Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Visit to Yellow Springs Goat Dairy

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 SocietyNutcracker 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


  1. Thank you for the trip to Yellow Springs Goat Dairy! What a treat to visit through your blog. I love seeing what other goat lovers and cheesemakers are doing. Their cheeses are beautiful. I'm sure they made a wonderful birthday dinner.

  2. HI Tenaya,
    What beautiful writing. Now I'm hungry for cheese, and I just made a New Year's resolution to shed 5 lbs! Oh,well. It's great to be reading your blog again. Yumm.

  3. Thanks. Lovely Tasting notes and pics too.
    Love their cheese and Al and Catherine are so knowledgeable and willing to share.
    Debra: - check out Yellow Springs Farm's facts about the nutritional benefits of goats milk -!/note.php?note_id=182370348443260&id=135405756481194 - makes it a little more guilt free!

  4. Goat happiness. Love it. You make me want to eat cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.

  5. So cool to see these photos. I am a member of Pennypack CSA and participated in their goat cheese share last summer. The cheese was incredible. So much fun to sample so many different cheeses. I tend to lean toward the milder ones but the stinky ones were not lost on Dan. My favorite, however, was the mozzarella which came right in height of tomato season. Capresi salad for lunch that day, delicious!

  6. These cheeses look amazing. So glad you brought them to my attention and now I am planning a trip down the Cheese Trail myself! Stay Cheesy!

  7. Tenaya,

    I contacted Catherine Renzi about the possibility of Yellow Springs Farm adding a Center City-area pickup location to their Goat cheese CSA and learned that they could make this viable for the farm if at least 20 individuals signed up for a Center City (or South Philly or Kensington, etc.) pickup.

    I'm going to email Paul Lawler at the Fair Food Farmstand about this as well but wanted to first get your feedback on whether if the three of us (plus any other Yellow Springs cheese fans you know) banded together, if you thought we could rally enough people to commit to a Goat cheese CSA?

    Thanks ever-so-much for your feedback on this!

    Cheese lover, Madame Fromage blog fan, and Fair Food Board Member,
    Robin Barnes

    PS... I'm heading to Vieques for my FOURTH trip this March. So happy you've also gotten to experience the island!

  8. Wow, Robin! That's so great -- on all counts. I'll ask around and see if I can scare up some interest. This is such wonderful cheese -- have you had it? I know a few cheese heads in my neighborhood. I'll look up the cost on the Yellow Springs web site.