289 Railroad Ave. Sayville, NY 631-750-5202
Erin Nicosia had a plan for her retirement. The Sayville native reckoned, "One day when I'm an old lady and I've finished my career, I'll settle down in my hometown and open a cheese store."
That day came July 17, 2010, when Nicosia, decades from retirement, opened American Cheese, specializing not in plastic-wrapped Kraft Singles but in domestic artisanal cheeses. The bright little shop stocks about 30 cheeses at any given time, three-quarters of which come from New York State.
Nicosia got her cheesemongering start in Sayville. During the summer of 2009, she started selling cheeses from Catapano Goat Dairy in Peconic and Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton at the town's farmers market. By the end of the season, she had added two more New York State dairies and had doubled her business. "I worked hard at the farmers market to promote myself and the idea of local cheeses. When I opened the store, I started out with my market customers."
Nicosia's business is customer-service oriented in the extreme since it's the rare customer who is familiar with her products. "They'll come in and say, 'Give me something sharp like a Cheddar,' and I'll let them taste the Tarentaise from Thistle Hill Farm in Vermont." If they come in asking for Brie? She has three options. "For something mild, I suggest Kunik from Nettle Meadow Goat Farm in Thurman, N.Y. A little earthier? Hudson Valley Camembert. If they want something gooey and nutty and mushroomy, it's Atlantic Mist from Long Island's own Mecox Bay."
While Nicosia could buy artisanal cheeses from Europe, she is bullish on supporting the fledgling American farmstead cheese renaissance. -- Erica Marcus
Erin Nicosia, proprietor of American Cheese in West Sayville, embraces a wheel of Kunik cheese from Nettle Meadow Goat Farm in upstate Thurman. (Newsday Photo / Erica Marcus / Oct. 15, 2010)