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Centerfold: The Finback

Photographed by Nina Gallant | Styled by Madison Trapkin

When Brian Civitello and Jason Sobocinski founded the Mystic Cheese Company in 2011, they knew they wanted their cheese to be delicious, made with high-quality milk, and most importantly, to be fun and approachable. “We set out to have our business be about accessibility. One thing you see in the artisan cheese community is that people can get intimidated,” says Sobocinski.

“Cheese can be expensive, hard to pronounce, or smell weird. We want it to be accessible to people who aren’t entrenched in this community.”

The creamery’s mission doesn’t mean its cheeses are devoid of history and technique. On the contrary, its newest cheese, the Finback, is the result of Civitello’s four-year journey into a labor-intensive style of cheesemaking, more common in the UK and Europe than stateside. “At the core of my inspiration for the Finback is a traditional folk method that combines multiple days of cheese making to form a singular wheel, which was large enough to ripen throughout the winter and provide sustenance into the spring when the milk supply would return,” says Civitello. “While the use of this technique has faded over time, the impact it has on flavor and texture can still be tasted in the likes of Castelmagno, Salers, Cantal, and Lancashire—arguably some of the greatest cheeses still being made today.”

“Managing the different days to achieve the target and hit them consistently was not easy. It challenged me to develop better practices and better process control measures.”

Most cheeses go from vat to mold in a single day, but like the iconic wheels Civitello names,
the Finback is a milled-curd, cow’s milk cheese produced over two days. Sometimes make days are back-to-back, other times there’s a day in between, depending on the availability of local milk, which adds another level of complexity to production. The result is a crumbly yet creamy, imminently snackable cheese with brothy notes and a lactic tang that lingers on the tongue.

Civitello started developing the Finback in 2018, when Mystic Cheese moved to its current state-of-the-art space on Connecticut’s shoreline. Previously, the creamery was confined to a 500-square-foot storage pod on a dairy farm, which offered only enough space to make fresh cheese. “The new facility allows us to explore aged cheeses,” said Civitello. “It’s hard to start an aged cheese from scratch because you have to wait seven months to see any results…but the pandemic gave us breathing room to do more [research and development] and really hone it in.”

Josie Krogh

Josie Krogh is culture's Digital Strategy Lead. She earned her master's degree in Agricultural and Applied Economics from The University of Georgia. Josie developed a love of food while working at farmstands in the D.C. area as a young adult, and discovered her love of cheese while living and working on a dairy farm on Martha's Vineyard. She is passionate about the food supply chain, fresh stone fruit, and dogs. Josie currently lives in Catskill, NY.

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