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In the afterglow of the weekend, looking ahead to a full week of making the donuts, grinding steel, slinging sandwiches, pushing paper or any of the myriad things we Brooklynites do for a living, can cause a dark glimmer of despair. What better place to seek solace than in the sanctuary of a taste of something good?

In search of a little something to fortify us for the battles awaiting us in the week ahead, today we stop by Bedford Cheese Shop for a chat with Chris Hanawalt, cheesemonger and general manager of the Williamsburg shop.

So what’s good today Chris?

I really like the chocolate bars from Zoe’s Chocolate Company. Zoe’s has a great story. A family of Greek immigrants came here by ship in the early 1900’s. They started making chocolate and opened a little store in a small town in Pennsylvania. Then their children started making chocolate, and now they’re on to the third generation, still making chocolate. They’re based in Frederick, Maryland now, which is about an hour west of both Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, but they still have a shop in the town in Pennsylvania where that first generation opened their first one.

At Williamsburg's Bedford Cheese Shop, cheesemonger and general manager Chris Hanawalt recommends Zoe's chocolate bars.

And it’s not just a good story – their chocolate is really great. They do a whole bunch of things. We carry their chocolate bars. They don’t do a lot of plain chocolate – they like to add things to it, which is always fun.

We just started carrying their pretzel bars, which are made with dark chocolate, Martin’s Pretzels from Pennsylvania, and sea salt from Maine. It’s a really nice play on that combination of salty and sweet that’s so popular right now.

They do a jellybean bar, which was originally a seasonal special for Easter, but it was so popular that now they do it year round. I don’t know how they source their jelly beans [laughter.] But it’s delicious. It’s made with dark chocolate too – the nutty, earthy chocolate combines really nicely with that overly-sweet flavor of the jelly beans. It just works, and it’s really good.

I like their espresso bar a lot too. It’s a mixture of white and dark chocolate with espresso. White chocolate is often kind of gross. Theirs isn’t. It’s really rich and creamy. So you get the nutty, earthiness of the dark chocolate, the creaminess of the white, and espresso – it’s like an outrageously good cup of coffee in the form of a chocolate bar.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be the Sports Bar. It’s dark chocolate with crunchy puffed rice and honey-roasted peanuts. It’s so good. You get the crunch of the toasted rice, and the salt, honey and nuttiness of the roasted peanuts, and those flavors just go so well with the dark chocolate. It’s got everything you want in a chocolate bar. I like it because it’s so good, but so down to earth.

Chris's personal favorite? The Sports Bar, made with dark chocolate, puffed rice, and honey-roasted peanuts.

It’s tasty. It’s not pretentious. Pretentious chocolate can be really good, but when I just want a good chocolate bar, I love this one.

Zoe’s does things a little differently. A lot of people making chocolate right now are focusing on single origin sourcing from specific farms and that sort of thing. Zoe’s doesn’t do that. Everything they use in their products is totally natural – there’s nothing weird in their chocolate – but they’re more into making really delicious things than the sourcing. It’s just a different approach.

And they’re not from Brooklyn. Supporting local businesses is really important, but this is an example of a small business run by a family that’s been doing what they do really well for three generations. They make great chocolate, and they don’t get a lot of attention. And that’s part of why I like them. A lot of people are doing great things with food here in Brooklyn, but it’s important to remember that there is a broader community of people bringing the same approach to making great foods in other places, and that’s ok. [laughter.] It’s important to support them too.

So Chris, how did you end up here at Bedford Cheese?

I’m originally from Washington D.C., but I haven’t lived there for a long time. I was in California for a while, and that’s where I started working in cheese. I worked at Whole Foods for some time, but I wasn’t really into the whole corporate thing. I started working here three years ago because I really liked the shop. It was exactly the kind of small neighborhood shop that I was looking for. Things were a little different then. The neighborhood has changed a lot. But as the neighborhood has changed the shop has grown and it’s been really fun to see that.


Bedford Cheese Shop is located at 229 Bedford Avenue, at the corner of North 4th, in Williamsburg.

Photography by Morgan Ione Yeager.

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