May 22, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer (photo courtesy of Joshua Ross Photography)
The Bloomy Rind cheese shop at 21 Main St. in downtown Hingham has been a favorite go-to place since it first opened in 2010 during the annual Taste of Hingham event, not only for its creative dishes and friendly vibe, but also for the culinary experience offered there.
Owners Robert and Mary Sullivan Gonsalves had plans to host a weekend of festivities in celebration of the shop's 10th anniversary -- today, May 22 -- but then COVID-19 hit, causing a change in plans. The shop is currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, but offers curbside pickup on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Despite the disappointment of the lost opportunity to celebrate in a big way with the community, Robert and Mary remain positive. "Even though things haven't turned out as planned, we want to thank the community for their 10 years of support," Mary said. "We intend to hang a banner outside that can be seen by all the people who walk around here who are our customers -- whom we really miss, along with all the kids -- to let them know that even though we can't be with them right now, we feel blessed and grateful from the bottom of our heart."
Robert, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, said he's "overwhelmed by the support shown to us by the community. To be a great cook you have to be happy, you can't be an angry chef!" he quipped. And happy he is!
When they are working together, Mary affectionately refers to Robert as "Chef."
When the shop is open, the couple greets each customer with a smile, making both those new to the Bloomy Rind experience and regulars feel welcome from the moment they enter. The same friendly greetings are offered with curbside pickup.
The Bloomy Rind is a local mainstay and also a destination for many customers who live outside of Hingham.
What makes the Bloomy Rind culinary experience so special? one might ask. The answer is, Everything! -- from its European flair to the fine customer service to the many varieties of artisanal cheese and seasonal offerings, as well as the enticing aromas that greet customers as they walk through the door.
Among customer favorites are the corned beef (steamed for five hours) Reuben served with fresh sauerkraut and horseradish aioli on rye bread and the Cubana sandwich, piled high with slow-roasted pork rubbed down with Robert's own spice mix, smoked ham, gouda, sliced pickles, and harissa aioli on Syrian bread.
The Texas Toast sandwich features smoked ham, aged cheddar, sliced apples, and dulce delech on cinnamon raisin brioche. Carrot hummus is a favorite side dish.
It's not surprising to learn that Bloomy Rind has received a number of awards, including "best place to get a sandwich in America" by Travel + Leisure magazine, an honor Robert heard about "out of the blue" from a customer. Yelp voted the Bloomy Rind among the top 10 cheese shops in Massachusetts based on all the positive reviews.
"We've received a Taste of Hingham award every year we've been open," Mary said. For each event Robert designs a special dish. Last year it was pulled pork empanadas, served alongside cheese and bread.
When asked how the name came about when the shop first opened, Mary explained, “Cheese is very cool. The name ‘Bloomy Rind’ describes a characteristic of cheese, and we also love the way it sounds.”
During the cheese-making process, the outside that forms on some soft cheeses is white, soft, and sometimes a little fuzzy. This type of rind is called “bloomy.” Examples include Camembert and Brie. The cheese sold at the Bloomy Rind is cut to order and hand-wrapped.
'There's no place like Hingham'
Although Robert and Mary enjoyed traveling all over the world when Robert was a corporate chef -- and all over the country, seeking the perfect cheese -- it was the thought of returning home to Hingham that kept them motivated and content.
As 20-year residents, this amazing couple feels that there is no place else like Hingham -- the warmth of its people and their support of local business.
Why a cheese shop (that also offers hand-crafted sandwiches made to order, cured olives from around the world, and specialty items from local artisans and farmers)? “I’ve always loved cheese and always included a cheese course on my menus,” Robert said when the shop first opened, and that hasn't changed. “It’s like wine. I can’t imagine a meal without it.”
There’s another simple answer to that question: “Because the experience of sharing good cheese brings us joy.”
Cheese can be aged, runny, tangy, oozy, mild, herbed, creamy, brined, buttery, pungent, unctuous, bloomy, grassy, chalky, crumbly, salty, gooey, and even “stinky.”
A positive outcome from the current COVID-19 crisis is the cookbook -- including his recipes from the past 10 years -- that Robert started writing in his spare time.
"All my cooking is spur-of-the-moment, based on what the weather will be like tomorrow, farmers' market offerings, or what people might like to bring with them when they go away for the weekend," he said.
Time to reflect
The current situation has also given Robert more time to reflect. "I'm very happy about the shop. People know the Bloomy Rind and speak well of us, which brings in other customers who want to discover it for themselves." For this both Mary and Robert are truly grateful.
"We've literally known some of our customers for 10 years, and when their friends and their kids come into the shop, that makes me very happy," Robert said.
Mary also misses the social part of running the Bloomy Rind. "We've been here long enough to have watched the kids who first came here with their parents grow up and move away to college," she said. "Then we have new families with babies come in, and it starts all over again!"
When the shop is open, the day's offerings are posted on a chalkboard. "Sometimes people call ahead to ask what soup or pasta or salad we are offering that day. The menu changes daily," Robert said. "Some of our loyal customers ask us to put aside whatever we think they might like for them to pick up later in the day. It's awesome to have that rapport."
'To go' offered
While the Bloomy Rind is currently closed, "Bloomy Home" (referring to customers taking their food home to enjoy) curbside pickup service is available Thursday, Friday, and Saturday between 4 and 6 p.m., with the menu changing every week. Orders must be placed by 2 p.m. the previous day.
A sampling of the current irresistible "to go" offerings includes Bloomy's butter chicken thighs made with bread crumbs, white wine, and herbs; kale salad with white beans and chorizo; and beef and pork polpettas with fig syrup and pickled onions, with chocolate chip cookies and chocolate fudge brownies for dessert.
"There's a facet of 'Bloomy Home' that we like, and I think this may be a new direction [local businesses] are going in -- people enjoying their food in their own homes. Family meals mean more than ever now," Robert said.
Among the shop's curbside pickup customers are busy women "who call me and say, 'I can't eat another slice of pizza. This is going to be our treat for the week,’” Mary said.
Other customers order food for a small family picnic or birthday celebration or to take out on their boats.
Mary and Robert were touched when a former customer -- a young man from Arlington, Mass., made a special trip to Hingham for a curbside pickup. "He grew up coming to the Bloomy Rind and wanted to enjoy Chef's food," Mary said.
Opening Bloomy Rind a decade ago was a "dream come true" for Robert. "I cook for fun and love to get creative. I am inspired by people who say they would love to have 'something like this or that' and I make it for them. It keeps things fresh."
Both Robert and Mary agree, "It's an honor to serve our loyal customers."