How a Cheesemonger Spends His Sundays
“Cheese is a celebration,” said Matthew Cortellesi, the manager of “formaggi e salumi” (cheese and cured meats) at Harry’s Table by Cipriani, an elegantly casual food court and restaurant, in the West 60s of Manhattan. “It’s an opportunity for discovery, and it’s accessible to everyone,” he said of cheese, which can range in format and flavor from a gooey, pungent Camembert to a hard smoked Gouda. “There’s storytelling in each type.”
Mr. Cortellesi, 56, has worked in cheese for almost a decade, with past stints at Eataly, Murray’s Cheese and the French restaurant Artisanal, now shuttered. (His favorite cheese these days is a sheep’s milk wrapped in chamomile flowers.)
He has also lived in the same one-bedroom apartment — a fifth-floor walk-up — in Gramercy Park for 24 years. “It’s like living in a treehouse,” he said.
UP AND OUT I haven’t used an alarm in years. I have a great ability to know what time it is, even when I’m asleep. By 5:30 I’m in the shower and then out of the house. I like to get my day started early.
SOFT, SAVORY I don’t have to be at work, but cheese is a passion, as is making people happy. I get to do both here, so I’m at the cheese case, which is like a jewelry case, by 6:30. I get a large iced coffee with extra cream and sugar and a croissant from our cafe. Then I rewrap the cheeses — we have about 60 — and make sure they’re facing the right way. I want all the cheeses to relate to each other. Right now, people want savory and soft cheeses. Three popular ones are: Barbablu, a creamy blue made with goat milk from Piemonte, a wine region in Northern Italy; Barricato al Pepe, a savory cow’s milk from Italy’s Veneto region; and Moliterno al Tartufo, a truffle-infused pecorino from Sardinia.
FAMILY RECIPES My dad, who lives on the Upper East Side, just turned 90. My mom passed away in June. Instead of having Sunday dinners together we have lunch at his house, so we still celebrate Sunday and my mom. Sometimes my sister and two brothers come with their wives and kids, too. I’m there by 11:30 because he likes to eat early. My dad does all the cooking; he’s a wonderful chef. We self-published a cookbook together, “Recipes and Reflections of Cortellesi,” highlighting the old recipes and dishes we ate growing up like grandma’s chicken soup; Aunt Josefine’s chicken, made with either a red or white wine, mushrooms and rosemary; and a basic meat sauce that includes neck bones. That’s where all the flavor is. You can smell what he’s making in the elevator. We all convene in the kitchen and watch him cook.
REFLECTIONS By 1:30 I’m on the 6 train to Astor or Spring. I like taking photos of the city reflected or captured in water or glass. It tells the city’s story through a different lens and perspective. Downtown is great because all the tall buildings are uptown, and you can get a wonderful long shot if it’s not too crowded. I’ve taken at least 1,000 photos. I’ve sold about 100 and been the photo of the day five times for NY1.
CREW My friend Claire works behind the bar at Fanelli Cafe on Prince. I’ll head over there and sit by the window and watch people pass by. I might have a pilsner or a vodka soda. I collect people, and people collect me. I have a crew: Jack, Lisa, Peter, Charlie and Andy. These are friends from school or my old neighborhood in Ridgewood, N.J. Usually a few show.
INSPIRATION Anyone who meets me at Fanelli is on board for the ride. We make our way west and go to the Morrison Hotel Gallery. It’s a rock ’n’ roll photography gallery on Prince. It’s like walking into a museum that’s constantly changing. As a kid I wanted to be a rock ’n’ roll star and a photographer. I love seeing a huge black-and-white photo of Mick Jagger, Jimmy Cliff or Kurt Cobain looking me in the face.
THE SPACE REMAINS THE SAME I hit Washington Square Park. Every story you want to hear has unfolded in this space. I look around to see if there are some musicians I know. There’s an energy and community even though people don’t know each other. The space hasn’t changed, but the songs and people have. It’s permanent but in constant flux. I’ve evolved around it even though this place hasn’t.
LIFE-CHANGING I’ve been eating at John’s of Bleecker Street since I was in high school. I always order a medium pepperoni and sausage pizza. I don’t like the large. The crust-to-center-ratio of a medium is much better. The pie is life-changing. I tell people this will be the greatest bite you’ll ever have. There’s a head shake of disbelief, then the nod yes, once it’s in their mouth. I eat the first bite with a knife and fork, like it’s a gourmet meal, which creates a sense of importance. Plus it’s hot. Then you can eat it any way you want. We are there for one or two pies, which is about an hour. It’s about 5 when we are done.
DANCE BY THE HUDSON Executive decisions are made at this point. Usually we walk to Pier 45 at Christopher Street for Sunset Tango, where people dance to Argentine music. I’ve been walking around the city since 1990 and found it accidentally 10 years ago. There’s something about the movement of the tango dancers versus the hustle and bustle of the city that’s beautiful. We have a beer or two and toast New York and those around us.
SHOW TUNES Our final stop is Marie’s Crisis. It’s an old piano bar that has a collection of locals and tourists. Very talented people come to sing, mostly Broadway songs. The piano player asks if anyone has a request. I’m fond of asking for something from “Oliver!” or “Oklahoma!” I was in both those shows in junior high school, and I remember every line in those songs. Sometimes it’s nice to see what other people want to hear. You can’t go every week and ask for the same thing. Everyone sings together. To get a solo is very complicated. If you enthusiastically take charge of a song, the crowd will slow down and let you take the lead.
FEET UP I’m home by 10. I might watch the news or “Pawn Stars” or “American Pickers.” I like to see what cool objects people are finding and what they think has value. It’s brainless entertainment. There’s something nice about something being reissued and reborn. During the day I’ve walked 10 miles. That’s basically my workout; I don’t go to the gym. I fall asleep pretty fast because I’m exhausted.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Matthew Cortellesi on Instagram @matthew_cortellesi.