Reinventing the Wheel: American Mountain Cheeses

The mountains of the Northeast may not approach the altitudes of the Alps or Pyrenees, but cheeses crafted in the nooks, crannies, and foothills of the Green Mountains and Adirondacks stand tall next to their European forebears.  American cheesemakers are in many ways still blazing a trail for hand-crafted cheese, free from many of the same constraints that shaped European cheese tradition.   Today the peaks and valleys of the American countryside yield some of our favorite farmstead cheeses– traditional Alpine wheels made from raw Jersey cow’s milk, terroir driven goat tommes, and luscious mixed-milk triple creams.

Spring Brook Farm—Reading, VT

While Alpine agrarians cooked and pressed the curd for their hefty wheels of Gruyere out of necessity (who wants to schlep a hundred balls of soft burrata down a mountain slope instead?), today you’ll find Alpine-style Tarentaise from Spring Brook Farm made an expansive Vermont meadow, where a herd of 100 doe-eyed Jerseys (prized in the cheesemaking community for their rich milk) get their fill of lush grass in fields surrounding the cheese house.  The terrain might not be Alpine, the process certainly is: cheesemaker Jeremy Stephenson heats curds in traditional copper kettles, and finished wheels are washed and turned for months, all the while developing the characteristic Alpine flavors- a kick of pineapple, followed by a savory nuttiness akin to hazelnut butter.

Twig Farm—West Cornwall, VT

If meaty washed rinds like  Forsterkase and Vacherin Mont d’Or are more your speed, trek 60 miles across the Green Mountains to Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Vermont, where Michael Lee and Emily Sunderman milk a small herd of Alpine goats for their raw milk cheeses.   Twig’s Soft Wheel peaks in these mid-winter months, the buttery late-season milk redolent of wild grasses and wilder flowers, with a characteristic brightness.   Soft Wheel, aptly named, is washed in whey brine, which encourages its healthy pink rind and enhances its depth of flavor.

Nettle Meadow Farm—Warrensburg, NY

At Nettle Meadow Farm in the southern Adirondacks, cheesemakers Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanigan have embraced their rich, expressive milk and fashioned Kunik, a triple cream dream worthy of a picnic at any elevation. Though bloomy rinds reign the coastal regions of France, we think New York’s Kunik fits right in nestled in wooded, sloping terrain.  Made from the milk of Nettle Meadow’s herd of browsing goats, with an added dollop of cream from neighboring Jersey cows, Kunik is an unmistakably peanutty butter bomb, an edible testament to a balance of traditional skill and American ingenuity.

This month try all three in our American Mountain Trio – click here to learn more.

By Sascha Anderson

Murray’s Sojourns at Nettle Meadow Farm

by Chloe Zale, Murray’s Summer Intern

Greek yogurt with honey, steaming coffee, and the excited faces of Murrays’ employees Sascha, Louise, Michael, and Jason eased my pain at the Saturday at 7:30 AM meeting time for our trip to Nettle Meadow goat farm. It was early, especially for a college-aged intern on a Saturday, but don’t get me wrong – I had been looking forward to this Whey-cation for weeks. I literally dream about the farm’s famous bloomy-rinded, milky, oozy, sweet and just-tangy-enough goat and Jersey cow milk cheese, Kunik. Well, at least I had the night before the trip.

The forecast was dubious for our final destination of Warrensburg, NY, and sharp streaks of rain decorated our coach bus’s windows as Sylvester, our devoted driver, escorted us up the Hudson River. Jason (Murray’s Director of Wholesale) and I (Summer Intern) concentrated on manifesting good weather for the rest of the day, and before we knew it we were without rain and at our first stop of the day:  New World Home Cooking, in Woodstock, NY, the proud establishment of locavore Chef Ric Orlando and his media-hyped blackened string beans. The café sits on the foundation of an old Olympic-sized swimming pool and features brightly-colored décor and a light-flooded back room that looks out onto Chef Orlando’s two-acre property.

We were immediately greeted with berry bellinis and generous portions of the green beans. The beans. Were. Otherworldly. (I really wish I could upload tastes to this blog). Dipped in a dusky orange paprika-dijon sauce, the spicy, crisp veggies were, as Jason put it so eloquently, “like crack.” Next on the menu were a few different options, including a ripe strawberry and basil crepe, a local egg frittata with seasonal vegetables, and smokehouse ham with grits and a fresh pea salad, which was the most popular dish of the morning. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, we were presented with a parade of delectable mini cheesecakes made with Nettle Meadow’s fromage blanc (unsalted fresh goat cheese) and graham cracker crust, garnished with fresh peach compote. They disappeared. Quickly.

Rapidly descending into food-coma-heaven, we stumbled back to the bus and promptly passed out for the second leg of our journey, the star of the show, Nettle Meadow farm, where happy goats make great cheese. And are those goats happy! We awoke to Sylvester backing our oversized coach into the farm’s dirt driveway (at an impressive 90 degree angle to the road, I might add), and pampered goats, sheep, and even a llama or two perked up their ears in excited anticipation of their new playmates-to-come.

Lorraine and Sheila, who run the farm, showed us around their multiple barns and waited patiently as we cozied up to their prized herd. Some of us got perhaps a little too friendly with our new companions – one unnamed Murray’s employee almost lost her shirt to a curious goat’s overzealous mouth.  But all order was restored when Sheila led us through the farm’s cheesemaking and aging facilities. We were privileged to see almost all the stages of the cheesemaking process at once, from pouring the first fresh curds into their perforated containers to sorting through the crisp, white cheeses as they age. Sheila also reminded us that although cheesemaking as a profession seems like a bucolic paradise, it is, in truth, a job that demands eighteen-hour work days. But when a passion like Sheila and Lorraine’s is the foundation for such a job, the result is truly astounding.

After our cheesemaking lesson, an array of savory and sweet chevre delights brought us to the end of our stay at Nettle Meadow. It seemed that each whey-cationer had his or her own personal favorite, since I overheard accolades of the ginger snap, walnut, and goat cheese cookies and the juicy figs with chevre and pepper, but I and a few others went gaga for the crunchy pancetta/Kunik/sweet pear/fresh thyme concoction that completely redefined my conception of finger food.

Bellies full and legs tired, we mounted the bus once more for an epic four-hour journey back to Murray’s. As the country landscape morphed into urban skyline, we began already to reminisce about our magical day at the farm and to look forward eagerly to our next Whey-cation at the Vermont Cheesemaker’s festival!

The Murray’s Crew at Nettle Meadow