hill country observerThe independent newspaper of eastern New York, southwestern Vermont and the Berkshires


Arts & Culture October 2016


Local flavors with European flair

Hudson shop’s prepared foods make it a destination


Contributing writer



Kate Arding and Mona Talbott show off some of their wares, including a large wheel of cheese, outside their shop on Warren Street in Hudson. Their focus is producing prepared meals and condiments with a strong emphasis on local ingredients -- and a worldly sense of flavor and style.

Scott Langley photo

It’s Monday afternoon at Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions, and though the store is closed for business, the tightly stacked interior is hardly in a state of stillness.

To the contrary, a cracker-making assembly line is in high gear. Two of the store’s dozen employees, clad in white chef jackets and hairnets, pile just-baked seeded spelt crackers into labeled, plastic containers, destined for the store’s shelves.

Upstairs, more food is in preparation, including chocolate walnut bark and a pot full of heirloom apple jelly.

“We’re closed on Mondays, but it’s not a day off,” said Kate Arding, one-half of the culinary tour de force that has taken Hudson by storm in the past two years.

In 2014, Arding and Mona Talbott combined their decades of experience in the food industry and spun it into an irresistible tapestry of locally produced foods, imported and regional cheeses, and prepared meals and condiments using locally sourced ingredients.

A case in point: the jars of pickled ramps with golden raisins that Talbott recently decided needed to be a featured condiment. Made with pearl onions from a nearby farm and pickled with a smattering of golden raisins, the ramps’ sweet and savory flavor has made them another customer favorite.

“They’re perfect with charcuterie,” Talbot said with a smile.

This was all part of the plan.
“My goal when we started was to create a shopping experience that exceeds people’s expectations, offering foods made with passion and with fine, local ingredients,” Talbott explained.

So the details are important, such as using locally milled flour and a specific salt from the Finger Lakes region as key ingredients for Talbott & Arding’s line of artisan crackers. A bit of exceptional effort is de rigueur for everything they produce.

“My philosophy is, ‘what grows together goes together,’” Talbott said as she took a momentary break from overseeing the completion of 1,500 jars of tomato relish, noting that it pairs beautifully with New York state and Vermont cheddar.

Talbott, the store’s executive chef and a veteran caterer, loves nothing more than using the area’s cornucopia of produce like a jigsaw puzzle to create unforgettable recipes. Her most recent creation is “A Bridge to Paris,” a pepper jelly made with local apples and peppers.
Talbot & Arding also has become known for its line of higher-brow prepared comfort foods such as macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, quinoa salads, shepherd’s pies (made with lamb from a Kinderhook farm), hearty lentil soups, crusty galettes, and its highly sought-after fried chicken.


Local and beyond
The fare isn’t exclusively local. Talbott & Arding offers a small roster of imported cheeses, teas, candy and the like. But focusing on what’s available in the region represents both a moral imperative and a creative challenge.

“Using mostly local ingredients doesn’t have to restrict our variety,” explained Arding, who serves as the shop’s operations manager and resident cheesemonger. “One day we’ll offer Italian-inspired dishes, and the next day it will be something Mexican.”

Using local ingredients is more than an intellectual exercise, though.
“I also like the restrictions of a region, so the food has a taste of place,” Talbott explained. “The food here tells the story of this place.”

It appears Talbott and Arding are telling that story quite compellingly. The store and catering business have developed an unusually loyal following in a city known for its eclectic food scene. Its fans include local people, Manhattanites escaping for the weekend, and plenty of urban transplants who’ve made Columbia County their full-time home – including the former Gourmet magazine editor-in-chief Ruth Reichl.

“We hardly go off the 300-block for lunch, because we love them so much,” said Tambra Dillon, the co-director of Hudson Opera House, which is two doors down from Talbott & Arding. (Many of Hudson’s restaurants are farther up Warren Street, in the 500-block and beyond.)

“Mona cooks simply but has an amazing talent for putting flavors together in an unusual way,” Dillon said. “My first stop is for morning coffee and to see what the day’s salads and soups are. Their lemon cake is amazing. And so is their open-faced galette with sweet-pea shoots. For fall, they have one with Concord grapes and almonds.”

Dillon suggested that Talbott’s talents give customers the confidence to try new things.
“They just know what people like to eat,” she said. “The ingredients are fantastic but not pretentious. Mona’s focaccia is delicious, and I’m not a big bread eater. There’s always a porchetta of some kind, either freshly roasted or in a sandwich. And their chicken liver pate is divine.”

Although the store’s small retail space is chock-a-block with edible delights, Talbott said the intent is for their inventory to be an enhancement to home cooking, not a replacement.
“There’s the French term ‘traiteur,’ which means caterer,” she explained. “We like to build on the European tradition of getting accents, such as a homemade tart dessert or duck confit appetizer, but you’ll also go to the farmers market for greens and local meat.”


Via London, Rome and the West
Both Arding and Talbott gained a firm understanding of European food sensibility from direct experience. Arding was born and raised in the United Kingdom, and Talbott spent several years in Italy as the founding executive chef at the Rome Sustainable Food Project at the city’s American Academy.

A graduate of the Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., Talbott also did private catering, both in Europe and the United States, and spent five years as a cook at Alice Waters’ famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif.

Arding’s 20-plus years in the cheese industry began at Neal’s Yard Dairy in London and continued in Marin County, Calif., where she was recruited to help start the now legendary Cowgirl Creamery. A member of the board of directors for the American Cheese Society, Arding is one of a handful of experts to contribute to the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Cheese, the 888-page volume that serves both as a historical record and modern-day, A-Z guide to cheeses. She also co-founded the cheese magazine Culture: The Word on Cheese.

After years of working for others, the two women decided they wanted to be in business for themselves. They aimed to set up shop on the East Coast, in part to be closer to friends and family.

“And we wanted to be in a place that was close to the source: … farms and orchards,” Talbott said. “Hudson has become a hub of year-round residents and weekenders, and it’s growing culturally and economically.”

Arding said Hudson, with its classic mix of architecture and its history as an inland whaling port, impressed them from the start.

“We looked further south of here in some towns, but they just didn’t feel like us,” she recalled. “Hudson’s a little rough around the edges, with blue-collar working roots. It just felt right.”
The building they chose on Warren Street was built in 1868 and had gone through various incarnations as a fishmonger’s shop, pizzeria, spa and lingerie store. The duo transformed the interior’s once-loud color scheme to a palette of soothing white and blue to resemble an English creamery.

And as quickly as the interior was transformed, they began practicing their philosophy of honoring the customer.

“We kept the look simple, because we want the focus to be on the food, not the décor,” Arding explained. “And we want customers to feel comfortable here. Cheese can be intimidating, but there’s no right or wrong. Americans are adventurous. Hopefully they’ll experience something they like and be back.”


Making connections
Talbott said the support they’ve drawn from visitors, Warren Street neighbors and area farms has been remarkable.

“We’re in this for the long run,” she said. “We’re not doing this to make a quick buck and get out. For us, it’s about building relationships.”

One of those relationships has been with its neighbor, the opera house.
“Mona reached out to us when the Hudson Opera House did its first TEDx event in 2014,” Dillon recalled. The event featured a daylong roster of TED Talks, both in person and via satellite.
“She wanted to be a part of it and hit the ground running,” Dillon said.

So Talbott & Arding rallied area farmers, food vendors and merchants to cater a seasonal and local Bavarian-themed feast, topping it off with a guest-of-honor appearance by Alice Waters.
“There were all kinds of wonderful pork dishes, local beer and fresh apple strudel,” Dillon recalled. “The whole thing was put together by local volunteers and people who came just to be able to work with Mona.”

With their two-year anniversary on Warren Street approaching, Arding said the many months of non-stop work are finally paying off.

“We weren’t naïve going into this,” she said. “We knew it would be an intense time to get it off the ground. But now we’re able to find some balance in our lives.”

With a humming retail space, a catering service and a newly minted e-commerce business, Talbott & Arding is a beehive of activity, even when its doors officially are closed. It takes nearly a dozen employees to make the operation run, with duties that range from food prep to packaging mail orders, catering events, answering customers’ questions on products, and handling cash-register sales.

“We train all our staff to treat customers with warmth and interest,” Arding said. “We want everyone to feel welcomed when they come in.”
Mission accomplished, Dillon said.

“The place has an old-fashioned feel,” she said. “You walk in and feel you know everyone. And if I want a cheese to have at home after work with drinks, they’ll pick one out for me. Kate and Mona have this amazing talent for having everything there you really want to eat.”


Talbott & Arding Cheese and Provisions, at 323 Warren St. in Hudson, is open daily except Monday. For hours and information, visit www.talbottandarding.com. Kate Arding will host a book signing Nov. 5 for the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Cheese, to which she is one of the contributors.