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The Empire (State) Strikes Back: A roundup of New York cheesemakers


Although Vermont is usually recognized as the leader among northeastern artisan cheesemakers, the great state of New York is running a close second. Home to countless acres of verdant pastureland and rolling hills, the Empire State has long been steeped in dairy farming tradition and can now boast a number of dedicated artisan and farmstead producers. Here we present a quartet of relative cheesemaking newcomers, all of which are family-owned and run. We also check in with three New York State stalwarts producing what have now become modern day classics.

HUDSON VALLEY BEAUTIES

Cochran Farm is located in the sleepy town of St. Johnsville, where the husband and wife team of Patrick and Gwen Apfel dedicate themselves to producing chèvres with the flavor and complexity of the raw milk goat cheeses of Patrick’s native France. Using only goat’s milk from a nearby Amish farm, which is pasteurized and left to develop flavor overnight, the Apfels carefully hand-ladle the curds to avoid any fissures that would detract from the dense, fudgy textures of their cheeses. Their flagship St. Johnsville is an earthy delight brimming with true farmhouse flavor in the traditional French style. And Gwen’s signature creation, Oriskany, perfectly balances full barnyard flavors with a bright, citrusy finish. Mohawk Mist, a young fresh chèvre, is the quintessential breakfast cheese; It’s divine on warm toast topped with jam. The highly perishable nature of Cochran Farm’s cheeses dictates only next-day shipping, which limits their availability to the Northeast region.

Cochran Farm St. Johnsville

Industry veterans Shaleena and Willy Bridgham launched their company Four Fat Fowl in historic Stephentown after years of honing their skills (marketing and cheesemaking, respectively) with Hudson Valley pioneers Old Chatham Creamery and Coach Farms. Together with Willy’s sister Josie Madison, who handles operations, they are growing their brand on a national level. Even with their recent increased national distribution, this hands-on trio continues to monitor every batch themselves for signs of peak ripeness. Milk purchased from a single source downstate allows for a continuity and quality typically reserved only for farmstead operations. Their award-winning St. Stephen is a round of creamy, buttery joy with a clean, rich finish and an extremely stable rind. Brand-new CamemBertha is St. Stephen’s earthier, more robust sister. And Inagadda Ricotta, made from Jersey cow’s milk, possesses a texture and richness not found in commercial varieties, and is redefining what ricotta is truly capable of.

The Four Fat Fowl team

AGED WHEELS FROM WESTERN NEW YORK

Sylvia and Jacob Stoltzfus of Deansboro are the driving force behind Jake’s Gouda Cheese. They purchased equipment and traditional wooden curing boards from Holland specifically suited to making goudas and began turning out their own versions of those well-loved Dutch classics. Their Jake’s Aged Gouda provides the requisite crunch and caramel overtones that one finds in the aged Dutch varietals, boosted by a sharpness typically associated with aged Italian cheeses and English cheddars. In addition to their Baby Gouda, Jake’s offers a number of flavored goudas such as Sundried Tomato and Garlic, Jalapeño Blend, Nettle Blend, and a truly superior Smoked Gouda. (They also produce an outstanding sharp cheddar.) All of their cheeses are made from top-quality raw cow’s milk that is supplied by the family dairy, now run by their son Merle.

Cheese racks at Jake’s Gouda Cheese

Gary and Betty Burley of Perry, New York were farmers in the fluid milk trade when the cheese bug bit them. Gary states that their “a-ha” moment occurred when, “We first tasted Comté, and that was it for us!” They engaged a consultant from the Beaufortain region of France who taught them the art of French mountain-style cheesemaking, and East Hill Creamery was born. True to the grand French tradition, all of their cheeses are produced from raw cow’s milk, and from a grass-fed herd to boot, which is overseen by the Burleys’ children at the family farm just down the road from the dairy. East Hill’s Alpine-style Silver Lake is based on a traditional Comté recipe, with a good bit more acidity than its European counterpart. It delivers just the right amount of satisfying crunch and a diverse bouquet of flavors, including nuts and cured meat. East Hill Creamery also offers Underpass and Underpass Reserve in the style of traditional Raclette, and their tangy and fruity Happy Accident is just that.

Mike of East Hill Creamery in their cheese caves

THE VETERANS

Sprout Creek Farm is a working dairy and non-profit educational center located in Poughkeepsie. In addition to their excellent raw and pasteurized cheeses, they also offer numerous classes and seminars for children of all ages. Topics range from cheesemaking to the life cycle of chickens; those looking to dig a little deeper into agricultural life can sign up for week-long camps in spring or summer.

5 Spoke Creamery in Goshen utilizes only raw milk from their closed herd to produce their line of aged cow’s milk cheeses. Tumbleweed, their take on Salers, is subtle but flavorful with a distinct tang and creaminess. Firm and nutty Harvest Moon, inspired by Mimolette, is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. They also produce a number of aged cheddars representative of the excellent value in today’s domestic cheese marketplace.

The cheeses of Nettle Meadow Farm have garnered much attention and numerous awards over the years, and rightfully so. Their trademark cow’s and goat’s milk Kunik has earned the dairy a reputation as a top contender in the domestic triple cream category. In addition to a number of other bloomy-rind cow’s and goat’s milk cheeses, Nettle Meadow has a standout line of fresh spreads, including chèvres both plain and flavored, fromage blanc and fromage frais. They have also recently launched a line of washed-rind tommes bathed in a variety of local libations.

Be on the lookout for these and other New York State cheeses as they continue to increase their presence in the American cheese marketplace.

Patrick Ambrosio

Patrick Ambrosio is a veteran cheesemonger and managing partner of the Village Cheese Merchant in Rockville Centre, NY. A former professional chef, he enjoys cooking, hiking, playing the guitar, and family time when he is not researching and nibbling on cheese.

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