|One of 50 Nubians at Yellow Springs|
For the last three years, I have led a car-free life. The only thing I miss: country drives. On my birthday last month, I asked Monsieur Fromage to take me out to some winding roads. I put on my leopard print coat, and off we went to cheese country.
Chester County, Pennsylvania has a “cheese trail” – a clever thing. Many states have developed these dairy touring routes, and I encourage every cheese addict to seek them out. The Chester County Cheese trail includes some of my favorite cheesemakers from the area: Amazing Acres, Shellbark Hollow, and Birchrun Hills.
It would take all day to visit every dairy, so we decided to drop in on an open house at the much-lauded Yellow Springs Goat Dairy headed by Al and Catherine Renzi. Two of their cheeses have won prizes from the American Cheese Society – Nutcracker and Red Leaf – but you won’t find them at cheese counters. The Renzis only sell their cheese online, at their farm store (open by appointment), or through their goat cheese CSA program in Philadelphia.
For my birthday, I dreamed of a Yellow Springs cheese plate.
What a pretty place Chester County is, full of tree canopy and fieldstone walls. Wind around enough curves, and you’ll come to Yellow Springs, where 50 Nubians graze next to a spring-fed pond.
That’s where we found Al Renzi, overlooking his herd. He sauntered up the hill to greet us, passing the spring house, where we learned that a batch of blue cheese was aging. It took a lot of self-restraint not to fling back the door – you know I love a good stinker.
|Cheesemaker Al Renzi|
|Black walnuts from the trees overhead|
The Renzi farm is stunning. The eight-acre grounds are part of an old cow dairy with a farmhouse and barn the Renzis restored themselves. Giant sycamores stir in the wind, and even on a dreary December afternoon, the place conveyed a cozy warmth.
I was especially impressed by the barn’s pristine “make room,” backdropped by a century-old fieldstone wall.
|Entrance to the cheesemaking facility|
|The "make" room|
I loved the cheeses we sampled. There was a feisty puck of Bliss that spread like softened butter and a delicate wedge of Fieldstone that was sweetly earthy. But my favorites were the kickers: Red Leaf, which came wrapped in wine-soaked Sycamore leaves; Nutcracker, which had flecks of black walnuts; and a creamy, pungent Nobiola in the style of an Italian Robiola.
Here are a few tasting notes:
Red Leaf: dense and tangy, with a pronounced funk from the Sycamore leaves that enrobe this cheese. Imagine a mellow Epoisses with a kick of goatiness. Smells a little boozy, great earthy flavor.
Nutcracker: smells like a squirrel cave, nutty and leafy. The rind looks like cave etchings – really it’s leftover walnut must from the making of Nocino Liqueur, a spirit the Renzis make from their own black walnuts. The flavor is pleasantly sweet-salty and nutty with flecks of walnut meat.
Nobiola: this is the Renzis' version of Robiola. It has a bloomy rind the color of sand and an ivory paste. Grassy smell, fudgy texture. The taste is milky and sweet with a hint of coconut on the finish.
Next time you crave a Sunday drive, stop in and see a cheesemaker. It's worth picking up a cheese plate you can eat for supper, and guess what? You'll relive your trip all over again with each bite. It's amazing how cheeses smell and taste like the places where they are made -- I swear I could taste frozen ground, sycamore limbs, goat happiness.
|My birthday dinner, a cheese plate from Yellow Springs|