The world of artisanal farm products have a story all their own, much like farm wineries. Take, for example, Caromont Farm in Esmont, owned by chef-turned-farmstead cheese-maker, Gail Hobbs-Page and her husband, Daniel. As a former chef, Gail’s love for good food, and commitment to sustainable farming and the local food movement, forged a natural path to her present-day role. This no frills farm is why it’s so charming and it reflects Gail’s down-to-earth, yet perfectionist approach to producing cheese.
Despite my lust for wine and good cheese, I am a neophyte when it comes to the cheese-making process, so Gail had to get down to basics for me. To begin with what defines a farmstead cheese? That would apply to cheese made on the property where the cows/sheep/goats are raised and milked. No outside milk is sourced; no frozen curd; and all the cheeses are hand ladled. The Caromont goats are a closed herd. What does that mean…they’re unsociable? Yes, in that they are all bred on the premises, and some on Gail’s sister’s property. No outside goats welcome!
Gail’s cheese making is self-taught and inspired by the great artisanal cheeses from Europe, primarily France. The production facility is small and efficient, and good hygiene is strictly adhered to, hence the attractive cap and long, white coat I donned before being ushered into the ‘drain room.’ An overview of the process begins with…you guessed it, milking the goats! Two minutes per goat x 22 milking goats doesn’t seem so long. Each goat gives about one gallon per day. The pasteurization is based on temperature control, which will be adjusted based on the weather. A lactic bacteria/culture is introduced to the milk and sits until Rennet is introduced. This creates a matrix of proteins + fat + milk solids, which in turn creates the curd.
The curds are cut and put into drain pans, which sit on what once was a salad bar…ingenious. Most or all of the whey is drained and the curd is set into molds, and then continues to drain. Once the cheese molds have drained sufficiently, Gail will then apply any herbs, as in the case of the Old Green Mountain Round, a fresh Chevre; or Ash, for the Greek Feta. Then they are off to the temperature-controlled walk-in where they hold until ready for shipment, or longer in the case of the aged Esmontonian. Have you ever thought about the different shapes of cheeses? Those shapes aren’t by accident. The mold shapes vary dependent on the type of cheese. For example, you will only see Tommé cheeses in one mold shape. As Gail says, “I love molds like other girls love shoes!”
Our next stop was at the goat’s winter home. This is a dome-shaped structureand the eco-friendly aspect is that the goat’s poop (can I say that on a blog?) emanates enough heat to keep the structure warm during cold temperature months. Then it goes to the compost pile in the Spring. As we wandered to the goat pens, Gail pointed out that the whey, a by-product of the ‘matrix,’ flows into the goats’ water dish. Whey is full of protein and very healthy to drink, even for us humans.
We then visited with the goats, and it was love at first sight. Had Gail taken me to the goat pens first, I would have to be dragged by my ears to continue the tour. They are just too cute, especially the babies, all of whom I wanted to take home with me. And if my cell phone camera was more cooperative, I would have posted the pics, that somehow ended up as video files…don’t ask.
When shopping for Caromont Farmstead Cheeses, here are your choices, and wines to pair!
“Caromont’s Farmstead Fresh” pasteurized, light, lemony, and creamy in the style of Fromage Blanc. “The Old Green Mountain Round” – 5 oz. “Rounds” dusted on the top and the bottom with Herb de Provence – mild, creamy, and with gentle herb overtones.
“Alberene Ash” has been aged for 2 weeks – a 6 oz Pyramid with a layer of vegetable ash in the center and is creamy with a pronounced mineral overtone and hints of blue as it ages. “The Esmontonian” is raw and aged 60 Days with a Natural Rind -Semi Hard Tomme (2.5 lbs) – washed in local Chardonnay Vinegar while aging. “Mount Alto Feta” Raw — Aged 60 Days – Greek Feta Style Cheese, aged in its own brine – mild, Creamy, and crumbly – not aggressively salty, gets more complex as it ages.
White Wine Recommendations: Sauvignon Blancs (crisp and lean),especially Sancerres; unoaked Chardonnays and Gruner Veltliners; Pinot Blanc; Chenin Blanc; Italian whites from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.
Red Wine Recommendations: Beaujolais, Gamay or other light red blends.
Check the website for ‘Where to Buy’ http://www.carmontfarm.com/.