Cheese lovers in the Finger Lakes are right when they say Cugini Cafe’: Eat.Drink.Shop.Learn.

A few years ago, several family members behind the Golden Age Cheese company in the Finger Lakes region of New York decided the area needed an Italian market and cafe’, like the ones of their heritage. Thus, came the “Cugini” — the Italian word for cousins — in Corning, NY’s Cugini Cafe’.  I was happy to be hosted to experience it!

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So, the family thought it would be mostly a store, with a little bit of cafe’. Crazy popular since it opened, the cafe’ took on a powerful life of its own! Whether for local business lunches, Happy Hour time or even private get-togethers upstairs, the casual Italian comfort food menu uses the best ingredients. Breads are baked daily. Pizzas are homemade. Plus, of course, there are myriad ways to devour their aged on-site cheese!

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They stretch 50,000 lbs of cheese curd a week. Think about that a second. Mozzarella is 1-2 days old. Cheddars range from a couple of weeks, all the way up to their X Cheese — 10 years old! I was able to to try several of their cheeses, but not their Jurassic Sharp, Dog Year (7) or X. Generally speaking, those are tangy, funky type of cheeses, good as shavings with aged meats. They’re also difficult to cook with, as they have a different chemical makeup.  I learned that 5 year old cheddar is about as aged as you want to go in say, macaroni and cheese, while 2 year old cheddar is “the best”. At 2 years old, there’s a tiny hint of sharper notes, while maintaining that desirable creamy-milk factor.

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At Cugini Cafe’, the flavored cheddar curds (super mild) come in many varieties and are hands-down the local favorite.

It being my birthday week, I tried their pizza of the month: Caesar Augustus. On a perfectly thin crust was tarragon — an unexpected herb for Italian cuisine suggested by one of the family members — prosciutto, olive oil, mozzarella.

With all of that, you can get a perfectly matched beer or glass of wine with whatever you fancy.

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