“Just two weeks ago, I was learning how to make hand-stretched mozzarella from 70-year-old men in Hoboken. It was awesome!” Jamie Png says with bright eyes. “And right over there, facing the windows, will be the work table where I’ll make our mozzarella.”
Png, a small woman with cat-eye glasses and glossy black hair, points to the front area of the soon-to-be Valley Shepherd Creamery cheese-making room. For now, the space is just drywall, framing and insulation, but the large windows, which face “Avenue D” on the 11th Street edge of Reading Terminal Market, are already installed. Curious passersby will be able to peer through and observe Png making cheeses by hand: clothbound cheddar, Stilton-esque blue (both aged in the market’s basement) and that fresh mozz. After years working in gourmet retail, and armed with plenty of training at the Valley Shepherd farm in Long Valley, N.J., Png is raring to go.
She isn’t the only one with a serious culinary background on the Philly Valley Shepherd crew. Manning the adjacent cheese shop will be Ezekial Ferguson, the tattooed sweetheart you might recognize from the Ninth Street Di Bruno Bros. Ferguson, sporting a well-worn La Quercia T-shirt reading “Life, Liberty and the Prosciutto of Happiness,” is passionate about quality foods. An expertly curated selection of cheeses — including those made in-house, some from Valley Shepherd’s farm and a few from other artisanal American cheesemakers — will be for sale alongside yogurts, jams and antipasti.
Chef Rebecca Foxman has been dreaming up a menu for Meltkraft, the grilled-cheese café that will also be located within the shop’s walls. Everything will feature Valley Shepherd’s cheeses and cultured butter, and will be served on local bread. Foxman, petite and bubbly, can’t stop smiling as she recounts some of her more wonderfully bizarre creations. The “mac and cow” reads like an instant Philly classic: macaroni and cheese made with Valley Thunder aged cheddar and Passover-style brisket nestled in an unholy union on a soft Pullman loaf. “All the grilled cheeses are chef-forward, seasonal and unique,” she says.
The cheese counter and Meltkraft are great ideas, but the cheese-making operation is really what makes this Valley Shepherd operation stand out. “This aspect of the store is what our owner, Eran Wajswol, believes in,” Ferguson explains. “Education about cheese and the direct sales of our products to the public are his business model and mission.” The store isn’t open quite yet — before Christmas, all three employees vow — but when it does open, fresh milk will be trucked in weekly, and you’ll get to see its transformation into local cheese with your very eyes.
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