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Alison Stewart: This is All Of It on WNYC. I'm Alison Stewart. In 2021, the food world lost a bright light and lovely human, Anne Saxelby, the founder and owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers, which opened in 2006. It was one of the first shops in the city that featured only artisanal American-made cheese. Anne herself had been a guest on the show to discuss cheese and her book The New Rules of Cheese: A Freewheeling and Informative Guide. Anne died at the age of 40 from a heart condition.
To honor her, Anne's husband, Patrick Martins, a co-owner of Heritage Foods USA, created the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund. The fund is dedicated to causes that Anne cared about, including sustainability and training new cheese apprentices to carry on her mission of spreading the love of artisanal cheese around the country. To raise money, the Fund will be hosting the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund Annual Benefit tomorrow night at Chelsea Market from 6 to 10 PM. Tickets include access to dozens and dozens of food stalls from local chefs and artisans, and a silent auction. You can grab tickets now on the Chelsea Market website.
Joining us to discuss more is Anne's husband and Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund founder, Patrick Martins. Patrick, it's nice to see you.
Patrick Martins: Thank you so much to hear you, too. Wow, that was a lot of words. That was very good. Did you do that all off memory?
Alison Stewart: As always, always you know. When Anne was first opening Saxelby Cheesemongers in 2006, what was different? What was new and exciting about what she wanted to accomplish?
Patrick Martins: Well, most people forget that, this is I'm sure arguable, but international cheese from France and England wasn't even well known in New York. I'm sure many people take credit for, but one of them certainly was Steve Jenkins at the Dean & DeLuca counter 1979-1980. That was international cheeses, the very best artisan cheeses from small dairies throughout Europe. If we just learned about international great cheeses then, imagine that only 15 years later or 20 years later, someone comes with only artisanal American cheese.
Cheese culture, and bread culture, and beer culture, those are pretty recent phenomenon, and Anne was at the cutting edge of the cheese dairy industry. She was really focused on creating a local butter, milk, and cheese industry here in New York City using farmers from Vermont, New Hampshire, and Upstate New York.
Alison Stewart: We had Anne on the show back in 2020 to talk about her book, The New Rules of Cheese: A Freewheeling and Informative Guide. Want to play a little bit of the conversation. This is when I asked her how she went from being an art student to Cheesemonger.
Anne Saxelby: I went to art school. When I was thinking about college, I was thinking about business school or art school, and my parents who, God bless them, are not the typical parents, were like, "You should go to art school. You can learn business anytime in your life, but you've only got this one shot to pursue art." In doing so, I really was just immersed in this weird, wonderful world that was New York City. I went to NYU, and through being at NYU and being exposed to international travel through the study abroad program and stuff like that, I was able to discover this whole world of amazing cheese that I had never had access to.
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and it was a trip to Florence that really floored me. I went to visit my friend there, and I was like, "Wait a minute, this is cheese? I didn't know this was cheese." When I got back from that trip, I went to Murray's, which is, of course, the most famous cheese shop in the city, and started basically becoming a stalker. I would go there and be an annoying college kid with $20 to spend, wanting to taste everything in the store, and really just started to fall in love with this world of delicious cheese.
Alison Stewart: Patrick, when did it become clear that having a passion for cheese and wanting to start a store, and start a movement and it being successful, those are two different things, when did it become clear that this was going to work, that this was going to catch on that Anne figured out something here?
Patrick Martins: Figuring out something is different to different people. Some people's ambition is to make a lot of money, and if you want to make a lot of money, then launching sustainable food movements or saving heritage breeds isn't necessarily the path to choose. I once asked Anne when she was 90 what she wanted to do, how her schedule would look and she said, "When I'm 90, I'd like to work one more day at the shop and one less day at the cave."
I thought she was going to be talking about the cheese empire from coast to coast or around the world, but she was really a shopkeeper like so many chefs are. They own a single restaurant, that's their restaurant. Their kids grew up in that restaurant. They're dedicated to one cuisine. They sweep outside. They know the people in their neighborhood, and that's really a beautiful thing and that's always what she aspired to.
Anne never liked talking about space travel or things like that. She always cared more about that, like finely crafted dresser at the end of the street and that it shouldn't be rescued or a piece of art that she found left out in the yard and that she thought it was nice so she take it home and insert it into this collage of bric-a-brac collection that she kept in all of the places that she ever lived.
When you ask, "Is it successful?" Yes, it worked. It made a profit, and it has been called to salvation to rural dairies. Saxelby Cheesemongers has been by Jasper Hill. It shows that an ambitious person who's dedicated to working hard can have a positive effect on agricultural regions or others.
Alison Stewart: If you don't mind me asking, how did you and Anne meet?
Patrick Martins: I had to start a podcast network called Heritage Radio Network, which never really competed with WNYC or anything like that, but we had a few thousand listeners. It was about 30 weekly shows, and she was on the show called Urban Foragers. I heard about her, and I had sought her out, but I made sure I was there since I was responsible for making sure that the shows happened and this and that, and she was there as a guest. I think it was called The Ladies of the Essex Street Market.
I walked up to her and I tried to convince her to do a show, which I wanted her to call Curds Way but she said, "No, I'm not going to do that." We went out, and then she eventually married me, and we had kids, and she did the show called Cutting the Curd, she called it. It had maybe 100 episodes. It was really fun to listen to her interview all of her cheese and farmer friends.
Alison Stewart: My guest is Patrick Martins, co-owner of Heritage Foods USA. We are about to talk about the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund Annual Benefit tomorrow night at 6:00 PM at Chelsea Market. The Legacy Fund helps sponsor young people who want to learn more about cheese and farming. What can these young apprentices expect to get out of this experience? What do you hope they get out of this experience?
Patrick Martins: Well, it was funny. Anne once had this idea that their Republican families and Democrat families would exchange their teenage children for a month and see if that would have a positive effect in the coming years on the disagreements that exist in politics. I don't know, she came up with that or she read that somewhere, and then she passed away. We realized Anne loved to teach. She loved through tasting and through explaining, and so we want to do something that involves teaching.
When we thought about these sustainable farmers who keep the highest quality foods coming out of their little factories, little farms, they're the best teachers in the world, or some of them. What a valuable experience that someone from the city or someone from the country can travel to New Hampshire or Vermont or an urban farm in Ohio or in San Francisco, and learn under a great farmer. What we really hope is that it instills in them maybe a little mini personal cultural shift where they care more about sustainability, where they have more respect for the source of our ingredients, and how hard it is to be a farmer, and how many obstacles they overcome on a daily basis.
It's very humbling to see how hard a small family farm works, day in and day out. I think it has lasting change. It changed Anne. In her time on farms led to her wanting to start Saxelby Cheesemongers, and so likewise, we hope this leads to sustainable business like Anne, because you correctly stated, Anne actually did something with her passion. She started the business. She started a wholesale business. I'm very powerful to be in action in commerce, and that's what we're trying to do. By the way, if any of our alumni do want to start businesses, some older Saxelby Cheese, we would try to help get them investment in that, too, although that's a future project down the line.
Alison Stewart: Tell us a little bit more about the event tomorrow. What are some of the culinary highlights? Who's coming out to cook?
Patrick Martins: Well, we have a number of the apprentices who are coming from around the country because they were so happy with their fully paid one-month-long apprenticeship. That is something important to say. We fully pay the apprenticeship, $20 an hour, travel, room, board. It does lower the barrier of access to many people who might not otherwise get a chance. We have many apprentices, but really, the people that powered Anne's love of local cheese were the chefs, and she was always seen riding around New York on her bicycle with 50 pounds of cheese in the back going to give samples to chefs, and they were the ones who made the purchases along with the New York City population, but those chefs were the ones that made those purchases. When she passed away, it was very, very, very touching. Anywhere I went, those chefs were like, "You can ask me anything for that for Anne." We've been trying, and humble, and we only ask them to come to this one event for the most part.
Many chefs, I think over 110, are coming to man a table to do something fun and creative in honor of this party for Anne and to raise money for this apprentice program, which we aspire to be thousands of young adults working on thousands of sustainable farms around the US and even the world. We have one apprentice in London this year. Where was that one, Kristina? It's in the--
Kristina Graeber: Neal's Yard Dairy.
Patrick Martins: Neal's Yard Dairy. That's Kristina, the assistant director at Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund.
Alison Stewart: If people are thinking I might like to join this benefit, where can they get tickets? What's the price?
Patrick Martins: Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund, we've divided all Chelsea Market. We're so lucky that the people at Google and Jamestown and Chelsea Market have been so generous to help us carry on Anne's Legacy in this active way. They've given us access to the entire space. At six o'clock, the doors open at 9th Avenue, and the whole event spans the whole concourse till 10th Avenue, and then downstairs at the Chelsea local where Saxelby actually has her shop.
We have in the first room Artisans Row, I remember Little Eggs Deviled Eggs. We have Gage & Tollner, I Sodi. We have Cesare Casella. We have actually for people it's going to be a lot of from the Meta kitchens and the Google kitchens, which feeds thousands of people a day, or those chefs are coming and they have one dish that they're creating each. We have Rolo's, Carbone, Celestine, Grand Army Bar, and almost all the vendors of Chelsea Market.
It's just an unbelievable party to celebrate her, and it's a real tribute to the sustainable food community, how loyal they are, and how they put their talents towards remembering people, and towards good causes.
Alison Stewart: Chelsea Market website is the best place to get a ticket, if people are interested?
Patrick Martins: Yes, Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund, right there on the home page. We're on Eventbrite is how tickets cost $250 or $125 for industry professionals, and people affiliated with food somehow. We have a lot of people coming, but we have a lot of food, and it's just going to be great energy. This is the second year we're doing it. It's also fun to see all the chefs.
Alison Stewart: Sure.
Patrick Martins: The other chefs, and they're almost all there manning their tables. It's going to be a really, really fun event and raising money, hopefully, to sponsor more young adults to travel and learn about sustainable agriculture. It's a really great cause and one that was important to Anne.
Alison Stewart: It's happening tomorrow night at Chelsea Market. My guest has been Patrick Martins. We've been talking about the Anne Saxelby Legacy Fund and its annual benefit tomorrow night at 6:00 at Chelsea Market. Have a great night tomorrow night.
Patrick Martins: Alison, thank you. You get a comp. If you come, you get a comp, of course.
Alison Stewart: You might lose money on that one. I may have to be off. [laughs] Thank you so much. [laughs]
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