Last week, the Righteous Mongers took to the lush, green pastures of Coatesville, PA to visit the creamery and the beautiful Jersey cows – as well as sample cheeses – at one of our favorite local producers, The Farm at Doe Run.
Just west of Philly, the farm is absolutely beautiful. Classic Pennsylvania stone architecture, barnes lined with cypress planks, endless green, and happy cows make you pinch yourself to see if you’re dreaming.
We met with cheesemakers Sam and Matt, as well as in-house marketing and sales wrangler Stacey. Each member of the team, along with aging expert Victoria, live and work together on the farm, and it’s truly a 24-hour gig. To wit – each springtime, in addition to their day jobs, they double as birthing doulas to the cows. Stacey pointed out that cheese is only the very end of the make cycle – the spring births of the animals mark the beginning, and it’s all hands on deck. Their ever-popular cheese “Seven Sisters” is true to its name in that the cows are from a closed-herd and are therefore actually related: sisters, daughters, nieces.
Stacey dives into her role on the farm. Like a loving parent, Stacey thinks about where the cheese will end up. She’s careful throughout the distribution process because so much time and effort goes into making the cheeses. Stacey asked us, with genuine concern in her voice, “How do they arrive when they get to your shop?” We assured her they arrive in beautiful condition, ready to be devoured by our cheese-loving customers.
In the most gorgeous make room we’ve ever seen, Matt spoke to us about the history and biosphere of the region while standing over the lightly pasteurized milk as it turned in its vat. His background in biology comes in super-handy when trying to decipher the cause for variations from batch to batch.
Downstairs in the aging cave, Sam explained how they control time, temperature, humidity, and most importantly, mold growth.
He then lifted a rack of Dragonfly cheese and placed it next to another – pointing out the difference in aging only after one week. In this case, the new development was a delightful light yellow film of yeast. TIP : Because of the yeast, Dragonfly is best paired with yeasty beers.
In the dank, aromatic aging caves, rows of cheese rested on wooden planks, upon which the wheels are flipped twice a day. Stacey spoke about the importance of picking the right wheel for the ACS competition. Flavor profile is key, but shape & appearance are also important: Stacey picked up a wheel and described why that particular one wasn’t right, “too UFO.” Sam pointed out a stack of oddly shaped wheels, a batch of Pecorino that developed an undesired bacteria which leads to bulging. Since they won’t sell any cheese less than perfect, the pigs will dine on this cheese!
15-lb wheels of Seven Sisters, and smaller sheep’s milk cheeses, took their daily bath in brine, before some received wax and some would go on to form a natural rind.
In the room full of self-proclaimed cheese nerds, there was plenty to talk about: from the upcoming American Cheese Society conference to how to improve the dialogue between raw milk cheesemakers and the FDA.
With the creativity of the cheesemakers, 5,000 year old traditions are transformed at Doe Run into cheeses that are playful, creative and distinctly American.
An example of this playfulness is present in their cheese Twisted Sister; their version of a colby jack – and an ode to Dee Snider – that sports an awesome black waxed rind.
Another example of their creativity is Blow Horn. Named after a local bend in the road that requires drivers to honk before turning, Blow Horn offers a salty, flaky alternative to blue cheese. Doe Run doesn’t make any blue cheeses themselves since their neighbor Sue Miller, at Birchrun Hills Farm, makes her own excellent blues. This kind of solidarity and sense of community is wound into every aspect of their processes. While we tasted their cheeses, we cleansed our palates with fresh local berries and chocolates made by another neighbor, Chris Curtin.
The pure love of cheese is obvious in everyone the Farm at Doe Run, but most apparent in their Creamery Collection series. With each Creamery Collection, cheesemakers Sam and Matt the make special, limited batches of cheese. As Doe Run says, “these batches will showcase local collaborations, seasonal milk, local ingredients, traditional and nontraditional techniques and styles. Our cheesemakers have full creative freedom to dream up any cheese that they have ever wanted to try to make, and this is the platform in which they can fully showcase their creativity. Each batch will have a number listed on the label under the title “The Creamery Collection,” and each batch is a limited offering. If the cheese is simply a must-have, they consider adding it to their regular line-up. Look for Creamery Collection #9 on the Righteous Counter next month!
Before we left we made sure to stop and say hello to the cows, sheep, and goats. It is quite unusual for a farm and creamery to milk and make cheese from all three animals, and was a treat for our crew to spend the day with them. We felt especially lucky, since The Farm at Doe Run is not open to the public and does not offer tours. They spend all of their time and effort focused on the cheesemaking. Which means more deliciousness for us all!
So although these pictures may have you jonesing for a visit to the country – rest assured that you can almost recreate the experience through their cheeses. And those, we serve up at the shop daily!