First We Feast is proud to present our first documentary, "Hometown Hero: The Legend of New York's Chopped Cheese."
Back in January, when we first investigated this iconic New York sandwich, we were told time and time again: to understand the real New York, you've got to understand the chopped cheese. What exactly is a chopped cheese, more familiarly known as a "chop"?
On the surface, that would seem simple. The bodega specialty gets its name from the "chopping" of hamburger patties, which occurs on the griddles in delis throughout Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Harlem. The minced meat is covered in cheese, slipped into a roll or hero, and dressed with standard-issue condiments.
But when we began to peel back the layers and ask questions about its origin story, how it became so popular, and why it's so difficult to find one in lower Manhattan, we were introduced to a much deeper tale fueled by borough rivalries, hip-hop mythology, and hard-to-swallow truths, giving us a more meaningful glimpse into what makes this city tick.
Since then, the story has evolved from a sandwich hunt to one about why New Yorkers feel protective over it. As more media outlets turned their attention to the chopped cheese, we saw new divisions form. This frustration came to fever pitch when a young Harlem comedian Jeffrey Almonte posted a reaction video that addressed issues of gentrification and "Columbus Syndrome" in his neighborhood, racking up millions of views and ratcheting up the outrage.
Feelings of displacement were only magnified when it was announced back in August that celebrity chef April Bloomfield would be selling her own rendition for $15, roughly 3x the original price, inspiring the hashtag #hoodappropriation. (It has since been lowered to $11.) Now, with the most recent New York Times coverage, it is safe to say that the chopped cheese is no longer a local's secret.
So where does this leave the sandwich, as well as the people who take so much pride in calling it their own? "Hometown Hero: The Legend of New York's Chopped Cheese" dives head first into these questions, giving you a chance to hear directly from New Yorkers who want to protect it, re-invent it, or simply remind you that there's more to the sandwich than meets the eye.
[via First We Feast]