By Hairee Lee
With the rapid gentrification of the South Boston, Southies are taking greater interest foods that aren’t called, say, American cheese and Wonder bread (The first time I heard of this “cheese” I asked the man behind the deli counter in NYC what kind of cheese that was. I got a strange look and he said, “American.” I knew enough not to ask if he meant cheddar or something processed. It was “American.”)
American Provisions opened in the formerly and famously rough neighborhood last winter to fill the need for satisfying more sophisticated palates, the sort of palates long sated in other parts of the greater Boston area like Cambridge and Brookline accommodated by establishments like Formaggios, The Wine and Cheese Cask, Savenors, and more recently, Central Bottle, to name a few.
Co-owners, Matt Thayer and Andy Fadous (along with one other partner I didn’t get to meet), are smart: they saw a need in the neighborhood yet unfulfilled.
“We love food,” says Matt. “We care a lot about where our food comes from and had a commitment to serving good products and there was clearly a calling from foodies around here and there’s nothing to serve them in this neighborhood.”
When asked if the new gentrification of Southie is responsible for this need, Matt says, “I think that part of it, but I always say that one of the things I’m most proud of in this shop is the fact that we have the newer South Boston population, but also the old, hardcore, deep-rooted South Boston families that want good food.”
Matt and Andy met 10 years ago and have been friends since. They were always interested in food. “I [Matt] was working in non-profit in youth development and Andy was in working in corporate Bowes. We were both a little burnt out and looking for something else.”
When I ask him if being a private business owner is easier than his old work. Matt laughs and gives me a definitive, “No,” and laughs some more.
I asked Matt about the cheese he and Andy
“We love to sell local stuff. We think it’s the right thing to do. We like to support local vendors. At the same time, we recognize that a badass Parmiggiano Reggiano only comes from one place in the world and it’s not from Vermont.” He smiles and I can’t help laugh.
“So we’re not exclusively domestic. We have Italian prosciuttos, for instance, and sopressata that you had [on your Dorchester Heights picnic.]”
“We are not a deli. We sell sandwiches. Just an important distinction.”
I notice the deli meat slicer in the back the deli meats in the display cooler, the sandwich menu on the wall. Okay.
“When we opened we were really weary of selling sandwiches in the first place. There’s no real high quality sandwich shops and so we recognized a need for that but didn’t want to transform into a sandwich shop. First and foremost we’re a market, a cheese and meat shop that sells other specialty products. It’s funny, when we first opened we were like no we’re not selling sandwiches. And all these people were like ‘I want to get a sandwich. You sell these cheeses and you sell these meats. Why don’t you put it together for me?’ So then that’s what we started doing, putting the cheese and meats together on fresh bread for people.”
They listen to their customers.
Something else they realized their customers would appreciate: wine and beer to go with the cheese and meats. They are in the process of obtaining a license.
Matt and Andy work hard to know their stuff especially with the thought of helping their customers make good choices later one with wine and cheese pairings. Matt put it like this:
“We sell expensive stuff and that’s what this stuff costs. It’s expensive to sell artisan, small batch goats milk cheese. And so people need to be educated on what they’re buying. It’s intimidating for somebody to come in here and buy a $30 a pound cheese even a $20 a pound cheese. So important for us to know about what we’re providing.”
These guys a young company with an appetite to grow, hungry for success.
Taking the time to meet us, for instance, and take my interview, reading my first blurb about American Provisions in a blog after Dinner Series’ first visit to their shop on our way to a picnic, quickly parlaying that into a conversation about working with Dinner Series, is evidence of that.
They’ve also got their eyes on social media, fitting the shop with charming displays using antique furniture, creating signs made of hand drawn chalk artwork, proffering high quality foods that they educate themselves on in order to help their customers make good, smart choices is more proof of their desire for success by knowing their business. But the most definitive sign of the promise of success is watching them interact with their customers: they provide the kind of local shop service that I expect to see from having watched and worked at my parents’ shop for over two decades. I know good, sincere service when I see it and American Provisions’ got it.
And they seem to get it too: the quality of service they provide at the face-to-face exchange is where loyalities are formed and future business is promised. The counter is where the future of American Provisions will be insured and Matt and Andy are ensuring that
Matt and Andy’s choices for the cheese platter were:
Mimolette, an aged French Gouda. It was chosen because of its bright orange color, in fact, sometimes called the “Halloween Cheese” because of its hue. It’s made form cow’s milk and, brace yourself, cheese mites. “We chose it partly because it tastes great, has a bright orange color that’ll pop in your photos given the season of Halloween, but also because it has an unusual process.”
“The way they process the cheese is they dust it with cheese mites," explains Andy. "Some people are kind of freaked out by the process but it’s an important, integral part of the getting the texture and flavor of the cheese. They put [the cheese] in a cellar and age it. They have someone go into the cellar every week and dust of the cheese mites and turn it and the cheese mites come back and continue to go in there and do the work.”
It’s what gives the Mimolette the grey cantaloupe-y rind and flavor. Don't worry: no mites to worry about once they're at American Provisions for sale.
Brebis Abbaye de Belloc is made of sheeps milk in the French Pyrenees region. Still made in the traditional manner by Benedictine Monks at the abbey of Notre-Dame de Belloc. This is a gorgeous semi firm cheese with a sweet nutty flavor and a beautiful rind that looks almost like “snake skin,” according to Andy's.
“It’s a very very tasty, smooth, caramel-y cheese.” Caramel-y. That's Andy's word.
Constant Bliss is the soft domestic cheese choice made by Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont, the same people who made Moses Sleeper, which we enjoyed during Summer Cocktail #5. ((I don’t mention to Matt or Andy about my thoughts on Jasper's Ayrshire cows. They have 40 cows, announced proudly on their website. Cato Corner Farm, makers of Brigids Abbey, which we enjoyed for Dinner #14, also has 40 cows. What is with the 40 cows? The biblical connotation of that number is too glaring to ignore. The Flood in the book of Genesis, for instance, lasted 40 days and 40 nights. Moses went to the mountain to stay with God for 40 days. Twice. Goliath held the Isrealites hostage for 40 days before being sling shot slain by David. And then having his head cut off, besides. And, of course, Jesus’ famous fasting for 40 days and 40 night in the wilderness. Maybe they’re betting 40 will be a God pleasing number and He will protect their stock from disease and disasters. Whatever the reason for 40, those cows make good cheese milk.))
Andy informs me that Jasper Hill Farms is, “one of the best artisan cheese makers in the country. The cheese is named after a soldier, Constant Bliss, who was killed in battle [during the Revolutionary War] along with his comrade, Moses Sleeper, which they have another cheese for.”
Overall a fabulous selection of cheeses.
Our guests were especially delighted with the story about the cheese mites. Or at least I loved telling them about. Yum.
Special thanks again to Matt and Andy for their time and cheeses. It was a pleasure meeting both of you and your store is wonderful.
Photographs by Nate Brescia