The State We’re In: Say Cheese, New Jersey!

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by Michele S. Byers, executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Wisconsin is clearly America’s cheese capital. After all, why else would “cheeseheads” wear hats shaped like wedges of cheddar?

New Jerseyans are way too dignified for that – but the Garden State is having its own cheese renaissance.

Delicious artisanal cheeses are being hand crafted at a number of creameries throughout the state – and New Jerseyans are looking to buy local, authentic and sustainable foods.

The farms are family-owned and intimate enough that the cheese makers are on a first-name basis with their cows, sheep, goats. The animals are grazed in peaceful pastures – sometimes on preserved farmland – and the cheeses are made in small batches that vary seasonally.

“Our customers really enjoy knowing that I mowed the fields, milked the cows, poured the milk into a cheese vat, made the cheese, and then cut it into slices for them,” said Pete Southway, who owns Springhouse Dairy in Fredon, Sussex County, a preserved farm that makes farmers cheeses flavored with fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits. “People identify with a physical place that they can see, touch and feel.”

“People want to make contact with the people and animals their food comes from,” agrees Jonathan White, owner of Bobolink Dairy in Holland Township, Hunterdon County – another preserved farm. He artisanal cheese making has grown tremendously across the United States since he started making European-style cheeses 23 years ago.

White believes the key to fine cheeses is happy animals; stress changes the taste of their milk. To keep the cows content and their milk sweet, he and his wife Nina allow them to graze naturally in the fields … no forced confinement or feeding of grains and hormones. Bobolink’s cheeses include Baudolino, a soft ripened cheese named after a character in an Umberto Eco novel; smooth grassy Amram, cave-aged cheddars, and Frolic, a firm cheese with a sweet, nutty flavor.

Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley has about 400 European East Friesland and Lacaune sheep, and is one of the country’s largest sheep dairies. They also raise goats and cows, allowing them to produce more than 20 cheeses ranging from hard aged cheeses to fresh pasteurized cheeses, plus yogurt and butter. Valley Shepherd’s cheeses have won a number of prestigious awards.

Cherry Grove, a 230-acre farm in Lawrenceville, in the same family for more than a century, is another artisanal cheese producer. The farm is planted in organic grasses chosen for their digestibility and high levels of vitamins and minerals. Milk from the grass-fed cows is used to make a variety of cheeses, including Herdsman, a mild nutty cheese; a Buttercup brie, and Toma, a washed rind raw-milk cheese.

The taste and variety of New Jersey’s artisanal cheeses are superb; these are cheeses that would be at home in any gourmet shop next to imports from around the world. They’re just one more farm product that helps New Jersey remain the Garden State.

Enjoy our state’s cheeses … and try pairing them with New Jersey wines or beers for a doubly delicious Jersey experience!

For those fascinated with the art and science of cheese making, try a creamery tour or sign up for a cheese making class. Visit the Bobolink website at www.cowsoutside.com, the Valley Shepherd website at www.valleyshepherd.com, and Cherry Grove at www.cherrygrovefarm.com.

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.


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