I was planning a dinner party and decided to try ordering direct from Artisanal in New York City. The shipping is expensive – more so than other overnight shipping ($38 for a $100 order) and I was informed that the reason for this was the cost of the packaging.
Ordered: Monday 11/6/06 at 2:43 PM EST Order arrived: Wednesday 11/08/06 – as expected.
What I ordered:
Cabecou Feuille - 3pcs
Epoisses - 1 pc
Doddington - .5lb
Sternenberger Bergkase - .5lb
Pecorino Toscano Stagionato - .5lb
Comte Saint Antoine - .5lbs
Willow Hill Vermont Brebis - 1pc
The special packaging includes an air-filled vacuum-sealed insulated liner which basically turns the box into a rigid beach ball with the cheese inside. Packed with ice packs as well as air packaging, the cheeses would have made it in perfect condition if the packager hadn’t placed an ice pack right on top of the softest cheese – the one from Willow Hill. It had been squished and the cheese was leaking from the rind. It was also not the Willow Hill cheese that I ordered. I had ordered the Vermont Brebis. We received Willow Hill's Summer Tomme. I called customer service and was transferred to the supervisor. He offered to reimburse me for the cheese or re-ship it. I said we would manage with what could be salvaged and chose reimbursement.
The shipment included four small samples of cheeses - more than 10oz of extra cheese:
• Bianco Sardo
• Pecorino Toscano Stagionato
• Montgomery’s Cheddar
• Fiscalini Bandaged Cheddar
Condition: The cheeses were all in "perfect" condition except for the noted problem with the Willow Hill. I weighed all the cheeses on my Salter Kitchen Scale and the cut cheeses either met the weight or weighed slightly less than expected weight. I would have thought they would slightly overcut rather than undercut and in that I was surprised as most were spot on (the Bergkase and the Pecorino Toscano both were slightly under - but the extra "free" piece of Pecorino pushed the weight way over - it just made it harder to serve).
Parting thoughts? I will definitely order again from Artisanal but would not rush to. Their Èpoisses, for instance, is particularly good because they age it further under proper conditions. The leaf-wrapped cheeses likewise are of exceptional condition. If the cheeses must be perfect then ordering them directly maybe worth the extra shipping costs.
I am lucky to have a number of great local sources for cheese. The Artisanal selection has many popular choices but does not have that many unusual ones to me. I find that I usually only order by mail cheeses which I cannot find locally.
(but see the update below)
Update March, 2007:
According to the customer service manager: Artisanal has "moved to a system of flat-rate shipping by order total." On average, the shipping cost will now be about 30% of your order total (per recipient). That should reduce the shipping cost to the West Coast.
He also pointed out that Artisanal are bringing in some special cheeses for 2007, "we have been running the Artisanal Premium Cheese Connoisseur's Club, sort of a step up from our Cheese of the Month club
with more exclusively-sourced cheeses." Some of the cheeses will be offered individually as well (outside of the club).