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The Convivial Table gets down and dirty

By Wendy Crispell, CSW, WSET

Hudson Valley Cayuga White Back in the early 1980s so called “exotic” ingredients started showing up in specialty food shops and quality grocer’s shelves. The wildly popular Silver Palate Cookbook, written by NYC’s Upper West Side food mavens Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, was my go-to guide for ideas to create dishes from such luxury ingredients as goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. Trends come and go, but I remember at one time goat cheese was served at virtually every dinner party I attended in the ‘80s. Whether crumbled on fresh pasta, stuffed in chicken breasts or proudly dressing mounds of farmfresh greens, it was chic and fabulous. Today most every grocery store has some form of goat cheese on its shelf, some local, others from France. The days of goat cheese as an exotic ingredient may have come and gone, but I still include it in many dishes or enjoy it on its own spread over a crusty loaf of fresh baked bread. Fortunately, there are more than a few local cheesemakers using goat’s milk to produce some fabulous cheeses right here in the Hudson Valley.

Steven Jenkins, author of the Cheese Primer, one of the best cheese guides ever written, highly recommends New York State’s Coach Farm goat cheese, stating they set an almost unattainable standard for America’s cheesemakers. Coach Farm, founded by Miles and Lillian Cahn of Coach bag fame, was one of the first to produce goat cheese in the Hudson Valley. Miles Cahn often joked that he and his wife lived happily, held captive by 1,000 goats. For over 20 years the Cahns ran Coach with great success before selling to Best Cheese several years ago. Not much has changed since Best’s takeover; careful attention to detail and tasty cheeses are still being made each day. Living so close I couldn’t believe I had never visited. So earlier this year I decided it was time to check out Coach Farm’s operation for myself and planned a visit with Hudson Valley Wine Magazine’s managing editor, Linda, a cheese newbie.

Arriving in time for the afternoon milking we were greeted by Willy Bridham, operations manager. After suiting up in sterile booties, a hairnet and lab coat (to keep our germs from contaminating the cheesemaking process), Willy guided us through the rooms where the fresh goat milk is directly transported from the milking parlor and made into yogurt, fresh chevre and other forms of both fresh and aged cheese.

After watching the fresh cheese being hand molded into logs we explored rooms where specific types of cheeses are cured on wire racks to age and form their soft, pillowy rinds. Cheesemaker Mark Newbold pointed our attention to some workers peeling the unique “grating sticks” that Coach is now garnering awards for (most recently named “Best of Class” at the 2012 World Championship Cheese Contest, and Silver Finalist at the industry’s 2012 sofi™ Awards.) Not bad for a product created by accident when some cheese logs were forgotten about, and a harder, aged cheese was discovered under the rind!

Peppercorn-studded pyramids (also awarded “Best of Class” at the 2012 World Championship Cheese Contest) and triple crème goat cheese buttons (Silver Finalist at the 2012 sofi™ Awards) were resting comfortably on stacked wire racks in various stages awaiting their peak ripeness. The sights and smells were all very tempting.

French Alpine goatNext we toured the barn and milking parlor with Rene DeLeeuw, the man responsible for the care of each French Alpine goat, the specific breed raised at Coach Farm. Rene and his crew of eight were very busy with ten newborns that had arrived earlier that morning. As each goat has its own distinct personality they are all named; the newest addition (right) was already being called “Tator Tot” for her petite size.

Goat Cheese RacksFive to six hundred out of the herd of 1,000 are milked every day at 4:00am and 3:00pm; 28 at a time every four minutes. Rene explained that women workers tend to have a more gentle touch in the milking parlor, so the goats are more at ease – and happy goats produce superior milk. Each doe produces nine pounds of fresh milk daily; it takes ten pounds of fresh milk to make one pound of cheese. The process of turning the milk into yogurt, fresh chevre or aged cheese is started within 24 hours to retain freshness and optimal flavor. The milk undergoes a gentle pasteurization, but is not homogenized. And only microbial rennet (an enzyme that coagulates the milk to separate the “curds” from the “whey”) is used to start the cheesemaking process.

Watching and learning about the inner workings of the farm was fascinating but tasting was even better! As we sampled, I couldn’t help craving a Hudson Valley Seyval Blanc with the fresher styles of cheese. Crisp whites or lighter style rosé wines are a better pairing for the goat cheese buttons and triple creme cheese produced at Coach Farms. The slightly harder, aged grating stick could stand up to a lighter style Pinot Noir or Cabernet Franc without either being overpowered by contrasting flavor profiles.

My favorite of the day was the fresh peppercorn-studded pyramid. The tangy, peppery, cherry flavor of a Hudson Valley Baco Noir or a juicy, fruit-forward Frontenac would be a perfect pairing. Add some freshly baked bread, a bit of smoked duck breast and a cherry jam to transport yourself into a delicious local food heaven.

Wendy Crispell, WSET Advanced Certificate, CSW is a wine and cheese specialist based in both the Hudson Valley and NYC. Join her for one of her weekly wine and cheese classes aboard the motor yacht Manhattan or plan your own private event in your office, home or event space.

Hudson Valley Wine magazine Summer 2014 issue

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