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Trip to Williamsburg, the land of cheese and pantaloons

One of the great things about living in Richmond is your close proximity to so many different experiences. In just over 3 hours, you can be down in Blacksburg enjoying a Virginia Tech football game. In 2 hours, you can be up north in DC exploring our nation's capital. Just under 2 hours takes you east to the coast where you can enjoy a day at the beach. It’s an hour west to the mountains and just an hour south to North Carolina. Any direction you go, you are bound for an adventure. The enterprise that seemed to keep slipping out of my fingers lay west about an hour just outside of Williamsburg — Historic Jamestowne. I, as a history buff, wanted to see one of America’s first settlements, but it just never seemed to happen. After many years of excuse making and hemming and hawing, I was finally out of reasons to not go. On a beautiful Sunday morning, Cody and I got into the car for a trip back in history!

I had never truly been to Williamsburg before our trip either. I had driven close to it, but never into it. I wanted to change that with this trip. What better way to do it than to start with a trip to the Williamsburg Premium Outlets? Growing up in Albany, NY I was close to two great outlets that I can recall shopping at. If everything I learned when I was a northern child was true, then outlets were the place to go for great deals. It was decided that we would get to the Outlets at 10am when they opened. I recommend this as parking gets harder and harder with each hour that passes in the day. I won’t go into terrible detail about our shopping as it was standard as shopping goes. I will say that the Williamsburg Premium Outlets is huge. There are stores that cover everything you could need in daily life. I was able to secure a bunch of work clothes at a huge discount, which isn’t always easy. I will certainly be going back.

After spending several hours attempting to help me catch a whiff of fashion sense (I still don’t have any) we were starving. As we were planning our trip, Cody told me of a magical place we had to visit, The Cheese Shop. She told me that this store was a well known and cherished jewel in Colonial Williamsburg’s Merchant Square. She went on to tell me of the bottles of wine, the wheels of cheese and the delicious sandwiches. Without question, it was our lunch destination. Due to the famishment we were suffering, we beelined to the shop right from the parking garage.

Set in an old brick building fronted by a massive square, The Cheese Shop seems a store out of the past. Granted, that could have been the Colonial Williamsburg reenactors wandering around too. I was surprised by the size of the building when we walked inside. I didn’t gain the sense of how big it was from its storefront. The place was packed to the rafters with people and with goods to buy. We wandered around for a minute doing some visual shopping. I insisted on a quick peep around in the wine/beer cellar. The variety of booze for purchase was staggering. As we weren’t truly in the market for that, we did a lap and headed up to get sandwiches.

The menu board offered a bountiful amount of order choices. Narrowing it down took deep soul searching and mental eating in order to figure out what my tastebuds were craving. Cody originally ordered the pâté sandwich, but they had run out which was disappointing. Her backup choice was the Virginia ham with havarti cheese on french bread with the famous house dressing. I went with the salami on french with havarti and house sauce.

It took about 15 minutes for our sandwiches to be popped into our basket as the lunch crowd was big. We added a bag of bread ends to our load and headed towards the cheese counter. If you are confused by bread ends, please let me explain: As the sandwich makers start a new loaf of bread, they trim off the heels. They get all mixed together and are placed into bags. These get sold for $1 to be used as a snacking vessel to get cheeses, spreads and meats into your face later on. It’s a genius way to get rid of waste.

The cheese counter was an enchanting experience. Wheel upon wheel interspaced with all sorts of charcuterie. My eyes almost rolled out of my face with all the darting around they were doing.The woman behind the counter asked what we liked which immediately produced the words “I want something dank” from my lips. To me, that means a strong smelling, usually soft cheese. Without further ado, she pulled out three different cheeses. That led to two more and a few more after that, from dank cheeses to drunk ones to sharp and so on. In the end, we ended up purchasing five different hunks of cheese to take with us.

The very last thing we put in our basket before we rang up can only be described as the deal of the day. Of all the things that The Cheese Shop is known for, there is one that seems to be on the top of everyone's list. Ask someone from VA about The Cheese Shop and they all seem to say the same thing first: “Make sure to get the house dressing!!” Be it on your sandwich, as a side dip or in a jar to take home. Make sure to get the house dressing. What is this magic sauce you ask? It is a mayonnaise based spread that has garlic, pepper, Worcester sauce and mustard. It is blended into a smooth spread that is a must on all the sandwiches. With such a diverse ingredient list it strikes all areas of your tongue with the skills of a concert drummer. We made sure to take a bottle home with us.

We finally paid and were able to score a table. Once settled we brought forth our sandwiches wrapped in their paper, ready to be unwrapped like a birthday gift. We agreed to trade halves so that we each got to taste each sandwich. I started with Cody’s Virginia ham and havarti. The ham had that strong, but not overpowering salty flavor you want from a VA ham. The cheese provided a nice creamy texture to the salted, smoked ham. The bread had a beautiful crust with a moist interior. The flavors of the house dressing added levels of umami to the sandwich. Truly a sandwich I want to eat every week. My salami proved to be no different. The meat was stacked thickly, providing a winey/preserved flavor in place of the salt of the VA ham. Both of my halves got devoured with much haste.

Upon leaving The Cheese Shop we took a short post-lunch walk on W. Duke of Gloucester St., which leads you into Colonial Williamsburg. We didn’t have tickets to explore around so we only walked a little way. From what I saw, this place looks amazing. It is a step back into our history on a massive scale. I can’t wait to spend a day there.

Our final stop of the day was another historical site, the Jamestown Settlement. This “living” museum helps to recreate life as it was in the original Jamestown from 1607.

Once you get through the ticket area, you should head to exhibit hall. I found the walk through this to be incredible and informative. I hate to admit it, but I knew close to nothing about Jamestown. In NY, we only briefly cover the topic in our American history classes. To be able to work my way through so many artifacts, films and displays was mind-expanding. Budget at least an hour to work your way through the gallery exhibits before you head outside.

Our first stop outside was the fort site. This roughly one acre site is a wonderful recreation of what the original 1610 fort likely looked like. Around parts of the palisade you will find gun platforms complete with cannons, much as you would have back then. Scattered around the fort are several wattle-and-daub buildings. So you don’t have to look it up like I did, I will define that building style for you: These walls are essentially a lattice of woven wood strips covered with a sticky material made from some combination of wet soil, sand, clay, manure and straw. Not exactly the most fun building material to mix up I’m sure. As you wander around the fort you will find a blacksmith, an Anglican church, a storehouse and a doctor among several other spots. The day we were there no one was repairing tools or doing leather work so we pretty much ambled amongst the buildings by ourselves. The starkness of the buildings compared to the lavish houses we inhabit today is striking. I certainly don’t envy the hardships they had to endure, but I respect them for doing it. After trying on some of the soldiers armor which was lying out (it was insanely heavy) and watching these little punk kids chase around some of the fort’s chickens, we wandered out of the fort into the garden.

The garden outside of the fort is quite impressive. It’s not the biggest historical garden I’ve seen, but it would still be the envy of most home gardeners. The beds are home to dozens of herbs and vegetables used in the 17th and 18th centuries for food, medicine, bug repellant and fabric production. Plus, there is tobacco, the cash crop of Virginia. I would be quite happy to be able to replicate that plot of land in my own home someday.

Our walk along the paths took us down to the pier where three large ships were moored. They are re-creations of the ships that brought the first permanent English colonists to Jamestown. We climbed on board the Susan Constant to take a look around. We were told by one of the reenactors that the settlers who made the voyage across the Atlantic were usually on the sea for about four-and-a-half months. A whole bunch of smelly people crammed into a small space on a heaving ocean? Strong pass. I also learned that I do not fit into a bunk unless I curl up. Between my bad knees and fat belly I’m pretty sure I would sleep on the floor. My one request? Just wedge me between two crates of goods so I don’t roll around. We didn’t spend much time exploring the ships as the area was very crowded. We took a look around and departed down the gangplank.

Our final stop was the Powhatan Indian village. There were no reenactors around as it was very late in the day. We wandered around ourselves using the available signage as our guides. It was interesting to me to compare the housing of the Paspahegh Indians (the tribe this village recreates) to the housing of the Iroquois from upstate NY. Both tribes used longhouses, but it seems the Powhatan ones were smaller and primarily used reeds as the covering. Iroquois longhouse held upward of 20 families and were covered in tree bark. The similarities are understandable as the Powhatan Confederacy and the Iroquois Confederacy warred with each other. It is only natural to absorb fragments of each other’s culture. I enjoyed examining the small gardens in the village. We worked at the corn grinding bowl for a full two minutes before we felt like our arms would fall off. Wandering around the village it was easy to imagine it full of people working together to survive.

We made our way slowly back to the car savoring the last of the day’s warm sun. When we finally plopped into our seats, we were tired for sure. Between the shopping, the eating and the trip back in time we had put in a full day. In reality we had only experienced some of what Williamsburg had to offer. We began planning our return trip as we drove back to Richmond. If you find yourself with a free weekend day, consider the 45 minute drive down I-64. It is worth the trip. Until next time readers, may your sandwiches have house dressing and your historical figures be decked in pantaloons.

#Williamsburg #TheCheeseShop #Jamestowne