If you find yourself with a free weekend this fall, consider a day trip to Milford, N.J., home to Bobolink Dairy & Bakehouse. There you’ll meet Jonathan and Nina White, who make rustic farmstead cheese and bake loaves of incredible bread, like duck-fat ciabatta, in their wood-fired oven. Back in 2005, this farm made a splash when it was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s New Jersey episode of “No Reservations.” Since then, the Whites have purchased a new farm and moved from Vernon to Milford, where they operate a farm store, teach classes and frequent area farmers markets.
Last year, Valley Shepherd Creamery in New Jersey appeared on my radar and quickly became a favorite source for rustic, raw-milk cheese. This Pecorino-style wedge made from the milk of pasture-raised sheep is a good choice for February, when your disposition needs sweetening and your palate craves dense, nutty cheeses. Tuck a wedge of Oldwick Shepherd into your down vest pocket and go for a walk in the woods. Pair this with a flask of scotch, and you’ve got a mood lifter—call it the ultimate stay-cation package.
Oldwick Shepherd has a natural (edible) rind and a dense paste like a Pecorino, but it tastes more like a cave-aged Gruyère crossed with a clothbound cheddar. The wheel I tried was caramel-sweet and herby; near the rind, I detected pronounced walnut notes. Unlike other sheep cheeses, there isn’t a muttony finish. As one friend from the Garden State recently told me, “This cheese makes me proud to be from New Jersey.”
Look for cheeses from Valley Shepherd Creamery at Di Bruno Bros. and Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market. Valley Shepherd Creamery, 50 Fairmount Rd., Long Valley, N.J. valleyshepherd.com;
Calkins creamery in honesdale makes a brie-style cheese called Noble Road that has garnered a cult following. But the creamery also produces a Gouda-style heartthrob with a nutty swagger, which is just as fabulous. If Robert Redford were a cheese, he’d be this one. Old Man Highlander even has a leathery exterior. Inside though, it’s all walnuts and sweet cream, thanks to the unpasteurized milk of Delaware River Valley Holsteins.
If you’re looking for a bold cheese to pair with beer, reach for Red Cat from Birchrun Hills Farm. This classic washed-rind stinker from Sue Miller isn’t as bossy as a ripe Epoisses—a pungent French delicacy—but it has the same creamy texture and beefy character. Think of stewed meat and bitter greens. The slightly astringent finish makes this cheese an ideal pairing for the rustic hoppiness and grapefruity twang of a Yards Pale Ale. For something gentler and smoother, try Red Cat alongside a pint of Slyfox Saison VOS. Loaded with apricot and honey notes, this saison softens Red Cat’s growl into a luxurious purr.
When Kristian Holbrook named his mixed-milk robiola “Hummingbird,” he couldn’t have chosen a more perfect image. Like its namesake bird, this soft cheese is bright and delicate, with a nectar-like flavor profile that calls to mind vanilla and citrus. At one week, Hummingbird has the consistency of airy cheesecake; at three, the center liquefies and gains pungency.
If you like baking with cream cheese, you should know about quark. Chances are you haven’t heard of it—unless you have relatives in Germany or Poland—
Lori Sollenberger owns eight cows. From that limited milk supply, she makes eight different kinds of cheese, including a sharp, salty feta. It pairs beautifully with tomatoes, onion-heavy salads and even watermelon. “Just crumble some feta over the melon and add chopped mint,” she advises.
by tenaya darlington, madamefromage.blogspot.com
If you’ve never had fresh mozzarella—I’m talking one-hour-old—do yourself a favor and stroll down to Claudio’s in the Italian Market. It’s one of the few places in the city where you can still observe a food tradition in action. Like Nan Zhou (927 Race St.), the noodle bar in Chinatown where you can observe skilled technicians pulling dough into ribbons, at Claudio’s you can see people in shower caps making mozzarella by hand, Tuesday through Saturday.