Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Cheese Tour

Ballcap: Check. Sturdy sneakers: Check. Sweatshirt: Check. Cooler with ice packs for cheese we purchase along the way: Check. GPS programmed with farm addresses: Check. Beautiful weather: Check. OK all set it's time to head out for the 2013 Washington County Cheese Tour with FF. It was a beautiful day to drive the back roads, visit the farms making artisanal cheeses, and enjoy fatty cholesterol laden calories high in sodium and just screw it: We will be at one with good eats.

From downtown Albany it was about an hour and fifteen to get to 3-Corner Field Farm in Shushan, NY, our first of six farms open for visitors this season as part of the Tour. Wash off shoes: Check. We washed off our footware before we entered so as not to bring in "viruses" (and should have done the same so as not to bring sheep poo back into my nice clean Honda Civic on the way out).  3-Corner Field Farm is the first sheep dairy farm in Washington County and one of only four in NYS.  We had the pleasure of meeting the farm's owner, Karen Weinberg, when we first arrived, who explained some of the challenges of sheep farming, i.e., sheep don't produce a lot of milk, it's labor intensive, and you have to market your product which is more expensive than cow's milk products, etc. They had organized tours of the fields and the milking operation, which were really cool because they were, I think, intent on educating us city folks and other ignoramuses about meaningful, sustainable farming. We found out that, in addition to cheese, they have the wool and meat products that they also market. However, most of the questions from visitors were focused on the ram's and ewes' screwing habits, which was funny at first then quickly got to be really  stupid. FF asked where the slaughterhouse was, which shut everyone up for few minutes. I love her dark side. Ignore City Folk With Too Many Questions: Check. We worked our way back to the barn to taste cheese.

FF and I were a bit frustrated by the cheese tasting set up at 3-Corner, but this might have been their first time as part of the Tour. Staff were cutting off little bites of cheese to offer guests AND taking money AND talking about cheese stuff while the tasting line built up behind; not very organized and slow, especially if we were going to get through the list of farms on the Tour. Anyway, FF fluffed off but Zena persisted. She really enjoyed the aged, Basque-style sheep's milk cheese called Battenkill Brebis and bought a piece to take home. Very good with early fall Macintosh apples she bought the day before (and a beer, but not until later when I got home, dearest Mr. State Trooper).


Next stop: Consider Bardwell Farm in West Pawlett, VT, specializing in goat's milk and cow's milk cheeses. The cheeses were amazing - one called Manchester  (an aged raw milk goat cheese) was my favorite, but I also bought a piece of the Dorset, a washed-rind, raw Jersey cow cheese. The atmosphere was more like a little tiny farmer's market, complete with banjo players and roasted corn, but they were relaxed and organized and the farm was bucolic. It was actually the most beautiful of all the farms we visited that day. Not much good to say about Zest, one vendor selling a variety of prepared foods, both to go and to eat now at the many picnic table set up in the mowed lawn down the hill. FF had a chili dog and thought the meat was weird and the cheese was cheap and there was more bun than anything else. Bag lunch the next time: Check.

Next stop was Argyle Cheese Farmer. We didn't stay long, but did get a chance to hear about their involvement in making Greek style yogurt, which mostly sounded like a second-hand prospect with very little philosophical investment. But the yogurt was amazing! I also loved their Revival Cheddar Cheese, and bought a nice hunk to take home for later indulgence. I got lucky and got a chance to see the cheese aging room, wishing I had a good reason beyond greedy to buy a whole wheel of their wonderful offerings. Plan a party to eat all of this cheese I'm buying: Check.

So the GPS, a necessary piece of equipment on this type of adventure, got us on a stretch along a gravel road to the last farm we could visit as part of this year's cheese tour (to add on the last 2 farms would have been a very long day and would have cut into our happy hour). We were at Sweet Spring Farm. Sadly, all they had left was Chevre, but it was really really very very yummy, so we weren't too disappointed, also because by now we were getting pretty tired. I loved this place - so quiet and beautiful. It was the ONLY farm where we got to pet a goat, which was lovely, something we expected more of, you know, petting farm animals. Clean up with disinfectant hand gel: Check.

Lots of good cheese to enjoy and I feel SO lucky to live in upstate NY and have so many wonderful products to enjoy in season. The only issue I had with the whole event was that the Cheese Tour  signs were useless, showing up at the last turn before the farm instead of 5 miles out, 5 turns earlier, as you wiggle your way into the back country trying to find your way. Printed maps are good - very analog and 1970s, but at least you know where you are in the big picture, not just where you are right now. GPS gets you there but you have NO IDEA where you are. But maybe that's a good thing, lost on a summer afternoon, experiencing rural NY, and enjoying your time with a best friend and eating cheese. A wonderful day. With fat, and salt. Buy more apples: Check.

Zena, Goddess of Fire

1 comment:

That is what I said said...

This sounds WONDERFUL, but I'm trying to eat less cheese. Screw it. Bring on the cheeses!