Wisconsin, move over! New Yorkers are the real cheese heads, with a proud past of dairy baked into our history like brie in an oven-safe crockery. For instance, if you knew there’s a New York town named Cuba (not to be confused with the country), a small village 75 miles southeast of Buffalo, then you’re probably aware of its long-standing reputation as a community built by cheese.
According to Janey Levy's "The Erie Canal: A Primary Source History of the Canal That Changed America," during the early days of NYS cheese most of the finished product flowed through the Erie Canal. Reports show that during one week in 1860, the Erie Canal transported a whopping 40,100 pounds, compared to the 1,500 pounds of cheese that traveled in the eastern side of the state through the Champlain Canal.
Cuba’s history in dealing with dairy dates back to 1871, with the formation of Ackerly, Sill and Co., the first cheese company in the area. A three-story building was renovated and ice was brought in from the nearby Cuba Lake to store the cheese. The business offices of the cheese plant remained in the building when a new, modern cheese plant was built in South Cuba in 1956.
Keeping with tradition, in 1976 the original factory, which is located on 53 Genesee St., became home to the Cuba Cheese Shoppe, serving as the retail store for the cheese factory, now known as Empire Cheese Inc.
In 1991, the plant and the retail store separated. Jeff Bradley of Cuba has been the owner since then, selling items directly from the store, shipping via mail ordering within the United States and delivering select products to stores in Western New York and the surrounding area. Store offerings include Salt Rising Bread from Olean and Angelica, maple syrup products (tapped from maple trees in Portville, about 20 minutes South of Cuba), meats, and of course, cheese, cheese curd and cheese spreads.
The next generation of Western New York cheese traders is currently coming up the ranks, with Jim’s daughter Sarah Bradley, opening up her own shop in 2013. The EVL Cheese Company can now be found in Ellicottville, which is thirty minutes north of Allegany State Park. The store stands alone with its own selection at the same time paying homage to the regional heritage. The slogan, fittingly, is “Sliced from the Cuba Cheese Shoppe.”