Thursday, September 2, 2010

Otterbein Acres Camem-baaa

This little cupcake may just be one of the most exciting cheeses to come out of eastern PA. It’s Otterbein Acres' raw sheep’s milk Camembert, made by an Amish family in Cumberland County (namely, young Katie Fisher and her mother, Lena). I visited their stand at a farmers’ market in Carlisle, PA a few weeks ago, and I nearly wept when I tasted a sample. It’s mushroomy and aromatic with a gorgeously creamy texture.

You know I have a soft spot for sheep’s milk cheeses, and lately that emotional attachment has been nursed along by a new book, Liz Thorpe’s The Cheese Chronicles. Thorpe is the queen bee of the cheese case at Murray’s Cheese Shop in New York, and her new book has a fascinating section on sheep’s milk cheeses that explains why they are so rare. Ewes produce the richest milk, but they also have the shortest lactation period.
Interestingly, Thorpe spent some time in the Cumberland Valley visiting several Amish cheesemakers, which she describes in her book. She doesn’t mention Otterbein Acres, makers of Camem-baaa, but she clearly knows that those hills harbor glorious cheese. She talks at length about Goot Essa cheddar (which I saw in the fridge at Greensgrow last week, for all ye Philly locals). I’m sure that, by now, Liz has sniffed also out Camem-baaa.

If you like Hudson Valley Camembert, you’re in for another domestic sheepy treat. First of all, Camem-Baaa smells like snap peas. It has a vegetal smell that is just pure front porch. The texture is creamy but also springy, owing to the plush rind. I don’t want to put anyone off, but imagine a Camembert circus peanut. Now forget I said that.
The flavor notes of Camem-baaa: mushroomy, complex and earthy, with a hint of wool – “lanoliny” is how Liz Thorpe describes the sheepy quality in these cheeses. Still, there’s remarkable balance and complexity. Camem-baaa didn’t have any of the watercress-pepperiness that I remember from my mad nibbles of Hudson Valley Camembert. I could have let this downy snowball ripen longer, but I was too eager to cut into it.

Camem-baaa is not easy to find, but I happen to know that Paul Lawler is harboring some at the Fair Food Farmstand. And I’d wager that Murray’s has a stash. The Carlisle Farmers’ Market is adorable and worth a day trip if you live in the area – it’s the only market I’ve ever seen that sells whole-roasted Amish chickens. Plus, there’s a great little restaurant in Carlisle that serves local, seasonal food – more inventive than most in Philadelphia (I had in-house kombucha and sourdough chocolate cake.) Look for it: The Green Room.

Please, if you get a chance to try this exquisite little dome of cheese, let me know. I’d love to relive every sheepy note with you.

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