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News / Life / Food

Cheese-vending machine a hit in Philly

24/7 dispensary features cheeses, crackers, meat, more

By Jenn Ladd, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Published: May 11, 2024, 6:03am
2 Photos
Perrystead Dairy specializes in creamy, spreadable cheeses best served at room temperature. Pictured are a selection of its cheeses, including Intergalactic, Field Day, a container of the Real Philly Schmear, and an experimental cheese. Perry says such experiments may appear in the dairy&rsquo;s new cheese dispensary. (Alejandro A.
Perrystead Dairy specializes in creamy, spreadable cheeses best served at room temperature. Pictured are a selection of its cheeses, including Intergalactic, Field Day, a container of the Real Philly Schmear, and an experimental cheese. Perry says such experiments may appear in the dairy’s new cheese dispensary. (Alejandro A. Alvarez/The Philadelphia Inquirer) Photo Gallery

PHILADELPHIA — Night owls, third-shift workers, and even plain old procrastinators have cause to celebrate, as Philly has a new 24/7 cheese vending machine. Find it housed in a bright-red booth right outside of Perrystead Dairy (1639 N. Hancock St.) in the Kensington neighborhood.

Step inside the booth and peruse the selection of Perrystead’s own award-winning cheese, plus charcuterie, jams, and crackers. Tap or insert your credit card to pay (no cash), then open the door to your chosen good, Automat-style.

Need a cheeseboard to plate your haul? You can buy those, too — in marble, wood, or slate. According to Perrystead founder and cheesemaker Yoav Perry, cheese knives are on the way. That makes Perrystead a one-stop shop for late-night cravings, last-minute gifting, and on-the-fly picnicking, which you can do steps away in the creamery’s lovely pollinator garden.

The cheese dispensary — Perry’s preferred term — was installed and stocked in April, but it flew under the radar for its first couple weeks of operation. That changed when chef Michael Solomonov tipped off the wider public on Instagram.

“[Solomonov’s] stuff took off and then a bunch of people posted stories about it,” Perry said, describing the inevitable social-media scrum that follows the emergence of food news in Philadelphia. The buzz sent dozens of customers to Kensington to buy cheese. The machine logged a transaction as late as 1 a.m. over the first big weekend.

The dispensary’s debut marks the fulfillment of a 2-year-old dream for Perry and his team of cheesemakers and mongers. The creamery is extremely tightly regulated — for example, the FDA mandates they lock the door during the day to prevent bioterrorism — so they would need to build an entirely separate space to offer their cheese directly to locals. Previously, the closest retailer to the creamery was Riverwards Produce, a 15-minute walk from Perrystead’s doorstep.

“I’m selling coast to coast, but I operate within a community,” Perry said. “We want to give something to the neighborhood.”

On a recent Monday morning, J.J. Garcia of Old City stopped by the dispensary after seeing an Instagram post. “Yay! That was super-easy,” Garcia said, triumphantly exiting the booth with a wrinkled cube of Intergalactic, a creamy cow’s milk cheese that’s one of Perrystead’s calling cards.

Perry took a moment on that Monday, the first night of Passover, to tell Garcia that Intergalactic is coagulated with thistle flowers, a practice employed by Sephardic Jews in Iberia for centuries before they were expelled in the late 15th century. “We are trying to bring back this tradition 500 years later,” he said.

Besides Intergalactic, the dispensary currently has wheels of Moonrise and Treehug — both international cheese award-winners — as well as packages of Palacios chorizo and serrano ham, Rustic Bakery crackers, various flavors of Blake Hill Preserves, and the Real Philly Schmear, Perrystead’s own take on cream cheese.

Perry and team plan to work other local cheeses into the machine’s inventory, which they’ll post on social media from week to week. Perry said the machine may also be a landing spot for one-offs and experiments, as well as deeply discounted offerings through Too Good to Go, an app that lets retailers sell items near their expiration date for a low price. The dispensary’s compartments can be modified to hold up to 225 items at a time, and it can be set to “winner mode,” spitting out a freebie every so often.

Perry said he expects the dispensary will develop a circle of regulars once the wave of novelty-seekers has passed, but so far he’s happy with how it’s been received. “Just like making cheese, you never know what the response is going to be,” Perry said. “It’s a surprising welcome.”

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