Nestled into a block on Smith Street between Douglass and Degraw—right at the heart of Carroll Gardens’ ever-growing pageant of restaurants and bars —Stinky Bklyn might be easy to miss with your eyes. But the pungent goodness just beyond the threshold seems to lure in cheese and meat aficionados like a cartoon scent trail tugging at the nostrils.
Since opening in 2006, Stinky Bklyn’s laid-back vibe and lovingly-curated selections of cheeses, meats, hand-picked artisanal goods and fresh baked breads has been a neighborhood favorite. But gluttons be warned…it’s also a dangerous place for the weak-willed.
The name is no joke: upon entering the shop visitors are immediately greeted by the heady aromas of cheeses, cured meats and fresh baked breads. It’s a feast for the eyes too, with five whole ham legs enthroned on the jamon bar, a cheese case that beckons like a treasure box, a full wall adorned with colorful provisions from Brooklyn and beyond, and a gleaming collection of fine craft beers. Add to the mix a friendly staff always willing to offer tastes and recommendations, and you’ve got the recipe for a neighborhood institution.
Chris Remy, co-owner of the wonder-world that is Stinky, sat down with us at the shop to talk cheese, meat, beer, Brooklyn and everything Stinky.
So Chris, how did you end up behind the counter at Stinky?
I was friends with the owners Patrick Watson and Michelle Pravda, the owners of Smith & Vine – the wine shop just up the block. I was between cooking jobs and they said, “come work with us,” so I hung up the clogs and came over here.
What led you to a career in food?
Probably a whole series of poor decisions! I grew up in Yonkers and moved out to Oregon to go to college. I dropped out after a few years and was crashing at a friend’s place. My friend was working at a restaurant and said they needed a dishwasher. I took the job and that was the start of it. I just became infatuated with restaurant life and kitchen culture. The dishwashing job led to a prep job and I just decided that it was what I wanted to do.
I bounced around for ten years at different restaurants in Oregon and New York. In Brooklyn I worked at several restaurants on Smith Street and just kept moving down the street getting closer and closer to my house! I worked at the dearly departed Smith Street Kitchen and at the Grocery just up the block before coming over to Stinky.
Tell us more about Stinky.
The heart and soul of the shop is the cheese case. We’re not just about local or imported, high-priced or low-priced…we carry things we like…everything from candy buttons to Mast Brothers Chocolate and really small production cheeses to Morbier.
The cheese was the inspiration for the shop, but we’ve added a lot over the years. We’ve brought in a whole line of cured meats and charcuterie. We started with one jamon serrano. A couple of trips I took inspired an expansion from there. On one trip to the South, I discovered country ham. I had somehow never really had country ham and I loved it and I knew we had to carry it.
I also went to Italy and was blown away by the ham bars there. They’d have six or seven amazing hams from all over. I came back and swore we had to do that ourselves, so we built out the ham bar a few months later. We’ve got five spots for different hams, and we rotate through about a dozen different varieties.
We’ve got both domestic and imported, from both small and larger producers. We like to be able to talk to the American guys and know where those animals are coming from and how they’re being raised and all that, but unfortunately I can’t talk to my Italian prosciutto guy because I don’t speak his language! The hams run from $20 per pound up to $140 per pound for varieties from some of the really specialized small producers. It all depends on the size of the farm and the quality of the animal.
Rounding out the cheese and meats is everything else – sweets, pickled things, fresh breads, beer. We just added beer this year and we’ve got over a hundred in rotation now.
How do you select cheeses?
That’s one of the coolest things about Stinky. Sometimes you’ll have a cheesemaker who happens to be in Brooklyn knocking on doors…their first time venturing out into the city, and they’ll just walk in the door with a little hunk of great cheese. On a really busy day this summer a woman walked in with some washed rind cheese from upstate. A few days later we tasted it and it was unbelievable. Her name was Keely, and her cheese is called Pondhopper. It turns out she had studied with cheesemakers in County Cork in Ireland. She came home and started making Irish-style washed rind cheeses up in the Finger Lakes. Her company is called Keeley’s Cheese and she’s making great stuff.
We like it when people just walk in with something they’re making and basically give over their heart and soul for us to critique. We’ve carried a bunch of great cheeses that found us that way. It’s a cool thing about having a shop like this.
What are some of your personal faves in the cheese case?
In the alpine style, I love the Tarentaise from Vermont. There’s an interesting story with the Tarentaise: There are two different farms making that same cheese. One is Thistle Hill. The guy there was the first to make it in Vermont. He taught the process to the folks at Spring Brook Farm. Spring Brook is all about bringing inner city kids up to the farm to work and to get to see life from a very different perspective – their version of the Tarentaise is really great too.
I tend to love washed rind cheeses. Washed rind cheese is Stinky cheese. The cheesemakers use a process called ‘lavage’ in which they wash the rind with a salt brine or in some cases with a boozy solution or beer. The washed rind usually develops a red or orange exterior, takes on a really nice almost silty feeling—like the bottom of a lake—and it imparts a really pungent quality to the cheese. Washed rinds can be misunderstood – because they smell so strong, people sometimes assume that the flavor is going to be really strong, but the taste is often really smooth and approachable once you get past the nose.
The Pondhopper that I mentioned is great. There’s another one called Hudson Red from Ghent, New York that I’ve been digging. It’s a raw cow, washed rind super-delicious cheese – punchy in the nose but a little gentler in taste.
I think we’ve got some of the best Taleggio in the city. It’s a raw milk Taleggio from Italy and we’re able to let it hang out in our cave until it’s ready to roll, and when it is…it’s badass.
We’re always experimenting with aging cheeses. We’ve aged some cheeses for up to a year with good results. We have fun with it.
So you age some of your cheeses in your cave…do you ever do any rind washing yourself?
We play around with a couple of things. We get a cheese from upstate that the makers soak in Ommegang, which is their local beer. When we get it we soak it again in our local beer – Brooklyn Local 1. We call it the Harvest Field Double Soak. So that’s kind of a fun thing that’s unique to our place. You can get that cheese elsewhere but not with that addition of the second soak in the local beer. We love that – it imparts a nice big yeasty flavor that works great.
Do you know Murcia al Vino, or the Drunken Goat? It’s a Spanish goat cheese that’s soaked in wine. We do our own version of that with these little buttons of goat cheese we get from Portugal. We soak them in wine which gives them a great reddish color and a fruity flavor. We call them our Bebido Poco.
You’ve got a pretty substantial beer selection. Have you discovered any beer and cheese pairings since adding the beer section?
Absolutely. I really like English-style cheddars with a nice American-style IPA. The big hoppiness of the American or West coast style IPAs goes great with the rich buttery caramel flavors of an English-style cheddar from Vermont or anywhere. That’s my personal favorite but there are all kinds of amazing pairings you can do with beer and cheese.
You’ve got a whole wall of grocery-type goodies over here. How do you find the items you stock?
That’s another really fun thing – a lot of our local items found their way onto the shelves when the people who make them walked in the door. We’ve seen a lot of those situations where someone decides to actually get out of their kitchen to sell the mustard they’ve been making, or someone decides to make a business out of the little chocolates they’ve been making and selling at their boyfriend’s bands t-shirt table…they get out there and make the rounds and knock on every door in the city. It’s always fun when people just walk in with a great new product. Just because something is local doesn’t always mean it’s good, but we’ve lucked out a bunch of times.
We were one of the first to proudly carry Justine’s nunu chocolates. Those salt caramels are amazing. We’ve got a guy from Georgia who lives in Brooklyn and makes these southern-style spiced, sugared pecans…called Georgia Boy. We’ve got a whole section of pickles…there’s just a lot of good stuff being made out there right now.
What are your favorite Brooklyn food & drink spots?
Being that I hardly ever leave the block, most of my favorites are pretty close to home and the shop. I love Chestnut up the block. I think that what chef Daniel is doing there is fantastic. Char No. 4 is amazing. There are some great bars on Smith Street too. When I first moved to the neighborhood there were just a few trashy (in a good way) local watering holes. Now we’ve got some really interesting cocktail places like Jakewalk and Clover Club. My personal favorite has to be Bar Great Harry, where I can stop in with a hunk of cheese and just have at it with a great beer.
Stinky Bklyn is located at 261 Smith St. in Carroll Gardens. Check out their website for deals, cheese of the month club, gift certificates, and other goodies.