ARTISANAL CHEESES – Find Great Tastes at Your Local Markets
"This has just been the week from hell…; mud doesn't even begin to describe the wallows that we have here right now… It is just horrible. Add to that, my intern, who had committed to stay until Dec. 31, hurt her back last week and decided to depart yesterday with no notice. That leaves us a full person short with our summer markets poised to open. I am beyond pushed."
So reads an e-mail from Lynn Fleming, artisanal cheese maker at Lynnhaven Nubians in Pine Bush, NY.
It isn't all fun and games. Other cheese makers concur. Colin McGrath at Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie has been working on formulating a successful blue cheese for the past four years. He estimates that he's worked on, and discarded, over 1000 batches in his quest for blue-veined perfection. And, at the Amazing Real Live Food Company in Pine Plains, NY, partner Pete Destler is trying to figure out a way to get funds to create an underground storage cave so he can save on electricity costs.
All in a day's work for artisanal cheese makers – a new breed of entrepreneurs dedicated to sustainable harvesting and healthy, local food.
These local farmers start small. So small that you'd pass by the home of cheese maker Joyce Henion in Walker Valley – never guessing that behind her split-level suburban house, she raises 25 milking goats, a buck or two, and 5 gorgeous black ducks ("just for fun"). The entrepreneur is proud of her products, a chevre with 6 different mix-ins, Greek-style feta and Montasio, a raw milk cheese aged for 6 months and based on an Italian recipe from a 15th century Monastery.
Recipes are all in the head of Colin McGrath at Sprout Creek. Each cheese in the product line varies a bit with each batch. But, he says, "That's what cheese making is all about. It's not an exact science."
Take the Eden Cheese as an example. "I've been improving on it since I came here." Aged 5-months, it has a unique sticky texture. "That plays an important part as the stickiness intensifies the finish of the cheese. First there is a pungency that stays, then a saltiness and a sweet butterscotch or caramel finish." A lot of detail for a cheese most consumers will down with a Ritz or two.
Taste isn't the only thing that cheese makers at the Amazing Real Live Food Company consider. They have decided to enhance their soft cheeses with four of the most well researched probiotic bacterial strains available. The Queso Blancos and Farmer's Cheese and their newly created ice cream will all be "good for you" foods that will aid digestion.
Aged cheeses, particularly Gruyere, do not include the bacteria, but have another selling point. Very few artisans can afford to market aged cheeses. For start –ups, it's almost impossible to hold out during the lag time between making the cheese and waiting for the aging process to be completed – almost a year later. But that's just one strength "The Amazing" will promote. Right now they are reaching 25 markets each week. With their new cheese vat, they anticipate tripling, or quadrupling their output while cutting their work time in half – and that's just three employees.
Artisans all – but not without an eye for growth. Each is committed to sustaining the healthiest, highest standards and maintaining their unique identities.
Pull up a cracker and taste some of these wonderful creations.
For a chance to sample these great cheese as well as local beer, wine and spirits, come to the Hudson Valley Bounty's The Art of Local Event on Father's Day, June 19th. Go to www.hudsonvalleybounty.com for more details.