My Virgil through these rings of dairy was Chad Mack. Unlike Dante’s version, Mack, the cheese man on staff that day, was an animated, spirited sage.
We started with farmer’s cheeses—cottage-like kinds that can come close to cream cheese. Arethusa’s Maple Raisin did just that, laced with tartness thanks to a yogurty tang and juicy white raisins. This and the other farmers cheeses paired well with the Italian-imported taralli crackers—like inflated wedding rings jeweled with fennel—Arethusa sells.
From there we entered into a sharper circle, starting with the Tapping Reeve, a savory, Colonial America-style cheese named after an 18th-century Litchfield lawyer who gained renown for securing the freedom of a Massachusetts slave. A mildly sharp cheese aged between 12 and 18 months, the Reeve is wine-worthy and rides well upon a cracker.
Two other notables in this region were the Crybaby, a Swiss-style cheese with many tiny “eyes”—though nothing in the taste to cry over—and the Bella Bantam, a cheese that smells and tastes like buttered popcorn. (If both of these sound good, you might want to try Arethusa’s $6.50 Grilled Cheese, in which both are melted together with the Europa, a Dutch gouda, into an aromatic alloy cast in brioche bread.)
Then Mack cut into the stinky stuff: the Arethusa Diva. The Diva is potent. You can’t ignore her. She was loud and smelly, gooey and rich. She’s not for everyone, but she’s very much for some.
Mack followed that up with the Arethusa Blue. Carrying a bit less stank and a bit more bite than the Diva, this blue cheese was salty and creamy and melted slowly, like firm butter, on my tongue. The light crisp of the blue-grey mold marbling the block added delightful roughness to an otherwise smooth texture.
We then proceeded to Arethusa’s second great strength and its most seasonal: ice cream. Mack unleashed a stampede of the shop’s 11 flavors, and when the dust settled, certain options stood out from the herd.
Mint Chocolate Chunk was probably the most refreshing flavor of the bunch, tasting like the first thrilling chews of a piece of mint gum before its flavor’s begun to fade. Unlike gum, this mint was cold and creamy and backed up by bursts of dark chocolate.
Vanilla, or “versatile vanilla,” as Mack calls it, pairs well with lots of other flavors, if you’re mixing and matching scoops. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t complex. Madagascan, not French, it moved through various bands of the vanilla spectrum, changing pitch with each bite. If simplicity is what you’re craving, it can be found in the Sweet Cream option, which is also the base for everything else.
Strawberry Chocolate Chunk also stood out, but not with gaudy reds. Arethusa’s take on the heart-shaped fruit comes honestly, its white cream, carrying just a hint of pink, polka-dotted with berries and chocolate. Instead of being deep-freeze hard, the berries were crisp, as if caught in an unexpected frost while still on the bush.
Last but certainly not least was the Toasted Almond, which Mack says is Arethusa’s best-seller. It tasted like a French gallete de rois—a buttery, crispy, almond-paste-filled cake for the holiday of Epiphany, commemorating the day the biblical three kings brought gifts to newborn Jesus Christ. A scoop of Arethusa’s Toasted Almond brought gifts to my tongue, and for some it may compel a soft “hallelujah.”
As I was leaving, Mack served me up a cone for the road. Calling a single-scoop waffle cone ($3.50) at Arethusa “generous” would be an understatement, since it delivers a fistful of ice cream. But Mack gave me the maximum load: three scoops ($5.50), each as big as the last. As I walked out onto the street balancing the dripping tower of icy cream, heads turned. One family asked where I’d gotten my cone, and I pointed back the way I’d come, at the sign of the cow with the gothic lettering.