Vila Madalena is an upper-class suburb of Sao Paulo, Brazil. It’s also considered a prime location for urban arts, especially in a small section know by the locals as “Beco do Batman” or “Batman’s Alley.” Here, you can find a warren of streets filled with amazing graffiti by local artists that remains mostly untouched by municipal authorities. This urban art gallery is something to see and well worth a side-trip to the district.
Just up Rua Aspicuelta from the artwork ,you’ll find a nifty cheese shop called A Queijaria, and owner Fernando Oliveria. It’s a small show with big ambitions: To showcase the best of Brazil’s artisan cheeses. Oliveria travels around the country, visiting farmstead cheesemakers to sample their work and selects the best to feature in the shop.
Most “gringos” are familiar with the queso blanco/quijo branco form of cheese – fairly bland white cheeses that are fairly fresh and found in most urban supermarket cheese centers. Some US artisan producers, like Nuestro Queso in Illinois (1st place winner in the recent ACS show for their “Fresco” cheese) or Ochoa’s Queseria in Oregon (2nd place winner) make upscale cheeses, but for the most part, the typical offerings are rather (similar).
Visiting a supermarket in Brazil yields similar results – lots of fresh, white cheese (albeit more interesting than the commercial offerings here), but cheesemakers in that country are spreading their wings and starting to produce some aged varieties that are quite delicious. For the most part, even the aged cheeses originate from the basic white version but the artisan producers are far closer to their land and more rustic in production style than other, more technologically advanced producers.
If you ask almost any resident of Brazil from Rio and points South where the best cheese comes from, the answer will invariably be “Minas,” referring to the State of Minas Gerais that wraps around Rio to the West. For a long time, it was illegal to sell cheese made in Minas Gerais outside of that state, so anyone heading into that region typically carried orders from friends and relatives to bring back cheese (much like the old myth of Coors beer years ago).
A Queijaria carries only Brazilian cheeses in a range of styles. The stock seemed mainly from Minas and the South, but Olivera says he is bringing in Northern cheeses as well. They are quite happy to let you sample your way through their selection, and are fairly knowledgeable about the provenance of the cheeses; Olivera has met most of the producers, so there’s a nice personal touch to the tasting.
If you visit, be sure to bring a local with you – this is a Brazilian cheese shop so very little English is spoken. Visit their page on Facebook for more photos, updates, and information. If you’re planning to visit Sao Paulo during the World Cup or the Olympics, be sure to stop by for a taste. If you'd like to see more Brazilian graffiti, visit NY2Rio.com's graffiti page, or the main page for lots of info on the country.