There’s More To Life Than Cheddar
He was born in Jakarta, Indonesia – a huge sprawling metropolis, home to 9 million people and unimaginable traffic, a daunting yet dynamic place built on a wide, flat delta that is intersected by 13 rivers on the coast of Java.
And here he is now in the budding spring of Chautauqua, living the rural life, hoping his artisanal cheese will be the star of our interview this first day of June.
But halfway through our meeting I realize he’ll get equal billing with the cheese.
That’s because Riko Chandra isn’t just an ordinary guy. He’s a bit like Leonardo da Vinci in that he is a rare breed of talent, intelligence and energy. He has three master’s degrees and two bachelor’s degrees and he’s worked in design and technology and he’s started his own nonprofit and he’s traveled a lot and he knows about music, art and food. Oh, and he’s a photographer, too. And he draws a little.
But he’s not eager to let you know any of this because he isn’t really here to teach anybody anything; he says he’s here to celebrate, collaborate and share. And of course he’s good at those things too. When he opened the Reverie Creamery with his partner James Howard they wanted to make cheese, but they also wanted to join a community. And they wanted that community to be a part of what they do.
So, when you walk into their store you’ll find some of the county’s best products on their shelves, like honey from Panama Bee Farm and beautiful hand-crafted cheese boards made by Terry Saye of Bemus Point and soaps from Chautauqua Soap and Candle and a type of slow-roasted garlic from Ribbon Road Organic Farm that you should immediately buy and put in a dip or a chicken dish.
And they’re washing their cheese in wine from Johnson Estates Winery and using cheese curd made with beer from Southern Tier Brewing Company. It’s almost like these partners have some kind of radar for the coolest things in the county and now those things grace the shop’s shelves or are part of what makes their cheese so special.
Many small producers in the world are doing business this way – collaborating with other area producers, thinking local, shunning corporate business practices, branding themselves as authentic, green and wholesome. They create synergy with other businesses so that by working together they are more fruitful. And the benefit to us as the consumer is that when we buy local, we’re literally immersed in the flora and fauna and the elements of our own land. At Reverie Creamery, their own artisan cheeses are so local you can taste the farm down the street from you.
You can’t imagine how beautiful cheese really is when it’s not wrapped in cellophane and stuck in an orange box.
If you look at a wheel of expertly made cheese it has the same aesthetics, conjures up the same kind of longing as a loaf of freshly made bread or a batch of homemade butter just after it’s been churned.
Take the Wanderer – a cheese produced, aged, and coddled at Reverie. Its rind is some beautiful sand-like color partly created by “washing” it with a Porter from Southern Tier Brewing Company. When it’s sitting on the shelf at the creamery, it’s this big mound of something good, but it’s beautiful, too, the way bread is beautiful.
And so much thought goes into everything this business does: even the names of their cheeses have meaning.
The way things are displayed is purposeful but not pretentious. And their marketing is wholesome and simple. Perhaps most thoughtful is their collaboration with places like the Lakewood Rod and Gun Club, and the Bag and String Wine Store and Southern Tier, where they’re holding cheese tastings and introducing us all to what we’ll call the exact opposite of Cheez Wiz.
People from the tastings often come wandering into the shop later on because they’re entranced with the cheese. They say they never realized cheese could be so interesting and so diverse, and so delicious.
Their product is amazing, of course, because it doesn’t appear these partners ever aim for mediocre. And also, I like to think, because you can taste a little Chautauqua in everything they make.
He tells me that the word “reverie” means dreamer.
“I guess I’m a dreamer,” he says.
And thankfully for the rest of us he’s also a doer.