The Ides of March. Stinky Cheese. What the heck do these two things have to do with each other? In the world of Grayson, our beloved odoriferous cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy, they have quite a bit to do with one another.
When most people think of the Ides of March, they think of the unfortunate death of Julius Caesar way back when. At Meadow Creek, however, the Ides means something a bit different. In Rome the date was marked by a sense of conspiracy, chaos, and a general sense of tumult. At Meadow Creek Dairy, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia, the tumult is more of the moo-ing variety as their herd begins the yearly ritual of calving. This mid-March day also marks the beginning of the end of last year’s production, and the promise of buttery young cheese come summer.
Meadow Creek Dairy is one of the only purely seasonal cow dairies that we at Saxelby Cheesemongers source cheese from. Goats and sheep, as I’ve mentioned in previous missives, are both pretty stubborn when it comes to breeding and giving birth to their young. Mother nature made a schedule, and they’re sticking to it. Cows, however, are a bit more malleable, and most herds are milked year round as different groups calve at different times of the year.
Not so at Meadow Creek Dairy. One of the basic tenets of Rick and Helen Feete’s farming philosophy is making cheese that is based on pasture. That means that they only make their succulent raw cows’ milk cheeses when their ladies (er, lady cows that is) are outside eating grass, from about late March until November or December. The theory being that grass-based cheese is inherently better: better for the land, as the cows move from pasture to pasture enriching the fields as they go, better for the farmer as they don’t have to be as reliant on grain and feed purchased from other sources, and better for the cheese because it is imbued with the subtle complexity of flavor bestowed by the native grasses of Virgina’s Appalachian mountains.
And before old Caesar had to go and get himself whacked, the Ides had a different significance… the day marked a festival to the Roman god Mars, who had the distinction (among other things) of being the deity protector of cattle, fields, farmers, and fertility. Seems to be right up our cheesy alley!
So it’s time to celebrate the rich and often quite rank wheels of Grayson that were made late last year. The cheese has reached its pungent crescendo, and we’ve got a nice little cache of it in the cave at Saxelby Cheesemongers. In just a few short weeks it’ll go on its yearly hiatus as we wait for the new spring wheels to ripen. So come on it and snatch some up to melt over potatoes or make yourself a damn good cheese sandwich.
For more pictures of Meadow Creek Dairy, visit saxelbycheese.com and click on our ‘Say Cheese!’ photos link. Until next Monday… eat cheese and be merry!