By Matthew Spiegler
I had the opportunity to make cheese with Colin McGrath, head cheesemaker at Sprout Creek Farm, as well as touring the farm and tasting their latest line of cheeses with Audrey Aponte, Director of Sales and assistant cheesemaker. Sprout Creek Farm is a multi-faceted operation, not just a farm and creamery but also a non-profit educational foundation, with the mission of using the farm as a teaching vehicle for children, allowing them to learn life and agricultural skills while working on a real farm. Sprout Creek Farm was originally founded by Sister Margot Morris and the Society of the Sacred Heart, but is now an independent non-profit.
Colin, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who hails from California originally, has been at Sprout Creek Farm for around 7 years now and has had the opportunity to grow into his cheesemaking life alongside the farm, which has evolved over the last decade from cheese being one of many artisanal foods produced to being the focus of the production side of the operation. The cheeses have evolved and changed considerably over that time as well, and they scored 2nd Place ribbons for both the Toussaint and the Madeleine at the 2012 American Cheese Society competition in Raleigh, NC — a confirmation of the passion and hard work that Colin and the rest of the Sprout Creek Farm team have poured into the vats (literally and figuratively) over that time.
The make that I took part in was for the Madeleine, a raw goat’s milk, pecorino-inspired cheese. The goats had recently kidded (resulting in some cute-overload encounters with baby goats, but more on that in a follow-up post), so the goat’ milk was just recently flowing again. Colin told me that the early milkings after kidding are usually not suitable for aged cheeses, and get turned into fresh cheeses instead, but this milk was the first with which he felt comfortable making the Madeleine. Colin and Audrey are continuously monitoring and testing the milk and collaborating with the farmers to ensure both the safety and the quality of their working materials. As Colin said in a 2012 Edible Communities profile (and reiterated as we were standing over the vat), “[in cheesemaking] we are taking milk and emphasizing all of the natural characteristics in it by 100 percent. Whether it is good or bad, it is going to show through.” Put another way, you can’t make good cheese from sub-par milk, so the milk must be at its best going into the vat, and they are vigilant to ensure that is the case.
I also took part in the make for an “experimental cheese”, in the bloomy rind family, but Colin asked me not to divulge any other details as it’s still very much in the R&D stage.
Indeed, experimentation is a big part of his process, as he continually seeks to both refine the existing cheeses and develop new ones. Sometimes this is a methodical process of tweaking and adjusting an existing recipe to improve it, while at other times he might try out completely new recipes and techniques just to see where they lead.
When I was done in the creamery, Audrey and I had a tasting of the current line of cheeses, followed by a tour of the farm. A great new cheese is the Margie, a soft-ripened bloomy rind, with a fabulous silky texture and buttery flavor with notes of mushroom and hay. Colin and Audrey were quick to insist that the Margie is still being finessed, but I was already impressed with it and expect to see it popping up in counters everywhere shortly. I also tried the aforementioned Madeleine, the Toussaint, a raw cow’s milk alpine tomme with a wonderful nuttiness and peppery bite, the Batch 35, a smear-ripened washed rind with a mild pungency and a buttery flavor with meaty notes, and the Point of Origin, a washed-rind collaboration with Whole Foods and Sixpoint Brewery that I really like (see my previous review for more on this cheese).
They’ve been working to refine the line, and some cheeses, like the Camus blue cheese, have been retired, due to inconsistent results and the headaches of keeping the blues quarantined from the other cheeses.
If you’re ever in the Hudson Valley, it’s well worth your time to swing by Sprout Creek Farm. Check out the farm store to sample and purchase all their products as well as other artisanal and local products, and view the cheese making in progress. Afterwards, you can visit the animals and see the baby cows and goats — not to mention Ferdinand, the new miniature donkey on the farm (speaking of which, for more on the farm tour, check out my following post; that’s where you’ll find the baby goat pictures!).
Note: In 2014, Sprout Creek Farm took a 3rd place “Best of Show” award for Eden. To see a full list of winners, click here.
Published 12/17/2014 courtesy of Matt Spiegler