were regularly dumped through these chutes onto the beer barrels below. Being so far underground, the caves are always a steady 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This also happens to be perfect for aging cheese.
These underground cellars span the length of the city block. Ironically, if you dig upward and pierce Franklin Avenue’s black asphalt, you’d expect to be in modern day Brooklyn but you’d only have made it as far as the late 1980’s. Stoop culture (people sitting on their staircases in front of their brownstone apartment building, chatting away) is alive and well in Crown Heights. Around here, homeless people here still have more facial hair than their more wealthy neighbors (the opposite being true in hipster downtown Brooklyn).
In a sudden flashback to the actual 1990’s, you worry (again) about people breaking into your car to steal your stuff. You wonder where you put that red metal club to block your steering wheel (gone for over a decade). But relax, unless there is a renegade clan of lesbian car thieves roaming the neighborhood, your Subaru Outback is quite safe.
Benton Brown and his wife Susan Boyle (not the British singer) are the owners of Crown Finish Caves. Their right-hand affineur is Sam Brown, who also runs the place. Benton in the past worked under Monsieur Hervé Mons, one of the more famous Meilleur Ouvrier de France affineurs (and more recently Whole Foods enfant terrible of the deli cheese department). A Frenchman I respect very much, Francois Kerautret, once pointed at a laptop picture of Hervé Mons and said “That is my fucking God!” (Mr. Mons should take this with a grain of salt. Francois and I were drinking at the time, and there was a picture of a beautiful woman right next to Hervé’s picture.)
The day that I arrive, a very friendly Sam Brown answers all of my questions. Benton is on the phone, his long, flowing brown beard covering the receiver. He looks like a Biblical prophet or an alpha-hipster depending whom you ask. Sam and I climb down very tightly twisting metal stairs, descending into a series of small, red brick caves. As we enter the main aging room, a shelf jumps out at me filled with top shelf liquor. One chocolate flavored whiskey in particular catches my eye. But sadly a 10 pound wheel of cheese has already had it lovingly rubbed into its’ skin. Next to it is a bottle of Red Streak Cider from Michigan, but some dick piece of fromage got to that too. Two people dressed in surgical outfits, covered head to toe in burkini-style, gently inspect and scrub each wheel of cheese. They are most likely women, but with these outfits who can tell. So I stick with safe gender-neutral questions like “Would one say” or “How would you describe…”
Sam is obviously enraptured with what he does. He expounds on the 150 years of yeast floating in the air like a young Dr. Frankenstein (who knows what this could give birth to!)