Originally from central Massachusetts, Eric Paul is a philology graduate of Bard College. In 2012, after much national and global research on cheese, Paul opened the Cheese Traveler on Delaware Avenue in Albany, which quickly became a Capital Region destination despite carrying little more than cheese from around the world and meat raised on local farms. Today, if a visitor to the Cheese Traveler asks about a particular cheese, Paul may produce an earnest disquisition about not only its region and maker, but the season in which the milk was produced and the type of mold that produces the distinctive rind.
"We know everything about the cheeses," he says. Paul uses the same decision-making criteria on all of the products he carries. Paramount is superior taste, followed by quality, method and scale of production, adherence to tradition and culture and, whenever possible, a preference that the item is locally made, raised or produced. Paul deliberately limits his cheese stock to about 100, perhaps up to 125 around the holidays.
"Anything more than 100 is too much. We've learned that," he says. "Coming in and staring at 250 uncut cheeses with signs sticking out of them — it's overwhelming to almost everybody."
Sometimes a cheese is just a cheese — a piece to nibble on or a slice to slap on a sandwich. But more often, for Paul, that combination of milk, salt and fat produces an alchemical magic that occupied a certain French author for more than 3,000 pages.