Calandra's Cheese, the stoic Italian cheese shop, is an Arthur Avenue O.G., one of a few holdouts of a once solely Italian neighborhood that's diversifying every day. It's especially vital for its owner's insistence on quality; unlike other Arthur Avenue bakeries and restaurants, it doesn't rest on its ancestral laurels.
Times do change, though, and Calandra has had to adapt, if only beneath the surface, as one of the store's owners admitted to me last week. The shop produces several fresh cheeses, including ricotta and cacciocavallo, that harken back to its roots as a neighborhood shop. But if you want fresh fior di latte mozzarella you'll need to call a day ahead. Not because Calandra can't keep up production, but—and pay attention, as this is pro tip number one—they'll only sell it to you if they can make it fresh.
"We had to start using Polly-O curds," the owner tells me. "The young people, they prefer that flavor. It's what they're used to." Regardless: plan ahead and go.
In addition to these workhorse cheeses, Calandra makes two rare specialties for the Bronx: the immensely popular burrata and lesser-known burrino.
Burrata, the paradigm of fresh cheese, has become a chef's trump card. Even the famed Mexico City chef Enrique Olvera is getting in on the game, recently declaring that he will serve the cheese with chilaquiles at his forthcoming New York restaurant, Cosme.
At Murray's, a New Jersey-produced buratta is sold for $11.99. Calandra peddles it for $7.99, a comparative steal. They make it every every other day (Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday), but more frequently during holidays, such as Lent.
While the mozzarella "rind" is a bit dry and leathery to our taste, slice into the pouch and you'll strike liquid gold. Tangles of curds, rich and concentrated in their flavor, swim in cream that's fresh and focused. It's brazenly, dangerously buttery, as if someone reduced cream to its uttermost essence. Calandra uses the Italian Trevali brand of cream, "because American cream is too watery," and it clearly makes a difference.
If burrata is the Fresh Prince of cheeses in New York, then burrino is the Carlton. A native product of Sicily, it was made with the same principle as burrata: one cheese inside another. (These are the Russian nesting dolls of dairy.)
In place of a hidden pouch of curd and cream, provola (aged mozzarella) is stuffed with butter. The rind here is chewier and saltier, much more appealing than the burrata. The butter inside is solid but soft, creamy, and obviously buttery. Kill two birds with one stone and smear the butter on some crusty bread as you chew your way through the provola rind. Not a bad way to start your day.