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“A Conversation Brooklyn Larder's Sergio Hernandez”

Move over Manhattan. With the recent opening of Bklyn Larder this month in Park Slope, Brooklyn’s new crop of specialty food shops could take on Dean & DeLuca or Citarella any day. In Williamsburg alone there’s Marlow & Daughters and Urban Rustic boasting snout-to-tail butchering of local meats and fresh, organic vegetables. Greenpoint has Brooklyn Standard, Clinton Hill’s Choice Green boasts a sushi chef who mans the fish counter and Ft. Greene’s The Greene Grape Provisions carries items like Macedonian ajvar and local asparagus.

For Andrew Feinberg and Franny Stephens, who run the popular pizzeria Franny’s in Prospect Heights, the Bklyn Larder combines a number of elements of specialty shopping in a nearly 1,200-square-foot sleek storefront. Artisanal products (rare chocolates, local milk), house-cured meats, small-production cheeses and gourmet prepared foods like porchetta sandwiches and roasted legs of lamb with salsa verde all come together in one roof. At least ten flavors of gelato are also available this summer.

Sergio Hernandez, who partnered with the husband-wife team of Feinberg/Stephens and also serves as the shops official cheesemonger, took some time to chat with The Strong Buzz recently. A larder, a cool storing room or pantry, was much more common before the invention of the refrigerator, he explains. And at Bklyn Larder, Hernandez promises, the days of knowing where all your food comes from with a touch of personal service makes a come back. Here are come excerpts from that interview.

— Bao Ong

The Strong Buzz: How did you decide what to carry?
Sergio Hernandez: Tasting, tasting, tasting. I was in specialty food sales for six, seven years, so I’m pretty familiar with many of the distributors. Besides that, when it came down to it, Andrew, Franny and I sat down to discuss everything. When we tasted bacon, we tasted 16 different ones. (We) almost made ourselves sick. For chocolate, we sampled more than 30 different ones.

TSB: It seems risky right now, but why did you guys decide to open a specialty shop in this economy?
SH: The economy was fine we started planning everything. This is less of an esoteric shop. It represents good values and good food. I think people want that more than ever before.

TSB: What was the vision for Bklyn Larder?
SH: We started writing the business plan about two-and-a-half years ago. It was going to be a smaller project, a little cheese shop.

TSB: And where is it today?
SH: It’s still about the ingredients. It’s a place where people can find great ingredients. There’s bread from artisan bakeries, cheese from all over, lots of cured meats and Andrew’s great food, of course.

TSB: What are some of your favorites items in stock?
SH: One of my favorite items are some beautiful beans from Umbria (a region of central Italy). The biggest advantage is these beans are fresh. Everybody comments that when they soak them and cook them that they cook evenly. You don’t get that with canned beans. We have these beautiful organic tomatoes produced in Vesuvius that grow in volcanic soil. They’re just gorgeous. They’re the next best thing when tomatoes aren’t in season here.

TSB: You know everything about cheese, what are you favorites there? Anything that’s really stinky?
SH: I’m really excited about a cheese from Piemonte (Italy). It’s wrapped in spruce bark and it’s a runny, mushroom-y cheese. Our Parmigiano Reggiano is from a place in Italy that produces less than 30 wheels a day. It’s $15 a pound.

TSB: Tell us about the cheese room.
SH: It’s custom built and we check the temperature daily. It’s not being used to age cheese but we have a good environment for holding the cheeses. We can control the humidity and air flow. We make sure you get a truer taste of the cheese. We’re constantly wrapping and unwrapping it.

TSB: What have people been asking for?
SH: Cake yeast has been one item. I have to find other who want it. We encourage people to let us know what they’re looking for. Just talking to people about what they would find interesting to have in the store helped us decide what to carry.

TSB: How do you deal with all those Park Slope moms and their strollers?
SH: (laughs) We welcome everybody.

TSB: How has business been so far?
SH: It’s been pretty busy so far. Everything really has been moving well. The cheese is catching on slowly but surely. I think cheese shoppers are very loyal. They’ve been coming back already. But I think the immediate draw has been the food because people know Franny’s.

Bklyn Larder is located at 228 Flatbush Ave. in Prospect Heights between Bergen Street and 6th Avenue, 718-783-1250, www.bklynlarder.com. Tuesday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Slated to open on Mondays starting in August.


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