By Aaron Estes, Cheese Editor
I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual Taste of the Hudson Valley. Each year, local restaurants and artisans are given the opportunity to shine as they pair a couple of dishes with wine, beer, or other beverages of their choosing. The event is always well-attended as ticket holders move from table to table, chat with local chefs, sip wine, and comment on the successfulness of a particular pairing.
It’s a great time, but the purpose of this post is not to talk about the use of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, butternut squash soup, or local wine and beer. This cheese geek found the Sprout Creek Farm table, and I was anxious to chat with the cheesemaker to delve a bit deeper behind the scenes.
If you recall, I have reviewed a couple of Sprout Creek cheeses in the past. You can read that post here. Although the cheeses were well-made, it seemed that something was missing. I attributed it to improper storage at the cheese shop, and looked forward to another opportunity to taste these cheeses under more optimal circumstances. The time was now…
I was approached by Colin the cheesemaker as soon as I came up to the table. I am guessing that the lone person taking pictures of cheese gave away the fact that I was, shall we say, different than the standard attendee… We immediately hit it off as we began to discuss cheesemaking, Holstein vs. Brown Swiss, whey brining techniques, and the evolution of the Sprout Creek portfolio.
Colin has been with Sprout Creek for about six years. The enthusiasm and passion for his craft is immediately apparent upon meeting him. It’s perfectly clear that he loves what he does.
When he first arrived at Sprout Creek, he inherited what I would call “legacy cheeses” including the Toussaint and Barat. These are probably the two standouts as far as what they offer. During his time there, he has expanded their offerings to 25 different cheeses. That’s a quite a variety. Some are probably more successful than others and I think he would agree with that.
It is difficult to diversify with cheese to the point where everything that comes out of the hoop is special. Most cheesemakers will focus on one or two different styles and perfect them to the best of their ability before expanding. A perfect example of this is Uplands Cheese Co. in Wisconsin. Pleasant Ridge Reserve has been one of America’s best cheeses for quite a while. It has won Best in Show at the ACS competition three times in the past 10 years. That is the only cheese that the cheesemaker has focused on for several years until just recently. Rush Creek Reserve, a fantastic cheese akin to Vacherin Mont D’Or, just hit the shops this past year and has been received with great acclaim. That’s it. Two cheeses.
Sprout Creek offers 25.
Some cheesemakers fall into the trap of trying to do too much in an effort to appease everyone. They make a bloomy rind, a hard cheese, fresh chèvre, a blue, washed-rind, etc… so that there is something for everyone. I don’t fault them for that. I think it is difficult sometimes for craftsman to find their voice so-to-speak. Even with all of the offerings that Sprout Creek has, I think that Colin is finding his voice, specifically through a fantastic goat’s milk cheese that he had on display called Madeline.
He had a gorgeous full wheel on display cut in half. This cheese is made seasonally with 100% Nubian goat’s milk. The interior porcelain paste sparked a nice contrast with the light gray rind that looked a bit dusty. It gave a rustic appearance, soliciting a sort of farm-to-table feel given the atmosphere. There was a slight must on the nose, with a touch of sweet grass in the background. The firm texture dissolves easily on the tongue, with a taste of roasted almonds, herbs, butter, and…earth. That descriptor is definitely over-used when describing cheese, but it is completely appropriate in describing this delicate cheese.
I have to admit that I was really surprised by this cheese. Incredibly unique and distinctive in comparison to the other cheeses that Sprout Creek has to offer. It’s rather exciting, to be honest. Based on the other times I have tried Sprout Creek cheeses, I thought I knew what to expect. This is different.
When we parted ways, I talked with Colin about paying a visit and helping out in the make room. Colin is not resting on the laurels that have made Sprout Creek the success that it is in the Hudson Valley. The Madeline confirms that for me. Murray’s in NYC just picked it up. As other distributors and mongers are given an opportunity to taste, I have a feeling that you will soon see it in a shop near you. Be on the lookout.