With their cheeses on the menu and used in restaurants like Babbo, Daniel and Del Posto amongst others, Dancing Ewe Farm is amongst the forefront of new high quality, American cheese makers. Located in the bucolic, cheese tradition rich setting of northern Washington County, NY, the farm, owned and run by Jody and Luisa Somers, seeks to emulate the cheese making traditions and methods of Italian Tuscany. Set amongst idyllic, green, rolling hills one can indeed believe one is in Italy when viewing their flock of sheep, their caseificio and their beautiful, large, snow white Maremma sheep dogs who protect the flock as if they were their own brood.
Jody Somers was on track to become a veterinarian, but ultimately decided it wasn’t the career he wanted and left Vet school to go to Tuscany to study cheese making. It was there that he met his future wife, Luisa, a young, vivacious Italian woman who was working in the program that Jody attended. At first they were just friends. Jody returned to the United States and Luisa came to visit. Soon the friendship turned into something more and eventually the relationship turned into marriage and the visits turned into residence. They return to Italy each fall and winter to tend to olive groves and produce their own olive oil.
Their cheeses are made with the fresh milk of their flock of East Friesian ewes. The milk is piped from their milking parlor directly to an elevated tank in their compact, but immaculate cheese making room. With the room filled with gleaming stainless steel and sterilization equipment, Somers is meticulous in making sure that any unwanted microbes are left out of his cheese making process.
In a separate aging room, Luisa is just as meticulous in making sure that the desirable micro-organisms necessary for making cheese have just the right conditions in which to do so. The smell, really more of an aroma, in the ripening room is an intoxicating one for a cheese lover like me, which made me linger long enough to have to catch back up with Somers as he went back to the timely process of making cheese.
With the morning’s sheeps’ milk in the elevated tank in the cheese-making room, Somers had added veal rennet to start the coagulation process. Working with precise times he returned to the room to start breaking up the forming curd with a wire rake, ultimately looking for the curds to be near the size of hazelnuts since he was preparing a cheese that would age to a hard finish similar to a pecorino from Pienza in Tuscany. The smaller curds allow for more release of the liquid whey and easier drying.
Once the curds have formed to the desired size, Somers drained some of the whey into large metal milk canisters. He then proceeded to rig up an ingenious creation of his own engineering. His cheese-making process is largely a one man effort. To accomplish this efficiently, Somers set up a large stainless steel table below the milk tank upon which he places his plastic cheese baskets in a specific arrangement. He then takes a specially engineered stainless steel top that secures over the baskets and the table under them. The top stainless sheet has precisely measured and spaced openings that ft the baskets underneath.
With the collecting table fully rigged, Somers attached a special hose to the underside of the tank and drains the curd and remaining whey onto the top of the table, sweeping the curd into the baskets as it accumulates on top of the table. The whey, meanwhile drains into additional milk canisters where it awaited use for another purpose.
While most of the curd was directed to the smaller baskets to make a pecorino fresco some was put into larger, squatter baskets to make a stagionato or aged cheese.
With the curds in the baskets, Somers removed the top steel board and quickly and effortlessly “flipped” the curd collections in each of the baskets by emptying it into his palm and then turning it over and back into the basket to help drain more whey.
The full containers were loaded into an incubation chamber and Somers cleaned up the facility leaving it looking as if nothing had just occurred. Jody and Luisa have big dreams and aspirations for their property and operation. In the not too distant future they hope to add a tasting room to a barn, production and aging rooms for Italian style salumi and even facilities for a small agriturismo. The property is already beautiful. If their dreams can become reality, Dancing Ewe will become a destination for more than just a scenic detour.
Once his cheese making was done, Jody treated me to an experience that was even more special. He sat down and played old Italian accordian music for me, something he does to while the down time between steps in cheese making. If I hadn’t felt like I was in Tuscany before, there was no doubt then.
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