FINGER LAKES CHEESE
With our abundance of sheep, goat and cow dairy farms, talented entrepreneurs have created some wonderful and unique cheeses. Some of the cheese producers of the Finger Lakes have come together to form an alliance known as Finger lakes Cheese trail. They offer special events and promote themselves in order to put out the word that great cheeses are made right here in the Finger Lakes.
A great way to visit a couple of cheese farms and wineries on Cayuga Lake is to take an excursion with EXPERIENCE! THE FINGERLAKES. Their newest tour is called, “WINE, CHEESE AND “MOO”, A FARM to BARREL EXPERIENCE”. Laura Falk, the co-owner and our guide provided the intimate group of 8 of us with an informative, fun and delicious afternoon.
Keeley’s aging racks
At the first stop we met Keeley McGarr owner of Keeley’s Cheese Company. Keeley decided to branch off from the family dairy business in King Ferry by pursuing a career in cheese making. As part of her training she travelled to Ireland to learn the technique of washed-rind cheese production. The basement of the family farmhouse was converted to into her cheese production plant and she was off and running. I was first introduced to Keeley’s cheeses this past summer and was immediately impressed with her Pondhopper Cheese. This is an aged cheese with considerable depth and character and a great snacking cheese.
Keeley provided an excellent overview of cheese making and allowed us to tour her facilities before we headed up to the living area of the farmhouse for some cheese tasting.
Later, at the wineries, we were able to pair the wines with the cheeses, and discover how nicely, with proper pairing,cheese can enhance the wine and vice versa. Laura had done her homework and the pairings worked very well.
We also visited Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery which produces farmstead kefir cheese cultured with living kefir grains and handcrafted with raw milk from their grass fed Irish Dexter cows. Rose Marie Belforti, the owner allowed us to meet and schmooze with her special Dexter cows which provided some wonderful photo opportunities.
From Rose Marie, we learned that Dexter Creamery is the first and only producer in the western hemisphere to offer an authentic, probiotic kefir cheese. Kefir grains are “friendly symbiotic micro-organisms” that culture and flavor the cheese. Somewhat like a “sourdough starter” the kefir culture has been handed down for generations and was thought to have originated centuries ago in the Caucasus Mountains .
Because they contain this special probiotic bacteria, kefir is considered to be very beneficial to the digestive system. For more information about Kefir, visit: Dom’s website.
I particularly liked their blue variety which was strong enough to pack a real spicy kick: this is not a cheese for the faint of heart.
Terry Kristensen, fellow tour guest, with Dexter calf
Included in Long Point’s offerings are Zinfandel wines which aren’t typically produced in this area. Gary Barletta, the winemaker and owner, has a passion for Zinfandel, but must transport his grapes from California, since Zinfandel grapes don’t grow in the Finger Lakes. His AmaZin’ 2007 is a Port style Zinfandel: a rich and wonderful wine that I highly recommend. It pairs beautifully with blue cheese. Gary also offered us a barrel tasking of his Cabernet Sauvignon which allowed us to compare the wine at various stages of its aging process. If you are interested in trying some of Gary’s wines, Long Point Winery is collaborating with the Clarence Hotel in Seneca Falls to offer a wine pairing dinner on Saturday, the 12th of February.
Treleaven has long produced one of our favorite dry Rieslings as well as one of our favorite local un-oaked Chardonnay called Silver Lining. The semi-dry Riesling is also excellent and one of the best values in the region.
The Falks offer other wine and food pairing tours and I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy several, all of which are fun and a great way to learn about the wine industry of the Finger Lakes.
Following are some of the other cheeses in the area that I can recommend.
The two area goat cheese farms are Lively Run and Side Acres Dairy Goat Farm. They both offer a variety of goat cheeses and all are mild and delicious. I usually have a log of the plain in my fridge to use whenever I need to fix up a salad, or add a special topping to a pizza, or make a special appetizer with sundried tomato or pesto with goat cheese. They both offer logs covered in a spice blend such as dill or pepper/garlic or herbs de Provence. Lively Run also makes a wonderful blue goat cheese. Both have feta varieties and Side Acres also makes a goat cheese fudge which is creamy and delicious. I’ve had a great time bringing groups of students to tour these farms, pet the goats, learn about cheese making and sample their many varieties.
Both Lively Run and Side Acre goat cheeses can be found at GreenStar Natural Food Market in Ithaca, and Lively Run cheeses can be found also at Wegmans.
NORTHLAND SHEEP DAIRY CHEESE AT THE FARMERS MARKET
Northland Sheep Dairy Farm sells lamb meat, sheep fur products and cheese at the Ithaca Farmers Market. My favorite of their many excellent cheeses is their blue cheese: Bergère Bleue which has been aged 4-12 months. This slightly crumbly blue Roquefort style blue cheese rivals many of the best European varieties. All of their cheeses are made from raw ewes milk which has been aged a minimum of 4 months. Folie Bergère is a firm, nutty washed curd sheep cheese with a natural rind which has been aged 12-15 months and Tomme Bergèr is a rustic, Alpine-style sharp cheese with a natural rind which has been aged 4-12 months. I strongly recommend a visit to their booth at the Farmers Market, or you can visit their farm by appointment. Their herd is 100% grass fed and they use sustainable farming practices They use draft horses and mules for the majority of their work to cut down on fossil fuels.
Another area cheese producer that I have come to appreciate is Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese located two miles West of Mecklenburg towards Watkins Glen. They produce several varieties of raw milk cheese. My favorite is the Bier Meck, a Gouda like cheese. The cheese is soaked in a brine made from Ithaca Beer Company’s Smoked Porter Ale.
There’s an upcoming event planned for the Cayuga Wine Trail called, “Say Cheese” :
March 26 & 27 10:00 am -5pm
"Say Cheese" along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail
Savor the spectacular tastes of artisan cheese and fine wines along the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. Receive a special gift token at your first starting point winery and travel along the way for an experience of creamy milky sensations paired specifically with the wines from our wineries.
Advance tickets: $ 15.00 per person.
Tickets at the door: $ 20.00 per person.
Designated Driver: $ 10.00 per person.