When I arrive at Sprout Creek Farm in New York’s Hudson Valley just outside of Poughkeepsie, it’s snowing for the first time this season. The grey sky blankets the farm’s rolling 200 acres with gentle white flurries. The last of fall’s vibrant foliage blazes from the trees. It’s gorgeous here.
Recently, I made a spontaneous decision to travel to Lebanon, which turned out to be a revelation in cheesemaking. This was prompted by my partner, who was attending a last-minute wine trip in the country during a week we were planning to spend together.
After he asked me what I thought about joining him on an excursion to this Middle Eastern country, it took just a split second of consideration before I booked my flights. Prior to leaving, however, I began my research and discovered that Lebanon was richer in its food and wine culture than I could ever imagine. Of course, being a cheese professional, my vested interest was in this region’s cheese scene.
It’s been said that Eve offered Adam the apple just so she could keep the pear for herself. I admit, it’s a bit apocryphal, but in my book, totally understandable. Of all the orchard fruits, pears are the most versatile in varieties and culinary prowess. Not to mention, also can be found in two separate species — European and Asian.
Crockery crowned with a blistered dome of cheese and bread arrives straight from the broiler. The best French onion soup is never ladled from a pot; it’s crafted into a layered experience. Excavating through the Gruyère, the first spoonful of still-too-hot onion slivers are unveiled. The steam’s herbal notes emerge, along with a hint of the wine that is sweetening the slurp-worthy bone broth.
To understand the making of Rush Creek Reserve cheese, it’s important to appreciate the operations of its producer, Uplands Cheese, located in Dodgeville, WI.
The dairy farm milks its cows seasonally while the animals are on pasture, producing grass-fed milk. This is used to craft the company’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an alpine-style cheese available only during the summer. When the pasture stops growing, Uplands stops making this cheese, although the cows are milked until about Christmas, when the herd is dried off for the winter.
It’s a sub-zero December evening in small-town northern Vermont, and the dining room of the Highland Lodge is packed. A side closet overflows with down coats and wet snow boots. In one corner of the dining room, rosy-cheeked people of all ages circle around a fondue pot, while on the other side, revelers in holiday sweaters graze across small mountains of cheese wedges. A shout goes out for everyone to quiet down, and a man with a gray sweater and five o’clock shadow stands up on a chair above the crowd. “2016 was a rough year,” he says, “But I’ve got a feeling 2017 is going to be Jasper Hill’s best year yet.” The crowd smiles and raises their drinks in agreement, before joining in a joyous cheer. They are on board with Mateo Kehler. “Something special is happening here.”