For nearly 90 years, Zabar’s has remained an iconic Upper West Side delicatessen; a world-famous mom and pop shop, buzzing with 50,000 hungry Manhattanites every week. It is the go-to store for many New Yorkers, serving up quality deli goods, pantry items, coffee, and anything else paired well with bagels. Smoked fish, olives, cheese, and household goods are a sample of Zabar’s specialties.
Maintaining good taste for 88 years requires specialists. These specialists devote themselves to understanding the nuances, history, and approaches of any given field, and strive to bring customers the best product possible. Olga Dominguez is one of these specialists.
For 50 years, Olga carefully developed Zabar’s expansive cheese department from scratch. Though she retired this past June, the next time you happen to find yourself there, indulging in an inspired crumble of gruyère with a “slightly damp texture” and “average spring” direct from the Swiss town of Gruyères, you’ll know who to thank.
In our world, there exists a cheese guild. It is a society of the highest order of cheesemongers. These priests of pasteurization dress in long brown robes, round fabric hats, and gold-rimmed medallions hung on colorful ribbons strung around their necks. Though neither a secret society nor a joke, La Guilde Internationale des Fromagers represents the highest rank of cheese experts in the world. They influence our education and access to artisan cheeses from across the world, and according to Zabar’s, Olga Dominguez is one of the very few Americans ever inducted.
In 2009, Olga was a judge at the American Cheese Society. The annual conference is enormous. For instance, the ACS estimates that in 2022, 1,500 cheesemakers in 120 categories from the US, Canada, Mexico and Brazil will compete. “This is more about judging and less about the competition,” Olga wrote on Zabar’s website back in ‘09. “As a Judge I felt a duty to make sure that I looked at each cheese fairly and gave as much feedback as possible. I tried to use my viewpoint as a retailer to provide a new [perspective] so that the cheesemaker could continue to improve.”
In 1979, Zabar’s significantly expanded the size of its store, providing the square footage necessary for a new department to blossom. That extra real estate gave Olga the opportunity to build a first-of-its-kind cheese department. Little by little, one cheese at a time, Olga would help shape Zabar’s into a titan of the cheese world; seven tons of cheese sold every week, 600 different types of cheese offered. Fifty years in the making.