The American artisan cheese movement—and the resurgence in craft beer that preceded it—really makes itself felt in the Philadelphia region. Chester County, our neighbor to the west, is the unofficial home of farmstead artisan cheese in Pennsylvania. Cheesemakers like Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm, Pete Demchur of Shellbark Hollow, Al and Catherine Renzi at Yellow Springs goat dairy, and Matt Hettlinger and Sam Kennedy at Doe Run Farm turn out world-class flagship cheeses and create more innovative, new varieties every season.
And quality water from the Susquehanna River makes the area perfect for brewers, while longtime farming culture providesinspiration and opportunities for collaboration. Not to mention, the potential to put some of that spent grain to good use as livestock feed. (Or, as they do at Stoudt’s Brewing in Adamstown, use it to mulch their bedding plants.)
While new brewing operations seem to pop up every month, it takes a little more time for a new farmstead cheesemaking operation to get off the ground. Tom and Barbara Schaer owned and operated Meadowset Farm & Apiary for years before they’d built up a stellar cheese program, making wheels inspired by Tom’s Swiss background. They did it all while holding down day jobs doing research as large-animal veterinarians, between morning and evening milkings, honey harvests, and spring lambing seasons—this year, the Schaers had 80 lambs born in just one week.
You can taste the results of the Schaer’s dedication—and the skill of their intern/cheesemaker, Kaitlin Ricketts—in two new offerings that debuted this spring: mellow, Alpine-inspired The Last Straw and a piquant, toothsome tomme called The Camel’s Back. You may have seen them at High Street on Market’s March cheese dinner, a Swiss-inspired celebration that capped Meadowset’s 80-lamb week with dishes like leberkäse sliders and Last Straw custard topped with Muesli and the farm’s own honey.
Finding a great beer pairing for subtle, aged cheeses like Meadowset’s requires patience. A selection too bold, like an aggressive IPA or darkly-flavored stout, drowns out the carefully calibrated flavors of the cheese. Look too far to the lighter side and the cheeses’ flavors will be washed out—avoid dry ciders or muted wheat beers, as they’ll make a lackluster combination.
It’s not surprising that a Swiss-inspired cheese would best be complemented by a German-style beer. Stoudt’s Pils provides the perfect combination of crisp flavor and effervescence at the start of the sip, with toasty, hoptinged flavor following. This phenomenon pairs well with The Camel’s Back’s deep umami and highlights a note of grassy sweetness that lingers on the tongue as the hoppy sensation recedes. Make sure to try the cheese with a bit of that cave-aged natural rind to bring in an herbaceous, subterranean musky note that really harmonizes with Stoudt’s hop-tinged German-style pilsner.
Welcome the Schaers and their top-quality cheeses to Philly’s food community with a wedge of The Camel’s Back and a Stoudt’s Pils, then accessorize with hunks of dark bread and a drizzle of buckwheat honey or a few sticky-sweet Medjool dates. And before you dig in, give a quick thanks that Philly’s got such great farm food neighbors.