Last weekend the Man and I went on a culinary adventure to Hudson, New York. The mission of our mini-journey was to visit Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions, the newly opened gem-of-a-food-shop that I had discovered online the week before. I was excited about my food find not only because it looked fantastic, but also because I knew owners Mona Talbott and Kate Arding practically 20 years ago, separately.
I was a kid with a mother who was obsessed with good food (I wonder where I got it from...), and was lucky enough to accompany her and my father on their visits to Chez Panisse Café, where Mona was the salad cook. My mother, being my mother, had a deluge of questions for Mona on every visit. And being the good sport that she is, Mona shared her secrets of olive oil and specialty vinegars with my mom which meant a lot of time spent at the salad station in Chez Panisse's open kitchen. A few years later a teacher of mine was planning her wedding, which meant more food-talk time with Mona as the caterer; my mother was in heaven.
My own food journey took me to work at Chez Panisse in 2009, at which point Mona was the Executive Chef at the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the American Academy in Rome. Mona and Alice Waters had founded the project just a few years before, and her name came up regularly in conversation both in the kitchen and offices at the restaurant.
And just last year her name came up again, only this time in my own house. The Man has been eyeing the American Academy in Rome and its Rome Prize, a fellowship awarded yearly to 30 emerging artists that grants them a year in Rome to explore and hone their talent (while eating amazing food). I was secretly proud of myself for knowing what he was talking about when he began telling me about the Academy, and naturally have interest in the Academy's food project myself because of Mona!
Ironically I met Kate in a completely unrelated way, at Cowgirl Creamery's Tomales Bay Foods in Point Reyes Station. My father was involved in preserving West Marin's farmland, and was on Marin Agricultural Land Trust's Board of Directors with Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery. Sue's then-new creamery cheese store needed an accomplished Head Cheesemonger, and Kate was the woman for the job, coming directly from the highly acclaimed Neal's Dairy Yard in the UK. Excited to support a friend's developing business, my father introduced my mother to the delicious shop, where she struck up many a conversation with Kate about cheese.
My mother still reminds me of a story Kate told her about selling cheese in the US for the first time. Apparently in England the cheese case is open, and the cheeses are unwrapped. When implementing the same practice in the US, Kate was horrified to learn that Americans touch everything, including blocks of unwrapped cheese in the open case! Sadly her European open-air cheese technique had to be adapted to accommodate our touchy culture...
We weren't disappointed, the Man and I. I knew Talbott & Arding would be an amazing shop, but it exceeded even my sky-high expectations. We sat on the bench by the front window and nibbled on grape leaves with seasoned rice, artichoke hearts, and pickled vegetables from the cold case. Going back for more, the Man discovered a savory onion tart that he had warmed up, and I devoured the toasted quinoa salad with fennel and and herbs. Our third trip to the register yielded a bar of chocolate, a piece of almond cake, and cheese. And our fourth, a chocolate walnut cookie. It was getting embarrassing.
Everything was perfect. The dolmas were moist and tender, the rice perfectly seasoned. The pickled vegetables were a lovely texture and vinegary to my liking. The quinoa and fennel salad had me making those strange noises people make with a mouth full of something exquisite. The savory onion tart blew the Man away, which pleased me greatly because I urged him to get it knowing that Kate's cheese and Mona's Chez Panisse experience would marry and create the most heavenly bite of the day. (If you're at Chez Panisse and there's a savory tart on the menu, get it. No matter what. It will knock your socks off.) The sweets were equally as mouthwatering. The almond cake was devoured so quickly I didn't have a chance to snap a photo, as was the cookie. The cheese was enjoyed the next evening with some Armagnac we purchased at Hudson Valley Wine Merchants down the street, and quickly vanished as well.
The afternoon at Talbott & Arding was so enjoyable that despite a conversation about the strict parking enforcement on Warren Street in Hudson, I completely lost track of time and had long overstayed my meter's limit. And that isn't something I typically forget... I was busy admiring jars of fresh homemade sauces, beautiful eggs, and neatly tied bags of crackers and granola. Needless to say the staff was knowledgeable, and seemed perfectly content to have us occupy their front window all afternoon. We watched people come and go- ooh and ahh over the beautifully remodeled store front, and ooh and ahh again once they put something delectable in their mouths. Weekenders up from Manhattan and Brooklyn, and local shop owners alike shared in the experience. An experience dedicated to the beauty of food. Taste, sight, and smell. I think I'll have to go again this weekend...