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Centerfold: Carpenter’s Wheel

Photographed by Nina Gallant | Styled by Kendra Smith

The story of Carpenter’s Wheel began in 2009 as an experiment. Following his success with smaller aged cheeses such as Cabra LaMancha and Black & Blue, FireFly Farms co-founder Mike Koch wanted to do more. “I was interested in rounding out the line with a big-format, longer-aged goat’s milk wheel,” he says. The result was Bella Vita, which won Super Gold at the 2010 World Cheese Awards. The sudden popularity of the cheese presented a production problem. At his Accident, Maryland facility, Koch simply didn’t have the space to age the wheels. FireFly Farms stopped making Bella Vita, except for an exclusive run for Whole Foods in 2019, when “the supply lasted barely through the holidays,” says Koch. At the same time, he was having conversations with Crown Finish Caves, which partners with cheesemakers to age cheese in tunnels formerly used for fermenting beer in Brooklyn, NY. It seemed to be the ideal solution, except for the timing—the wheels were due to arrive in Brooklyn the third week of March 2020. A leap of faith turned what Koch calls a “breathtakingly frightening” time into a productive partnership. “It was really this existential moment for us, because we opened to work with and support cheesemakers and dairy farmers, and we thought, ‘if we’re not doing that at this moment, then we are not doing what we set out to do,’” says Caroline Hesse, sales manager at Crown Finish Caves. “We chose to be optimistic. Every time I taste Carpenter’s Wheel, I taste that.”

“Where we are here in northern Appalachia there is a deep farming history, and beautiful barns, including the one on our farm, where FireFly started, with a barn quilt on the side that is Carpenter’s Wheel. We sent some pictures to the team at Crown Finish Caves, and that was it.”  – Mike Koch, FireFly Farms

“We wanted it to look smooth, like a pebble or a stone you’d pull from a river. In Mike’s area of Maryland there are all these rivers and waterfalls and lakes—it’s absolutely gorgeous—we wanted to reflect that in the way that the cheese looked.”  – Caroline Hesse

Susan Axelrod

Susan Sherrill Axelrod is a former editor of Culture. Her love affair with cheese began at age 12, when she bicycled to a gourmet shop to taste an exotic newcomer—French brie. She lives with her partner in midcoast Maine, where she enjoys a well-made cocktail, hiking with their dog, Lucy, and spending as much time as possible on the water.

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