Washington County (N.Y.) has developed into a truly significant cheese making destination. Always a dairy stronghold, over the past ten years it has blossomed into a high quality cheese center. If any one had any doubts, this past weekend's Washington County Cheese Tour would have dispelled them.
Liza Porter cutting samples of cheese
The tour covered five cheese makers spread with-in a relatively short radius. I started my circuit at Longview Farm in the Town of Argyle. Run by Liza and David Porter, this farm overlooks the Hudson River Valley with incredible views. They make both cow's and goat's milk cheeses of excellent quality. Their chevre, creme fraiche and feta are staples in my house, while their hard cow's milk cheeses are superb as well. Hi Rock, a gruyere-like cheese is a particular favorite and would make an awesome grilled cheese or macaroni and cheese. Producing cheese since 2004, their quality has steadily improved and is now as good as any.
Dave Randles talking cheese
From Longview and their French Alpine goats, I drove on to The Argyle Cheese Farmer. Marge and Dave Randles' cheeses and dairy products, made with cow's milk, are very good. I especially like their cheese curds, but their most notable product for me is their yogurt, in particular their Greek style yogurt, which is what I think the Greek makers of Fage Total Yogurt were looking for when they built their plant in nearby Johnstown, N.Y.
Sweet Springs Farm is located on an historic homestead in Argyle that takes a long drive down a narrow dirt road to get to. Jeff Bowers' Nubian goats and cheese making facility make a worthwhile destination. Bowers' chevres and his wonderful, rinded, White Lily are outstanding cheeses. White Lily, named after one of the farms first goats, is one of my favorite cheeses – period. Like Longview and 3-Corner Field Farm, Sweet Springs is making a blue cheese as well. Unlike the others, Sweet Springs is a blue-rinded cheese. The others are blue veined.
On my way to 3-Corner Field Farm, I stopped at Sheldon Farms to pick up some corn and had a terrific chorizo quesadilla for lunch. After relaxing a bit and tasting the cheeses of Warren County's Nettle Meadow Farm (I love Kunik) available for tasting at the store, I continued to the farm, where I found the biggest crowds of the day. I have been a fan of this farm for quite some time. They started by raising excellent lamb and over time Karen Weinberg, her husband Paul Borghard and their daughters turned into world class cheese makers as well. I am particularly fond of their Shushan Snow. Their sheep's milk yogurt and ricottas are awesome as well. In addition to great product, 3-Corner Field Farm is amazingly picturesque with rolling hills and frisky sheep working on producing next spring's lambs.
Technically a ringer on this tour, since the farm is actually located just across the border from Washington County in West Pawlet, Vermont, Consider Bardwell Farm was my last stop of the day. Producers of both cow's and goat's milk cheeses, they are perhaps most well known for their semi-soft and hard cheeses such as Dorset and Manchester, Consider Bardwell Farm's cheeses are probably the most widely available of the cheeses from the tour. They can be found in a number of high end cheese shops as well as top restaurants around the northeast including Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
While these comprise some of the most well known cheese makers of the area, this list is not exhaustive as the county is the home of other fledgling enterprises as well as some more established ones. One cheese making farm notable by its absence from this group is Dancing Ewe Farm in Granville, N.Y. They are particularly well known for their Italian style sheep's milk cheeses, with their ricotta having achieved prominence and featured in Mario Batali's Babbo.
The work is hard, but appears to be paying off for these cheese makers as well as the region. While many of the farms' visitors were local, it appeared that at least as many had traveled to the area specifically for this event. I, for one, will continue to watch the further development of Washington County's growing cheese making tradition with a growl in my stomach.