Matt Jennings, Providence, Rhode Island, Farmstead, La Laiterie Bistro, Farmstead Downcity, Cheesemonger, Charcuterie, Erik Desjarlais, American, Cheese, Local, Jamie Bissonnette, Where to eat in Providence, RI, Recommendations, Cheese Advice, Offal

Q & A


Matt’s career has taken him across the country, working with numerous artisan cheese stores, wholesalers, and producers. Matt has also spent time in Europe studying with master cheesemongers and cheese makers in the United Kingdom, France and Italy.

In 2003, Matt Jennings and his wife, pastry chef Kate Jennings, opened Farmstead in Providence, Rhode Island. Farmstead is a small gourmet shop offering a rarefied selection of domestic and imported artisan cheeses, homemade bakery goods, charcuterie, and locally sourced fine foods.

When a space opened up next door, Matt jumped on the opportunity to get back to his culinary school training as a chef and opened La Laiterie. He refers to it as a “New England bistro” serving “haute farmhouse cuisine,”  handmade and seasonal food. Recently, they expanded the mini-empire again. This time, opening up in the downtown area. Farmstead Downcity offers made-to-order sandwiches, cured meats and artisanal cheeses.


Q. What was your inspiration for opening up Farmstead?

A. It started in 2000, when I took a cook's sabbatical from working in professional kitchens, and running my own kitchens, from California to Boston. I was just burnt out, and needed to take a step back. I needed to be able to appreciate food again from a consumer's perspective.

I took a job as the cheese buyer for a hallowed retail gourmet institution in Boston. This turned out to be a transformative time for me - not only would I meet my future wife, Kate, who was the Catering Manager and Assistant Pastry Chef there at the time, but I was thrust into the world of artisan cheese and fell madly in love with it. I was selecting and procuring the most amazing American, as well as imported, cheeses for our shops. I was constantly traveling on the boss' dime, meeting amazing people who work so hard to craft these products, face to face. It was awe inspiring.

I was sent to Europe - France, Italy, the UK, to study with some of the most prolific cheese makers and affineurs in the world. I loved it. I was hooked. From here, Kate and I made a move to the Napa Valley in order for her to complete her pastry education at the CIA, while I worked for Cowgirl Creamery in the Bay Area as the Assistant Wholesale Manager.

I was able to talk with chefs, seek out and select cheeses for their restaurants. It was nuts. I was talking to industry leaders every week- the people I had always idolized - Thomas Keller, Michael Mina, Jonathan Waxman, Paul Bertoli... the list went on and on. I was a pig in shit. It was also great for them, they had a cheesemonger who was also a chef. I knew their needs, was able to help design staff training programs... it was special. It helped me reconnect with food in a way that was critical for my career.

After Kate finished her pastry program, we made the decision to head back east. We missed New England. Born and raised in Boston, and Kate in Vermont, we felt firmly rooted in the New England community and also felt a draw back to the East Coast to open our own place. We wanted to land in a city with a little grit, a little grime, a great creative arts scene, and preferably a collegiate town. We didn't want to live in New York, and Boston was our home, so we split the difference and opened up shop in Providence in 2003, with our flagship location on the East Side of Providence.

Q. Can you explain how each of your places differ?

A. Admittedly, our format is a little unusual. The retail shop is small (500 square feet), packed to the gills with the best foods we can find; artisan cheeses, a great selection of cured meats and salumi, vinegars, oils, honey, nuts, olives, pates, pastas, sauces... a cook's heaven.

After about two years, I realized I really missed cooking. Like 'dreaming about it' missed it. I would literally have dreams of being back on the line, sweat dripping, machine printing out dupes, pans flying, saucing plates, and would wake up sweating and full of adrenaline. Kate thought I was going nuts. Conveniently, the adjacent space became available and that was it. We told ourselves we were going to open a place that just provided some cheese plates, charcuterie, carefully selected wines and beer. But I'm an ambitious bastard- occasionally to my own detriment - and as soon as we had control of the space, I wanted a full on bistro.

We now own and operate an additional location in downtown Providence that specializes in artisan sandwiches for the business, all ingredients are made by our own hands, from the pastrami to the pickles, the mustard and the bread.

Q. What on your menu sums up your work the best?

A. I think this question can be divided up into two categories- ‘product’ and ‘technique.’ We work directly with small farms to procure the best in artisan, micro-dairy products we can, as well as develop unique relationships with some very special importers for the most exquisite imports we can lay our hands on.

As far as technique goes, we are proponents of everything from scratch, house-made charcuterie and pastas (like gnudi, ravioli, gnocchi, pierogies).

We are seasonally driven. New England is such an amazing place to be a chef. When spring starts to pop and the morels, fiddleheads, nettles, peas, and green garlic start to trickle in, it is ‘go time.’

Q. You’re competing in Cochon 555 (pork cooking competition) on March 28th to defend your 2009 “Prince of Porc” title. What is your strategy for maintaining your crown?

A. Yes, I'm stoked about this. This is a great event that draws attention to the preservation of heritage breed animals (a passion of mine), donates to a worthy cause (Farms For City Kids), and is generally a lot of fun. Not only do I get to hang out with my chef buddies that I rarely get to see, but I get to throw down some tasty swine for both 400 members of the public and a panel of 20 celebrity food judges. It's a blast.

We won last year. ‘The Dark Horse of Providence” as they called me (uh, thanks I guess?) by making a giant batch of whole hog carnitas for the crowd, and then a plated 6-course menu for the judges table, which featured everything from my charcuterie to a dessert with pig brain whip. It tasted and had the mouthfeel of Cool Whip, but was way, er, sorry... cooler.

This year, we're doing it up again. We've got some pretty awesome ideas and plans. I can't divulge too much info though, sorry. You'll have to wait and see what swine insanity we come up with.

Q. You work with your wife, who is the pastry chef, what are the highs and lows of working with a spouse?

A. I'd have it no other way. Every day brings new challenges... some of them reoccurring. Working together can be stressful at times and can even create a relationship vacuum, but you have to rise above it.

Kate and I decided from very early on that the only way this would work, is if we have very defined roles within the business-  particularly the kitchen- and don't have too much cross over duties. Of course, we share everything to an extent, but I don't put my hands in her flour, and she doesn't touch my pig....if you know what I'm saying.

However, as far as administrative duties are concerned, we share them completely. At the end of the day, we go home and put work away. That was another deal we made. We embrace the opportunity to create the best business we can during work hours, then when we have down time, we're hanging out with our 6-month old son, Sawyer, taking our Rhodesian Ridgeback out into the woods, going up to Vermont to sit in the river. It's all about balance.

Q. What is your least favorite new culinary trend and why?

A. Trends are for culinary students and the media. I think it is dangerous designating trends.

There are a lot of young, impressionable cooks out there, who need to experience food on their own terms. I think the media does them an injustice by declaring sous-vide, pork belly, David Chang, molecular gastronomy, micro greens... whatever, as a trend.

Do what feels right. Eat foods and cook foods that make you happy. That make you feel emotion. Go to the market without a recipe and just start buying what interests you. Take those ingredients home and learn how to use them, how to weave them into some sort of tangible dish. That's what it’s all about.

Cooking Advice / Tips

Q. Is there something you always keep in stock at your home that you would advise a home cook to stock?

A. Butter, olive oil and salt - three things that make life worth living. Find the best ones you can. Experiment with different types. Fats and salts, man. What can kill you in excess, can also enlighten you in moderation.


Q. What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about American cheeses?

A. That they are inferior to those of Europe, and are only produced industrially, pre-sliced, pre-packaged and are orange.

We have come a long way in the past 10 years. Look at the rise in Vermont cheese makers alone, the number has tripled! American cheese makers are winning awards here in the US and abroad, rapidly garnering attention as creating high-quality, handmade products. 1998 saw the first American cheeses being introduced into European markets via export- so technically, this is still a completely new ball game. The field is wide open.

The American artisan cheese industry is where the wine industry was 30 years ago.

Q. What gets you excited by the direction American cheese seems to be taking? 

A. I am amazed and thrilled with the quality of cheeses that come across my counter.

Producers are learning to balance precision scientific craftsmanship with skillful artistry. This makes me so excited. I get chills. I tear up. Seriously, I'm a sucker for passionate people and especially passionate people with mad skills. That combination is lethal.

Q. What still gets you excited by European cheeses?

A. I'm genuinely interested and intrigued by European producers who are taking a step back and paying homage to long lost traditional styles. European producers who are proud and bold enough to continue the practice of raw-milk utilization, which makes up only 7% of all European cheese production. With new & updated food regulations imposed by the EU, as well as the globalization of food, Europeans are losing their history. The majority of families are choosing more cost-effective products for the table. That means Europeans are buying that pre-sliced, pre-packaged orange stuff I mentioned earlier. Oh how the tables have turned. Mon Dieu! 

Cheese Advice

Q. What is the longest stretch of time that you can hold onto a cheese and does it differ depending on how it’s made?

A. For fresh, non-aged and lactic style cheeses, you've got only days.

Harder cheeses are a little more forgiving, and so depending on the exact style and age of the cheese, I would try to use it up within a couple weeks.

I think the goal here is to understand the importance of buying fresh cheese.

- Only buy cheese from a shop that cuts to order.

- Only buy what you need, when you need it.

- It's better to buy less cheese more often, than more cheese, infrequently.

Don't buy pre-packaged cheese. Treat your cheeses like babies when you get home.

If they are soft and to be eaten within 24 hours, leave them out on the counter underneath an overturned bowl... let them breathe.

If they are harder and/or are not going to be used immediately, package them carefully in cheese paper, if they aren't already. This allows the cheese to breathe in the fridge. If you don't have cheese paper, use parchment paper, wax paper, even aluminum foil is better for cheese than plastic wrap.

Plastic wrap equals dead cheese. Suffocation. Stifled flavonoids. Not nice. Very cruel to the cheese. Don't be cruel.

Also significant, is allowing all cheese to come to room temperature before you eat it. Usually I suggest up to 45 minutes outside of the fridge, in order to reach the proper temperature. The cheese should be cool, but not cold. Room temperature for ideal noshing. That's perfect.

Most importantly, if you have any doubts about whether your cheese is still good- eat some. You'll know. If there is a strong ammonia aroma or flavor- a burning one, not a sweet one, I'd pitch it. If the cheese makes you wince, wiggle and writhe, toss it. Also to watch out for are any molds that are black or pink. While we love mold on many of our cheeses, those are two colors to stay away from.

Q. When is it okay to eat the rind and when should you discard it?

A. My wise ass answer would be: when it's edible. But seriously, any cheese with what can be classified as a ‘natural rind’ (meaning not wax, paraffin, plastic or foil) is completely edible. It simply is a matter of how it tastes to you.

Some cheeses undergo various rind treatments- from washing, to rubbing with ash, to coating with herbs, to basting with olive oil, etc. If you think it tastes good and adds depth of flavor to the cheese, go for it. If not, then cut it away. It is totally a personal choice.

Q. What is your favorite charcuterie, cheese, and wine pairing?

A. I'm of the school that beer makes a better partner for both cured meats and cheeses.

The shared attributes of fermentation send many beer and cheese pairings into orbit, they're so good. Plus, with the addition of a fine Perlage (carbonation), the typical mouth coating, unctuous, sharp, nutty, fudgy, buttery and vegetal nuances of cheese get broken up and distributed on the palette, creating much more of what I call an ‘experiential flavor.’

Beers with notes of citrus, honey, spice, caramel, damp hay, toasted nuts, mellow sourness and a mild woodiness. These are the styles of beer that are very, very suitable for pairing with a great number of cheeses, particularly those that share some common flavors.

While I have many favorites, I think some of my all-time rants have been over cheese and charcuterie pairings with beers like Belgian style Saisons or American style ales. Beers like this make for the best dancing partner for cheese you can find.

Q. Any cheese books you recommend? Charcuterie?

A. The forthcoming book by myself and my wife should be sufficient for most aficionados, but there are a few more I can suggest...  :-)

Max McCalman’s The Cheese Plate.  I would look at Max McCalman's books for inspiration. Sometimes I think he makes cheese more intimidating than it has to be... and trust me, it is intimidating to people already.

Laura Werlin’s Cheese Essentials. Laura really covers all bases in this book. It’s easy to read, provides accessible basic knowledge, and is fun. I'm down with it. She's great.

Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie is great. I'm also a huge freak.

Stephane Reynaud’s Pork & Sons is gorgeous. I thumb through his books weekly. They drive me. Inspire.

Paul Bertolli's Cooking By Hand and Hugh Fearnsley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat Book. They are everything to me and both will instantly make you a better cook and charcutier, if you read closely... very, very, closely.

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Q. What purveyors and producers do you think should be on everyone’s radar?

A. Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Vermont. As far as artisan cheese goes, I'd look to Michael Lee and his wife Emily Sunderman. Michael is amazing. The guy is a personal hero of mine. They have 25 milking goats of various breeds, and milk and craft cheese daily. Michael makes all the cheese by hand, using traditional techniques and equipment. They are small on production, but big on flavor. Honestly, this is some of the best American artisan cheese being produced right now in the country.

Plum Point Oysters from North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Owner and Oysterman Mark Boucher is the real deal. He farms a large swath of the Sakonnet River, on the Eastern Passage, practically right under the Jamestown Bridge. I've lived in a lot of coastal communities, eaten a lot of oysters ... Mark's oysters are special. I hate dropping the ‘T’ word- but these oysters are the perfect example of terroir. They are briny, buttery, plump and silken. I've been out on Mark's boat and can tell you from first hand experience that this guy lives, breathes and sleeps oyster. If you are in Southern New England, you need to try these babies.

Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams  - for a favorite meaty pick. Allan has been crafting smoked hams, the most insane bacon ever, country hams, and even prosciutto near Madisonville, Tennessee since 1973. Allan's products are chock full 'o southern heritage, and he and his family believe that superior quality smoked meats cannot be rushed. This is why they run out of some products periodically, but the wait is always worth it. We carry Allan's hams and bacon at our shop, and people go hog wild.

Mikuni Wild Harvest- a Vancouver based company with some of the most gorgeous wild, foraged and specialty edibles available in the marketplace today. Mikuni is always the first to have fresh spring morels, exquisite American caviars, intensely aromatic and flavorful oils and vinegars. We love opening our shipments from Mikuni- it's like Christmas every week. As a chef, sometimes there is no replacement for items like these - no matter how much you love ‘keeping it local.’

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Q. What are the least “chefy” and most “chefy” things you like to eat and why?

A. There are days when all I want is a hotdog and a coffee cabinet from New York System (it's a Rhode Island thing, sorry), or maybe throw a slab of freshly caught stripped bass on the grill at home for kick-ass fish tacos on the deck.

Then, there are other days when I'm in the mood to be wooed - visiting my friend's restaurants for the gluttony of extreme offal consumption; tripe, calf's brain, pork cheek. It all depends on the day and my mood.

Lately I've been diggin' on my buddy Matt Gennuso's street food. He just bought an old linen truck and renovated it to sell his house-made sausages and other fantastic finger foods. He parks his Hewtin's Dogs truck outside of our largest farmer's market here, and just kills it. My last bite there was a house-made meatloaf sandwich with a soft fried egg on top, with bacon and Peppadew pepper relish. It was insane.

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Q. Favorite places and what you like there:

A. Some local favorites include:

New Rivers restaurant here in Providence: French bistro meets contemporary Americana cuisine. Fresh, local, seasonal, well sourced and delicious. I'd go for the beef tongue pastrami, the clams with chorizo, any of Beau's house-made charcuterie. They are always the first to get shad roe this time of year, one of my favorite things.

Toro in Boston, continues to surprise and delight. Spanish tapas-style cuisine, expertly pushed to the edge with bold flavors, locally sourced ingredients, and a killer wine list. Favorites? Where to start? The uni sandwich is a must. Again, the beef tongue with lentils and salsa verde is sublime. My friend Jamie Bissonnette is the chef and his morcilla (blood sausage) is fantastic. They do a version of classic Spanish street corn: grilled, drizzled with aioli, lime and Idiazabal cheese, a smoked sheep's milk cheese. Perfect in summer with a glass of sparkling cava.

Quince in San Francisco was a standout, memorable meal for me. Michael Tusk is a master. His pastas are the best I've ever had in this country. The last time I was there he did this quail dish with raisins and hominy- it was gorgeous. An impeccable wine list too. Worth a visit if ever in SF.

Olivia in Austin, Texas. Olivia is a cool little restaurant, totally green and focusing on sustainability. Their brunch was outstanding, the most memorable Eggs Benedict I've had, ever. Two poached eggs on griddle corn cakes with braised beef cheeks underneath. Top it off with a great Bloody Mary and you're in heaven.

The Breslin in New York. I'm a big fan of April Bloomfield of Spotted Pig fame. She just opened The Breslin, which is setting the bar for contemporary, American, gastro-pubbery. Her stuffed trotter gets me going and not too long ago they had a poussin dish with pumpkin and mint. Stellar. Simple food, but so well executed. Awesome cocktails, too.

Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. Speaking of gastro-pub food, a trip north of the border will bring you to one of my favorite restaurants of all time. Chef Martin Picard is larger than life. “The Wild Chef” is a forager, butcher, and all around bon vivant. Last time I was there, we were showered with great food. Soft poached eggs with red wine syrup and brioche, skillet baked lasagne with beef cheek and spinach. Our meal was finished off with a sixth pitcher of beer, and a roasted pig's head with a knife stuck in it. Anyone who can pull that off has my adoration.

Il Rossolino in the hilltop town of Pienza, Italy. One of the best meals in my life. It’s a tiny mom & pop restaurant run by a husband and wife team, he is the chef and she is the only server. The food was classic, traditional, but with country charm (mismatched plates and glasses), the best vitello I've ever had- stewed in milk, over pecorino polenta. If you are in Tuscany, just go.

Le Quartier Francais in Franschhoek, South Africa was a memory maker. Kate and I honeymooned there and had an unforgettable meal under the stars. Dinner for us in the tasting room was awesome. All tasting menu- 9 courses, paired with wine. Intense.

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Q. Late night places to dine?

A. The Red Fez, here in Providence. My crew and I love hitting it for a drink or six after service, as well as for their kick-ass country-fried menu. Standout food like headcheese tacos, their glorious grilled cheese, and Scotch eggs are all a cook's best friend. They've got cheese puffs on the bar and stiff drinks. Plus, I have a hotdog named after me there- so I have to make frequent stops to support the cause! It's fun as hell. Loud music, all the RISD wannabe freaks you can shake a paintbrush at and you never know when the place will erupt into a dance party or a fist fight. Good times.

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Q. Top five restaurants (other than your restaurant or home) and why?

A. While this is kind of like choosing your favorite children, I'll give it a shot:

1. Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Dan Barber crafts elegant but grounded cuisine, drawing on inspirations of the growing region and the farm right there on property. I totally dig his ethos and think that he's one of the few ‘celebrity chefs’ who really gets it. Dining at Stone Barns is an experience, not just a meal. He's a hero for sure.

2. Daniel. Daniel Boulud's Upper East Side restaurant just epitomizes what big city, high-end dining can be about. In the height of the season, you'll be hard pressed to find vegetables treated with as much care, or prepared with more love than at Daniel. The last time I was there, I was temped to just get the vegetarian tasting menu. But then I snapped out of it.

3. Another perennial favorite is Craft. Tom Colicchio is the man. (So is Danny Meyer). If you just think about the way Tom changed dining in New York, you realize how significant and still current his concept is. Eating like this was such a new idea, and still when I go there, I love the work it takes as a diner and the involvement the menu provides the guest. Awesome. Oh yeah, and the pull-out wine holder in each table? Brilliant.

4. I'd be lying if I didn't say the French Laundry wasn't on my list. I mean, what is there to say. Eating there is a study in food and service. There is a reason why Thomas is the father of fine American cuisine.

5. The Publican. Chicago has some great spots, but The Publican is where it's at for me. Part beer hall, part gastronomic adventure, this is the food I like to eat. Hay smoked ham chop. Fried sweetbread schnitzel. Are you kidding me? All the time. But my wallet can't afford a plane flight to Chicago every week.

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Q. Great Italian in Providence?

A. This depends completely for what you're in the mood for.

- Al Forno for a seat at the bar and a grilled pizza.

- Baccaro for 'Ciccheti'- small bites and treats.

- The Blue Grotto for an experience you'll never forget- but just don't eat there. 

- Caserta Pizza on Federal Hill for anchovy pizza and spinach pies, but that's it.

- Jeanette's Pastry on Branch Avenue - the best Italian I've had since I've lived here.

She's only open a few days a week, and makes be the best calzones, ever. House-made dough, stuffed with salami, cheese, banana peppers... it's awesome. And when she sells out, it's gone. The open sign in the window is turned around and the door is locked. 

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Q. Best places in the country for their cheese program?

A. La Laiterie... oh wait, that's my restaurant. Hmmm. Funny.


Details of Matt Jennings’ recommendations on where to eat in Providence, RI and around the world, what purveyors he likes, and which cookbooks to use.


- Brined & Grilled Pork Blade Steaks With Spring Onion & Rhubarb 'Mostarda'


American, Local




186 Wayland Avenue

Providence, RI 02906 (view map)

T: 401.274.7177


Tue - Sat: 11am - 11pm


84-188 Wayland Avenue

Providence, RI 02906 (view map)

T:  401.274.7177


225A Westminster Street

Providence, RI 02903 (view map)

T: 401.274.7177


Mon - Sat: 11am - 5pm



- Chef Erik Desjarlais, Portland, Maine

- Chef Nick Curtin, Compose, New York, NY


Matt Jennings’ recommendations on where to eat in Providence, RI and around the world, what purveyors he likes, and which cookbooks to use.