By Kaley Pillinger
At a market saturated with crates of rainbow kale and shoppers carrying bags of Swiss chard is a singular cheese stand. But Pablo Navas of Valley Shepherd Creamery is anything but lonely at the Stuyvesant Town Farmers’ Market. Gesturing to the stalls on his left, Navas commented, “I always like to stay beside the bread. There’s a wine guy, I don’t know where he is today. But I always say: ‘Wine, bread and cheese, that’s all you need.’ That’s pretty much my dinner.”
At the Union Square Farmers’ Market, too, Navas sets up his stand next to the same bread stall, Bread Alone. Being the only cheese vendor, he’s greeted by loyal cheese-lovers every week and gets to learn about the palates of different neighborhoods. In Stuyvesant Town, mozzarella is the favorite; in Union Square, tourists and students flock to him for tastes; and at 82nd street, customers buy large blocks at a time. Navas finds that, “At 82nd, there’s a lot of old people and they love cheese.”
Navas came to the U.S. in January from Spain for an internship at Valley Shepherd Creamery in Morris County, NJ. Being at markets on weekends allows Navas to speak English, but being at the farm provides him ample opportunity to practice as well.
For the few hundred animals Navas estimates are housed on the farm, there are 10 to 15 people and only two speak Spanish. Navas and one other intern speak Spanish, but he arrived almost five months before she did, so for that duration he lived in the interns’ shared house with only Anglophones.
In addition to English, he’s getting a lot of practice making cheese. During the week, interns “come in the morning, pump the milk (and) start making the cheese. Then midday (they) usually have to mold the cheese and then pretty much finish at six o’clock.”
After only a few months working, Navas knows the different seasons of cheese making: early in the season “there’s more quantity of milk and at the end there’s less quantity but more quality, more fat.” He also is familiar with how long it takes to prepare different types of cheeses: most cheeses take four to five hours, but cheddar can take twelve.
Coming from Spain, he was already a cheese lover, but had never worked with cheese before. The most important thing he learned, he said, was that “Now I can differentiate between all of the cheeses because I’ve been eating a lot.”