typically means a strict regimen of checking the cave’s temperature and humidity, then either turning, washing, brining or brushing the cheese with different solutions. The aging process still varies quite a bit though. Hence, the role of the affineur is one that has been elevated to more of a fine art than a precise science in the field.
At Crown Finish, Brown and Boyle have partnered with Vermont-based cheese aficionados from the Parish Hill Creamery. As the lineup grows, they plan to do everything from a Suffolk Punch made Caciocavallo-style to a Kashar rounded into a basket shape, a Humble Herdsman washed in a local cider, or a West West Blue gorgonzola-type endeavor. All roads here end in something tasty.
Aging began at Crown Finish in May this year, so we’d recommend keeping a lustful eye out on the locales where they plan to sell the finished goods. They’ll be up for grabs at Eataly, Gottino, Greene Grape Provisions, Lucy’s Whey, Marcos, Marlow and Daughters, Saxelby Cheesemongers and Stinky Bklyn.