Special Delivery! Rush Creek Reserve – Just in Time for Thanksgiving!

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Each fall, we wait with bated breath for the release of Rush Creek Reserve, one of our favorite ooey-gooey washed rind cheeses from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin. Available for a short time each year – from early November through December, it is a cheese worth savoring (and celebrating)! Cheesemaker Andy Hatch spent time in the Jura region of France apprenticing with artisans to learn how the famed Vacherin Mont d’Or is made, and brought those lessons back here to the U.S. to produce the first Vacherin-style cheese in the states.

Each wheel is creamy and ridiculously unctuous – you can literally eat it with a spoon! Just let the wheel temper for an hour or so, grab your favorite loaf of bread, and schmear away with reckless abandon. The cheese tastes of cultured cream, toasted nuts, beef stock, and grass – a robust, yet delicate combination of gustatory sensation that will leave you clamoring for another bite. Makes a perfect Thanksgiving table centerpiece – or a perfect gift for that food-lover you love this holiday season!

In Europe, Vacherin Mont d’Or is made in the early fall, when the cows have come down the mountain from their high Alpine pastures to graze a bit closer to the farm. During this time their diet shifts from fresh pasture to cut hay supplemented with grain. The resulting milk is richer and higher in butterfat, allowing for more decadent and buttery cheese to be eked from it. Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin follows a similar seasonal pattern. They make their Pleasant Ridge Reserve when the cows are out on pasture during the summer months, and then switch gears and craft Rush Creek Reserve when the cows come off the pasture and go on their richer winter diet. It seems that even cows like to indulge and pack on the pounds in winter!

So don’t delay! Order your wheel of Rush Creek Reserve before this year’s supply runs out!

A Stinky Exclusive: Jasper Hill Farm + Transmitter Brewing + Saxelby Cheese

Plus a Slew of Special Events! Pie & Cheese Social / Beer & Cheese Pairings

transmitterwilloughby01It all started last holiday season when we got a special delivery of limited edition Willoughby, a pungent round of cows’ milk cheese from Jasper Hill Farm washed with beer from the Alchemist, one of Vermont’s best craft brewers. That got our imaginations brewing (pun definitely intended… we can’t help it!) about what great NYC-based breweries we could work with to create our own beer-washed cheese. Enter Anthony Accardi and Rob Kolb of Transmitter Brewing, a brewery that’s small in stature but looms large in flavor, located under the Pulaski bridge on the border of Long Island City and Greenpoint.

Transmitter focuses on saison-style beer, a funky and delicious genre that lends itself handily to the task of washing cheese. After tasting through many of their delicious offerings, we settled on their H1 Zinfandel Saison – a cherry-hued beer that is aged in wine barrels and then re-fermented with Zinfandel grapes to produce a fruity-heavy and slightly sour flavor profile.

The wheels of Willoughby have been washed with the beer twice weekly for about six weeks now, and are ripe and ready to go! Snag one for yourself while the snagging’s good, and add some pungent, gooey, cheesy fare to your table this holiday season!

Join Saxelby Cheesemongers for Some Fantastically Flavorful Events!

‘Meet the Maker’ at As Is NYC

Wednesday November 9th | 6-8pm

Saxelby Cheesemongers & Transmitter Brewing serve up pairings of Transmitter Willoughby with H1 Zinfandel Saison

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Pie and Cheese Social at Essex Street Market

Saturday November 12th | seatings at 1pm and 2:30pm

Sample three perfect pairings of pie and cheese from Saxelby Cheesemongers & Peetee’s Pies

Event Info

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‘Meet the Maker’ at 61 Local

Tuesday November 15th 7-9pm

Saxelby Cheesemongers and Transmitter Brewing serve up pairings of Transmitter Willoughby with H1 Zinfandel Saison along with house made accompaniments

Event Info

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SAXELBY CHEESE FAQ’s

Q: How should I keep my cheese wrapped?

A: Cheese should be kept wrapped in cheese paper. The paper is specially designed to allow the cheese to breathe and not get dried out. If the paper gets tossed, don’t despair! The next best thing to wrap your cheese in is a layer parchment paper with another layer of saran wrap over the parchment to keep it from drying. The next best thing is foil. DO NOT wrap your cheese directly in plastic or saran! The fats in the cheese end up interacting with the plastic and cause a stale, plastic-y flavor to develop.

Q: How should I store my cheese?

A: Keep your cheese in the fridge when it’s not being served. The colder temperatures will stabilize the cheese and keep it from ripening too quickly.

Q: How quickly do I need to eat my cheese before it gets too old?

A: Soft cheeses should be eaten more quickly than aged cheeses – a good general rule of thumb is that soft cheese should be eaten within 2 weeks of receipt, and more aged cheeses can last in the fridge for a few weeks. The firmer the cheese is, and the less moisture it has, the longer it will keep. You can keep aged cheeses for a REALLY long time… (2 months or more) They might develop surface mold on the cut surface, but they’re still safe to eat – just trim that mold off!

Q: At what temperature should I serve my cheese?

A: To best enjoy cheese, eat it at room temperature. We like to keep it out for an hour or so before serving to allow the flavors to fully express themselves.

Q: Can I freeze my cheese?

A: In a word, no. Freezing cheese alters the flavor and texture that is not super nice… If you’re afraid you can’t eat it all in a timely fashion, we recommend inviting all your buddies over for a cheese-eating party! Nobody’s going to say no to that…

Q: How do I know if a cheese is too old to eat?

A: The general rule of thumb is that soft cheeses will spoil faster than aged cheeses. If you have a bloomy rind cheese that looks very brown or gray on the rind and smells like ammonia, it’s probably too old to enjoy. However, your taste buds are your best guide here! Taste the cheese – if it tastes spicy, soapy, or bitter, it is probably too old. If it tastes strong, but does not have any of the above flavors, munch away! Firm, aged cheeses are pretty much indestructible. Even if there is mold on the cut surface of the cheese, you can just trim it away and keep using it.

Q: What molds are edible vs inedible?

A: All of the mold on cheese is technically edible. However, there are certain kinds of mold that are less desirable. For example, pink mold on a bloomy rind cheese is not desirable – it is an indication that the cheese was a bit too damp at some point in production. Blue or gray or greenish mold on the surface of a bloomy rind cheese is totally fine to eat, and will not influence the flavor. Surface mold on a cut piece of cheese is technically edible (i.e. it will not kill you or make you sick) but should be trimmed away for best flavor.

Q: What should I do if mold grows on my cheese?

A: All cheese is dependent on different bacteria and mold to ripen it and develop its flavor… In the world of cheese we LOVE mold! Should any mold develop on the cut surface of the cheese, don’t worry, and DON’T throw the cheese away! Simply trim away the surface mold and then keep on enjoying that glorious wedge!

Q: Can I eat the rind?

A: YES! Unless the cheese is wrapped in wax or cloth, the rind is edible. The rind is to the cheese what crust is to bread. With softer bloomy rind cheeses, the rind really enhances the flavor. With more aged cheeses, the rind can be quite dry, hard, earthy, etc. Try it for yourself – if you like it, eat it, if you don’t, trim it away.

Q: Can the mold on cheese be a problem for people with allergies?

A: There are some penicillin-based molds in cheeses – mainly bloomy rind cheese and blue cheese. However, a person would have to have a VERY strong allergy to have a reaction to the cheese. The worst we’ve heard of is people having a slightly itchy sensation in their mouths or tongues.

Q: Why do some people not want eat raw milk cheese?

A: Most pregnant women are advised by their doctors not to eat raw milk cheese. There is a pathogen called Listeria that can be dangerous to an unborn fetus, and that bacteria can be carried in cheese. HOWEVER, if a cheese is made in a manner that is safe (i.e. clean production facilities, healthy animals making the milk, etc) there is an EXTREMELY small risk of this bacteria being present.

It’s Spooky, It’s Creepy, and It’s Totally Awesome and Is Really Good For You Too! What is It? Read and Find Out!

HalloweenMoldHero.pngWith Halloween just around the corner, we thought it would be apt to zoom in on one of our favorite subjects in the cheesy galaxy we inhabit – MOLD! We live in a society where mold is anathema – if something has mold on it, the conventional wisdom of the day (that is 2016, mind you, in 1916 that outlook was likely much different) says to put on the biohazard suits, run for the hills, and dispose of said moldy product in the most expeditious manner possible.

But we cheesemongers beg to differ! We are awash in a world of fascinating (and delicious) bacteria, mold and yeast that make our heads spin with wonder and our bellies contented with nutritious cheese. Our guts are probably happy about it too… it’s been proven by scientists (and touted by ‘real’ food titan Michael Pollan) that probiotics in food help nourish the gut’s microbial population making it easier to digest food and arguably making us healthier overall. Bottom line is this – humans have had a wonderfully symbiotic relationship with mold over the millennia, and we’re here to celebrate the artistry of our microbial colleagues that aid in the flavor development of cheese – from the cheese vat to the aging cave to your dinner table.

All cheese is mold…

Sometimes people freak out at our cheese counter when they see a spot of blue or green or gray mold gracing the rind of their cheese. What they can’t see are all of the other microbes that have gone into the development of the cheese from the cheese room to the cheese counter.

Milk is inoculated with different bacterial cultures at the outset of cheesemaking to start the fermentation process and lay the cornerstones of flavor for the finished cheese (starter cultures). The bacteria consumes the lactose (or the sugars) in the milk and produce lactic acid as a byproduct. Additional types of bacteria might be used to jumpstart the development of flavor in cheese later in the ripening process (secondary ripening cultures)

All of the strains of bacteria used in starter cultures have been isolated over humanity’s thousand-plus year love affair with cheese for their flavor producing properties. And different types of culture produce different flavors in cheese… cultures used to make say, a brie-style cheese differ greatly from cultures used to make a cheddar-style cheese. Nobody knows exactly how many different types of bacteria there are in the world, but today’s scientists are putting their conservative estimate at over one trillion. Of course not that many are used in cheesemaking, and not all of these bacteria are good for us, but in the battle of good versus evil, we cheese folks are working with the superheroes of the bacterial world.

After the cultures have done their work to start milk’s ‘leap towards immortality’ as cheese, then the molds, yeasts, and (even more) bacteria take over. When cheese is ripened, different molds, yeasts and bacteria colonize the rind and sometimes the interior of the cheese itself (in the case of blue cheese) causing different cheeses to have different appearances.

Bloomy rind cheeses are home to scores of mold and yeast that literally ‘bloom’ on the surface of the cheese, blanketing the exterior in a downy white rind comprised of bajillions of mold and yeast organisms.

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Natural rind cheeses are salted and left out in the cave to attract and encourage any ambient mold present in the environment. Michael Lee’s goat and cows’ milk cheeses from Twig Farm may be our favorite incarnation of the natural rind phenomenon. Their thick gray fuzzy rinds are a singular work of microbial genius.

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Washed rind cheeses are brushed with different liquid solutions – from salt brine to booze depending on the cheese – to encourage bacterial growth on the exterior of the cheese. Old school, dyed in the wool American cheesemakers sometimes refer to this process as ‘smear’ ripened. Sounds kind of yucky but kind of awesome all in one go!

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Blue cheeses are inoculated with different strains of mold stemming from the family ‘Penicillium Roqueforti’. Legend has it that blue cheese was a happy accident caused by a cheesemaker who left a moldy loaf of rye bread in his cheese room whose spores got into his cheese. Contrary to popular belief, blue cheeses are not injected with blue mold. The cultures are mixed into the milk during cheesemaking, and are activated when the cheesemaker pierces the wheels of cheese with stainless steel needles. The oxygen allows the mold to grow, creating the blue veins that we see in blue cheese.

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Definitions / What The Heck Does This All Mean?!?

Bacteria – microscopic organisms, usually single-celled, that can be found everywhere. They can be beneficial, such as when used in fermentation of foods, or to aid in the decomposition process, or dangerous, such as when they cause infections.

Mold – multi-celled organisms that are part of the fungi family. They are aerobic (i.e. need oxygen to grow). Molds have a long, threadlike shape, produce spores, and can be found in many colors – orange, green, black, brown, pink, or purple.

Yeast – one celled organisms that that are part of the fungi family. They are not as colorful as mold; most yeasts tend towards a white or off-white color. They are anaerobic (i.e. do not need oxygen to grow) and do not produce spores. Yeast is also found everywhere.

Probiotics – live microogranisms (bacteria and yeast) that, when administered in proper amounts, provide a health benefit to the host. (i.e. yogurt with ‘live cultures’ or any cheese for that matter!)

Saxelby Cheesemongers’ Mold FAQ’s

Q: What molds are edible vs inedible?

A: All of the mold on cheese is technically edible. However, there are certain kinds of mold that are less desirable. For example, pink mold on a bloomy rind cheese is not desirable – it is an indication that the cheese was a bit too damp at some point in production. Blue or gray or greenish mold on the surface of a bloomy rind cheese is totally fine to eat, and will not influence the flavor. Surface mold on a cut piece of cheese is technically edible (i.e. it will not kill you or make you sick) but should be trimmed away for best flavor.

Q: What should I do if mold grows on my cheese?

A: All cheese is dependent on different bacteria and mold to ripen it and develop its flavor… In the world of cheese we LOVE mold! Should any mold develop on the cut surface of the cheese, don’t worry, and DON’T throw the cheese away! Simply trim away the surface mold and then keep on enjoying that glorious wedge!

Q: Can I eat the rind?

A: YES! Unless the cheese is wrapped in wax or cloth, the rind is edible. The rind is to the cheese what crust is to bread. With softer bloomy rind cheeses, the rind really enhances the flavor. With more aged cheeses, the rind can be quite dry, hard, earthy, etc. Try it for yourself – if you like it, eat it, if you don’t, trim it away.

Q: Can the mold on cheese be a problem for people with allergies?

A: There are some penicillin-based molds in cheeses – mainly bloomy rind cheese and blue cheese. However, a person would have to have a VERY strong allergy to have a reaction to the cheese. The worst we’ve heard of is people having a slightly itchy sensation in their mouths or tongues.

 

 

 

It’s Halloween for Grownups! NEW Cheese & Chocolate Combos for Saxelby’s Monthly Clubs!

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This Halloween, supplement your stash of Snickers and Nerds with some killer cheese and chocolate pairings from Saxelby Cheesemongers and Raaka Chocolate! Our Cheese & Chocolate of the Month Clubs are a perfect gift for that candy-loving someone in your life, OR make a great treat for yourself too – because you certainly deserve it! Each month, you’ll get a perfect pairing featuring 1 bar of Raaka chocolate and a half-pound wedge of fabulous farmstead cheese.

Choose from a 3 month subscription or a 6 month subscription to Saxelby’s Cheese & Chocolate of the Month Club, and take 10% off when you use discount code ‘cheesemonth’

Red Hook Brooklyn-based chocolatier Raaka Chocolate sources the finest organic cacao beans they can get their hands on, and transforms them into sublime bars with elements like Smoked Chai Tea and Ghost Pepper to enhance the naturally complex flavor of each bean. The team at Saxelby Cheese has dutifully tasted through our many cheeses to find the perfect pairings for Raaka’s bars. As we like to say, it’s tough work, but somebody’s gotta do it! We’ve come up with some fabulous NEW pairings, and we can’t wait to share them with you.

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Cheese & Chocolate of the Month Club Pairings

Month 1 – Smoked Chai Chocolate with Kunik – a decadent, buttery goat/cow triple creme from Nettle Meadow Farm

Month 2 – Sea Salt Chocolate with Queso del Invierno – a creamy, citrusy and nutty sheep/cow blend from Vermont Shepherd

Month 3 – Bourbon Cask Aged Chocolate with Bayley Hazen Blue – a fudgy, sweet & salty blue cheese from Jasper Hill Farm

Month 4 – Maple Chocolate with Cacao Nibs with Ashbrook – an earthy, buttery, & lightly funky Morbier-style cheese from Spring Brook Farm

Month 5 – Coconut Milk Chocolate with Landaff – a tart and earthy cows’ milk tomme from Landaff Creamery

Month 6 – Ghost Pepper Chocolate with Marieke Super Gouda – a nutty and butterscotch-y aged gouda from Hollands Family Cheese

October is American Cheese Month!

Stop by Saxelby Cheesemongers in the Essex Street Market for daily cheese specials, and take 10% off all online cheese purchases through the month of October when you use discount code ‘cheesemonth’

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Let’s Fall Into Cheese People! October is American Cheese Month!

creme-de-la-cave-fall-2016It happened just like that. Summer seemed to be lazily extending its yearly visit, and then BAM! The weather turned colder, the skies turned grayer, and the days got shorter. Which is good news for us cheesemongers for TWO reasons – First, the colder weather flips the switch on that tiny internal apparatus that governs our appetites. All of a sudden we go from the ‘mozzarella all the time’ mentality to ‘bring me your stinky, your gooey, your firm and belly-warming cheese’ mode. (yes, those are scientific terms and phenomena.)

Second, October is American Cheese Month! Which means a monthlong cheese-centric party at Saxelby! Stop by the shop for special events, special grilled cheese sandwiches, and deals on your favorite cheese. Take 10% off ALL online cheese purchases for the month of October to help get your belly in top cheese-eating form for winter when you use discount code ‘cheesemonth’.

Check out our brand new Fall Creme de La Cave Selection – We couldn’t think of a tastier way to get started!

Cabot Clothbound Cheddar – A Five Minute History

The story of Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is the result of a perfect storm between two ambitious brothers, Cabot Creamery, and an award-winning wheel of cheese. Brothers Andy and Mateo Kehler decided to start a business in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom because their family had ties to the land there for over 100 years, summering at nearby Caspian Lake. They wanted to create a sustainable agricultural business that would revive the working landscape of Vermont, which was being decimated by big dairy farms and industrial agriculture. They bought ‘the old Jasper Hill Farm’ in 1998, and worked for five years to restore the barn, start a herd of Ayrshire dairy cows, and build a creamery. They began making cheese in 2003 and instantly met with much acclaim, but it was a call from Cabot Creamery that would change everything.

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Photo credit: Sarah Forest

Cabot Creamery heard of Jasper Hill’s success in the artisan cheese world – a world that they wanted to get into, but were having trouble reaching due to the fact that none of their cheese aging facilities had the capacity to age a British-style bandaged cheddar that they longed to make. Cabot Creamery is one of America’s most venerable dairy institutions. Begun by 94 Vermont farmers in 1919 who each contributed $5 per cow plus a cord of firewood for the boiler, they purchased the village creamery and began turning their excess milk into butter and fluid milk that could be shipped to urban centers. Over the years, the cooperative evolved, and they added cheese to their repertoire. Cabot Creamery is not a ‘fancy’ cheese manufacturer, but extremely pragmatic and effective in it’s business initiatives – to this day they support over 1,200 farm families throughout New England. They shipped a few test wheels to Jasper Hill Farm, and the Kehler brothers aged them for over a year before sending an entry to the American Cheese Society competition. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar won ‘Best in Show’ that year, and the Kehlers returned to the farm determined to find a way to expand the production of this newly crowned wunder-cheese.

The idea they hit upon was the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm – a 22,000 square foot aging facility with seven different temperature and humidity controlled vaults dug into the hillside next to the creamery and farm. By building the Cellars, they could age and sell infinitely more Cabot Clothbound Cheddar AND allow new artisan cheesemakers to get into the game by aging cheese for them as well. More than 70% of the labor in making cheese goes into the aging of it, and by easing that burden for cheesemakers, they allowed their partner creameries to focus on what matters most – animal health, quality milk, and great cheesemaking techniques. In addition to aging cheeses from Jasper Hill Farm and Cabot Creamery, the Cellars now ages cheese from four other creameries. But according to the folks at The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm – Cabot Clothbound Cheddar is what keeps the lights on – the company remains a powerful economic engine for cheese, dairy, and Vermont’s working landscape.

By buying and serving Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, you are supporting this virtuous cycle, and eating some pretty incredible cheese.

Pickle Day THIS SUNDAY September 25th!

It’s Kind of a Big Dill….

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Join Saxelby Cheesemongers this Sunday from 12-5pm for Pickle Day, the the biggest and pickley-est party on the Lower East Side! Come on out to Orchard Street to sample our world-famous Raclette and Pickle Dog, taste treats from over 20 picklers, get down to some great live music, and witness the first EVER home pickling / dancing contest!

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Cheesemaker Spotlight! Bonnieview Farm

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Bonnieview Farm is a fourth generation dairy farm in Craftsbury, Vermont. Bonnieview is owned by Neil and Kristin Urie. Neil is the 4th generation of the Urie family to farm there – his great grandfather started the farm back in 1890 as a cow dairy, though they also raised pigs, sheep, and horses. Neil’s grandfather and father were also born on the farm. Neil bought the farm in 1995 from his uncle who was a traditional cow dairy farmer (traditional being the parlance for a farm that sells milk on the commodity market and is not specialized in any way – organic, value added products, etc) According to Urie lore, Neil took off for the Peace Corps when the family farm was first put up for sale. He decided that if the farm was still for sale when he returned from the Corps, he would buy it because he wanted to see the farm stay in the family.

Kristin was born and raised in Manhattan (a far cry from Craftsbury, Vermont!) but found her way to the Northeast Kingdom (she attributes her northerly migration to latent Nordic bloodlines 🙂 where she met Neil in 2001. They were married in 2005, and they now have four children – Tressa, Maeda, Linden, and Nell.

When Neil started farming at Bonnieview, he milked cows for 5 years. During that time, he met David Major of Vermont Shepherd, who was milking sheep. Neil thought about it for a few years before making the switch. In 1998, Neil sold his cows and started milking a flock of 90 sheep in 1998. They now milk about 180 ewes from May through October – a mix of Fresian, Lacaune, and Tunis breeds, as well as 8 cows that are milked from August to April. Sheep have a very short lactation cycle – after they have their lambs in April they are milked for a few months before being dried off again in the fall. The cows at Bonnieview come online in late summer when the quantities of sheep milk are dropping, and are milked through April, when lambing season rolls around again. This staggered cycle of breeding, lambing, and calving, and milking gives Bonnieview Farm a unique seasonal cycle of cheesemaking.

farm-wheelThey now make three different cheeses that vary in composition (all sheep milk, blended sheep/cow milk, and all cow milk) throughout the year, as well as a blue cheese that also changes in milk composition over the year.

In the summer of 2016, Neil and Kristin completed work on a cheese cave, their dream of over six years! The cave was built into a hillside about a quarter of a mile down the road from the farm and houses all of Bonnieview’s cheeses. The cave allows them to produce and age the maximum amount of cheese that they can from their ewes and cows, and age them in ideal conditions until they are ready for market.

Bonnieview Farm is dedicated to producing delicious and healthy food for their local community, and for the rest of us far-flung cheese lovers! In addition to making cheese, Bonnieview raises lambs for meat and wool. They want to offer people a connection to the source of their food, and they work to cultivate the vitality of the land, the animals, and their family. A bold and wonderful mission indeed!

Right now we are in peak sheep season as it were! Stop by the shop for a taste of their glorious Coomersdale, Ben Nevis, and Mossend Blue – three of the finest sheeps’ milk cheeses these mongers have ever tasted!

A Visit to Vulto Creamery

Walton is a small town about three hours away from New York, nestled into the Western reaches of the Catskill mountains. The village has most of the things you’d expect – the ACE Hardware, a tiny restaurant claiming to be the region’s #1 hot dog destination, a gas station, a drug store, and a Big M Supermarket. It’s a sleepy main street, and one that is prone to flooding, we were told. In 2006 the nearby Delaware River busted its banks and wreaked havoc on the town of Walton and the surrounding farmland.

Just off the main road, there’s also a small cheese house, though driving by you’d never know it. Jos Vulto likes it that way. A seasoned cheese making detective/stalker might find it – there are a few telltale signs if you know what to look for. The the Toyota Tundra backed up to the nondescript door – large plastic tank in the pickup bed, still sweating after being emptied of the morning’s milk. The stacks of plastic molds, stainless steel tools, and myriad Croc-like shoes standing at attention waiting to be donned if one were to spy through the windows. And then in through the next set of windows, a wood-sided stainless steel vat – paddles rotating in an orderly fashion, stirring an impossibly large quantity of golden-yellow milk.

On this morning, Jos had beaten us on the drive up from Brooklyn by just a few minutes. He splits his time between Brooklyn and Walton, though these days his time in Walton is greater due to his booming trade in raw milk cheese. He sources the milk for his cheeses from a neighboring farm – a 25 cow dairy in the hills of Delhi, New York. The farmer is also his insurance agent. After the day’s cheese make, we visited the girls – serene Jerseys with their copper colored toupees – some seeking shelter from the heatwave in the barn, some grazing the impossibly green pasture that makes their milk so delicious.

They say that making cheese is 90% dishwashing, and ‘they’ are not wrong. After suiting up in our requisite hair nets, crocs and rubber aprons (cheesemaking is also incredibly glamorous) we were tasked with washing and staging molds – hundreds of plastic cups, rings, nets, and stainless steel weights – perfect shiny and surprisingly heavy blocks salvaged from Jos’s former career as a metalsmith in Williamsburg. There was no music – Jos says he would find it too distracting – so I took it upon myself to fill the silence with questions. I am pretty good at doing this. Jos is a man of few words, but he humored my barrage of inquiries until the milk was ready for culturing.

Here are the things that I learned: Like Jos’s operation, many creameries in France are located in villages, even if the farms are in the surrounding countryside. Jos has been a licensed cheesemaker for four years. He spent the previous four years making cheese in his Brooklyn apartment, honing his skills*. After coming to New York with an art-making grant from the Dutch government in the early 90’s, he settled on metal working as a trade and made high end interior finishes for wealthy New Yorkers. Before deciding on cheese making he thought of raising yaks for meat on his land. You could say he’s a bit of a renaissance man…

After the culture and rennet was added to the milk, we whiled away the intervening hour in the cheese cave – a large square room with cement walls chilled by lines of cold water running behind them. Being in a cheese cave is wonderful – all the more so in the summertime, when the temperatures outside approach the sauna-esque. In addition to the cold, there is the smell of cheese aging – a wet stone, earthy, fruity ammonia-laced scent that is heavenly to inhale.

There were racks of Miranda – orange cupcake-like forms washed in absinthe made at the Delaware Phoenix Distillery just down the road from the creamery, Ouelout – squat and flat washed rind wheels that can make grown French men cry with the memories of the Alsatian Munster their grandmothers used to serve them, Hamden – furry and rustic little beasts that would rival the best Tomme de Savoie, and Andes – big and brash wheels of Alpine-style cheese that are covered with an earthy rind spotted at times with fluffy white cloud outcroppings of mold growth. The cheeses are like little beings – each quietly holding onto some superpower imparted by the milk, the fermentation, the washing. They each have their own history – how the curd was hooped, how the wheel was washed, where it was put on the rack to age –  communicated through flavor when finally eaten.

Miranda, Ouleout, and Hamden are all made from the same curd – the difference in the finished product is due to the size and shape of the cheese, how the curd is treated when being ‘hooped’ or placed into the molds, and how long the curd sits in the vat continuing to acidify. After all of the dish washing and all of the waiting for invisible microscopic magic to happen, we returned to the cheese room to make the day’s cheese. The curd was cut and we dove (quite literally) into the cheese vat to stir the curd by hand. When you’re working with one ton of milk, one’s arms, if you’re on the taller side, barely reach the bottom of the vat. Stirring the curd is like therapy – a warm, mindless, but meaningful exercise that results in arms covered with butterfat and, of course, curds ready to be made into wheels of cheese.

After about twenty minutes of stirring, the curds had reached more or less a uniform size and texture and were ready for the next phase of their cheesy lives… The hooping of the curd is fast and furious – the antidote to all of the waiting and calm and peaceful stirring in the hours before. In just fifteen minutes or so, the vat full of curd was dispersed amongst hundreds of molds and forms, the last of which reserved for the wheels of Hamden – made from the last curds on the bottom of the cheese vat, unceremoniously squashed into molds. All the forms filled with curds, we took turns weighting, unmolding, flipping and re-molding cheese until Jos was satisfied that the work was done.

I’ve now been in this business for 13 years – and have made cheese many times with many different cheesemakers, both here in America and abroad. And I can still say that for me there is no better way to spend a day – the work, the smell, and the lovely fatigue that follows a day of making cheese is like a balm. And makes sitting down and eating a wedge afterwards all the more delicious.
*The first time Jos came to visit me at the shop, he brought a small plastic take-out container with slices of many of his homemade cheeses. A man of few words, I accepted his gift, not without some hesitation. After all, the mention of homemade cheese inspires weird thoughts of cheese being made in bathtubs, aged in strange re-purposed refrigerators (How did he get the mold to grow on them? Does he know what he’s doing?! Is his kitchen clean?!?) and etcetera. But I ate them all the same, and was totally and completely blown away by how different each cheese was, and how good they all were!