Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Washington County Cheese Tour, Part II: The Cheese

Yes, that's a lot of cheese.  And we only made it to three farms!  But this post, as The Essex Green sang, isn't about farm life.  I got to that yesterday.  This post is all about the cheese (and yogurt, and cheese crisps).

Three of us went on the Washington County Cheese Tour together on Saturday, visiting 3-Corner Field Farm, Consider Bardwell Farm, and Sweet Spring Farm.  It's hard not to leave with a lot of product when stopping by places on the tour; you often meet the cheesemaker, see the animals (maybe even pet them), and taste the cheeses--and they're good! 

Now that I've tried all the products we came home with, I want to do a little review of them.  There's so much good stuff to be had from these cheese farms; no matter your personal preferences when it comes to cheese, you'll definitely find something to like.

And much of the cheese can be purchased online through the farms' websites and at regional farmers markets, so you don't have to wait for the next Cheese Tour to try some.

3-Corner Field Farm (Shushan, NY)
Frere Fumant
A much talked-about cheese, thanks to its presence in shops in Manhattan and Boston, Frere Fumant is a raw sheep's milk cheese (like all those from 3-Corner Field) modeled on the traditional Idiazabal cheese of the Basque region of Spain.  And like the Idiazabal, Frere Fumant has its own interesting story about how it gets its smokiness: the folks at 3-Corner Field send the cheese up to be smoked by Brother David of the nearby monks of New Skete.

Smoke is the most prominent and interesting flavor in Frere Fumant, but by no means is it an overwhelming smokiness.  The cheese isn't aged for too long, so it's still fairly moist and some earthy, grassy tones come through via the milk.  This creates a nice balance, and while we ate this cheese on its own, I could see it really adding some interesting character to a burger or sandwich.

Shushan Snow
3-Corner Field Farm calls the Shushan Snow "our version of Camembert."  Now, true Camembert is a cow's milk cheese from the Normandie region of France, which Steven Jenkins describes in his Cheese Primer as "at once garlicky, truffly, mushroomy, and slightly salty, with an underlying flavor of nuts and wood."

Shushan Snow may not contain all those elements, but that's not exactly an indictment.  This cheese is soft and creamy, and it does have some funky, mushroomy aspects--even more noticeable when eating the rind.  Spread on crusty bread, this makes for a nice treat.

Brebis Blanche
Somewhat crumbly, yet still spreadable, 3-Corner Field Farm refers to their Brebis Blanche as an alternative to cream cheese with only half the fat.  I'm not entirely sure about that (though I do have some frozen bagels here, so I might try it tomorrow), but this is still a tasty and versatile cheese.  Slightly tangy, the Brebis Blanche is a cultured, lactic-style cheese.

We also picked up a tub of the lavender and honey-flavored Brebis Blanche.  Texturally it was similar to the regular version, but the lavender and honey added some interesting characteristics.  The taste of lavender can put some people off, but it's pretty mild here and works well with the honey.

Sheep's Milk Yogurt
As you can see, this yogurt didn't last long between the three of us.  Now, you can get some really good yogurt in grocery stores these days, but there's something to be said for the freshness of something like 3-Corner Field's yogurt.  You can taste the full-fattiness of the milk, and you can tell that this is sheep's milk.  I had it with some berry granola, and the combination made breakfast seem more like dessert.

Consider Bardwell Farm (West Pawlet, VT)
The cheesemakers at Consider Bardwell, Chris Gray and Peter Dixon, are serious about their craft and that shows in the products.  The Dorset is a seasonal, semi-soft cow's milk cheese with a washed rind.  This is a really buttery cheese, smooth in texture, with a little funk coming from the rind.  It's a versatile cheese, but maybe best enjoyed on its own (or on plain crusty bread or crackers) to really appreciate the subtle flavors.

Whereas the flavors of the Dorset are pretty subtle, the ripeness of the Pawlet is up-front.  This is a raw jersey milk cheese that's aged from four to six months, which is where the flavors really come from.  It's creamy, funky, and nutty, and can be appreciated in a lot of ways with the strength of the flavors.  I love pairing a cheese like this with a Belgian dark ale, like Unibroue's Trois Pistoles, but it would also go well with a heady red wine whose flavors can stand up for themselves.

Cheese Crisps
Now this is a fun little treat to snack on.  And these crisps are so rich, you can probably limit yourself to a few at a time.  Made of both cow's and goat's milk, you can see the flecks of cheese in the crackers, and you can certainly taste them, too.  If you see these for sale anywhere, I'd suggest snapping them up.

Sweet Spring Farm (Argyle, NY)
Black Pepper Chevre
The word chevre simply means goat; you can certainly get goat's milk cheese at any supermarket these days.  But there's something to be said for really fresh goat's milk cheese, and that's what we have here with Sweet Spring Farm's Black Pepper Chevre.  I always like goat's milk cheese, that little bit of tang, hints of gamey qualities, and you only get that more with a local, fresh product.

Here, the black pepper adds a nice touch.  A little spicy, a little sweet, it creates a nice interplay with the goat's milk flavors.  Creamy and spreadable, the Black Pepper Chevre is much more than your ordinary goat's milk cheese.

The cheeses listed above can be purchased through the farms' websites (linked above).  The Cheese Traveler can surely hook you up with some, too; visit him at the Delmar Farmers Market.


  1. I'm really enjoying your blog! Great subject matter and good writing/organizational presence. I'll be sure to read more in the future.

    1. Thanks, Dave--especially in the early-going it's nice to hear some positive feedback.