written by Alex Jones
You wouldn’t know it from the wide variety of artisan cheeses from our area, but the Philly region’s artisan dairy activity has only ramped up in the past decade or so.
While European cheese traditions have refined recipes and maintained production over hundreds of years—and have the reputation, consistency, and scale of supply to show for it—U.S. artisan cheesemaking has decades, rather than centuries, under its belt. There’s great possibility for experimentation in American farmstead cheese, and many cheesemakers over here look to European styles to get inspired as they produce within their own terroir.
One quality that’s harder to pull off at your young farmstead dairy operation is aging—year-plus aging in particular. The public’s standards might be set to favor densely-flavored cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano, or Beemster X.O. with its tyramine “crunchies,” the product of 26 months in the aging cave. As you can imagine, making cheese and then stashing it in the cave for a year or two is a proposition farmstead cheesemakers must plan for carefully.
Some of our area cheesemakers have established excellent varieties that don’t get to the customer until they’re toddler-aged: Cherry Grove Farm’s Havilah, an Italian mountain-style raw cow’s milk, wheel ages for 6-18 months in their Lawrenceville, NJ caves to develop a flavor profile that includes notes of citrus, toast and caramel. Landenberg, PA-based Meadowset Farm’s The Last Straw, a raw sheep’s milk wheel (another Alpine style), is at its piquant, nutty best around the 20-month mark.
And Sam Kennedy and Matt Hettlinger, cheesemaking team at Doe Run Farm in Coatesville, Chester County, PA, have made a point of developing not one, but two cheeses that will impress any lover of those coveted cheese crunchies. Seven Sisters is the farm’s proclaimed Gouda analogue and comes in 8-11 month and 12-18 month versions, the sublime latter of which boasts such a concentrated caramel flavor, it almost feels like eating dessert.
But more intriguing is their St. Malachi, a happy accident that’s been developed into one of the more impressive of Doe Run’s varied and remarkable roster. An attempt at a supple Fontina-style wheel resulted in a hard cheese with a toasty, savory backbone, calling to mind a baked cheese cracker. Kennedy and Hettlinger have refined the recipe in the year or so since they’ve been working together to create a multidimensional cheese rich in those roasty, toasty flavors, underlined by meaty umami and accented with notes of toffee and pineapple.
Such sweetness must be accounted for but not overpowered: Deep, dark stouts tasted overly cloying and smoky when paired with St. Malachi; a hoppy selection would drown out the cheese entirely.
As it turns out, a subtly sweet cheese pairs well with a subtly sweet beer: Enter Tröegs DreamWeaver, an unfiltered wheat beer with its own hints of tropical fruit. Hints of banana and a floral, lily-like earthiness blend with an aroma reminiscent of proofed pastry dough—for full flavor, don’t forget to swirl the last bit of beer in the bottle and add to your glass to capture the flavor imparted by the yeast. And despite all that sweetness, DreamWeaver’s assertive effervescence sweeps the palate, working nicely with the richness of the cheese and keeping the beer’s flavor on the light side. It’s the perfect pairing to make St. Malachi shine.