Cheesemakers in Essex County are a growing segment of the young and emerging farm communities. North Country Creamery's Ashlee Kleinhammer, one of the cheese producers in the county, will be participating. You can support your local farmers every day of the year by buying their products, but you can really immerse yourself by joining in on the Essex County Cheese Tour in October each year.
Driving around our region in the fall offers unparalleled views of both the scenery and the fall foliage. Throw in a tour of the region’s cheese producers and you’ve got yourself a slam-dunk awesome day!
Grab the family and go on the cheese tour
Get an early start and pile the family into the car to pay a visit to the creameries participating in the Cheese Tour (ECT). The self guided tour will take you through the Ausable River Valley at an amazing time of year. In its second year, the ECT promises to entertain you, but will also allow you to sample, free of charge, cheeses at all three cheese producers’ farms. Try something new and different at each farm and then buy some cheese to take home. I’ll warn you though, some of that fine cheese won’t make it home with you because it’s so good I guarantee you’ll be eating it on the road! Note to self: bring a knife and some crackers or bread. Oh, and buy extra, so you actually have some left when you get home.
How now brown cow!
First stop on the tour for me will be Sugarhouse Creamery in Upper Jay. They are a raw milk dairy and farmstead creamery tucked away in this bucolic town along the Ausable River. The farm sits on a hill under the towering cliffs of Ebenezer Mountain. The beauty of the setting is reason enough to make a stop here. But then you sample the CHEESE! OMG! They’re amazing. The creamery produces three varieties of cheese, which are on hand most always in their farm store. All their cheese is produced from their awesome resident Brown Swiss cows. It’s said that happy cows make good cheese. These cows are the happiest I’ve ever seen, especially in the late Spring, when they are let out of the barn for their first green grass experience of the season. The Sugar House cheeses are as different as their names - Dutch Knuckle, Pound Cake and Little Dickens.
Sugarhouse has a farm store that’s open 24/7. That’s right, not a typo - 24/7. It’s an honor system store, with not just cheese, but raw milk and more. Feel free to stop by any time you have an urge for cheese - even if it’s 2 a.m. - just don’t wake up the cows.
Next stop, Ausable Forks' Asgaard Farm
Next on my tour will be Asgaard Farm & Dairy, another Ausable Valley farm with spectacular views. Located in Ausable Forks, and the former home of renowned artist Rockwell Kent, Asgaard is currently a working farm. Asgaard produces only goat cheeses. The herd consists primarily of the Alpine breed, but with a few Nubians and Saanens thrown in for good measure. Not only do they make goats milk cheese here, they also breed and sell their goats. The winter season is set aside for breeding and “kidding” (no they don’t sit around telling jokes all winter), so no cheese is produced during this time. Spring brings the beginning of cheese production.
Asgaard produces a wide variety of goat cheeses. My personal favorites are the chèvre, which come in seven different flavors from Basil Pesto to Olive Oil and Cracked Pepper and comes in tubs as a soft, spreadable cheese. My absolute top choice is the Adirondack Maple Syrup chèvre, which is flavored with syrup from South Meadow Farm in Lake Placid. I could eat it all day long! Most of the herbs and other natural flavorings for the chèvre come from Asgaards own gardens, supplemented by ingredients from other local farms.
Not only does Asgaard sell cheese, but also grass-fed beef and pork, and free-range poultry and eggs. Stock up while you’re here on the tour. The Asgaard Farm Store is open, of course, during the tour, but also Thursdays from 2 - 6 pm and Saturdays from 10 am - 2 pm.
Moving on up the valley to Keeseville
North Country Creamery will be my last stop on the tour. Located at 933 Mace Chasm Road in Keeseville, the farm is a 100% grass-fed, non-gmo, animal welfare approved dairy. Their products include farmstead cheeses, raw milk and ‘creamline’ yogurts. A wide variety of yummy cheeses is always available, not the least of which is my favorite, Farmer’s Cheese, which melts like mozzarella. They regularly stock about three or four varieties of both fresh and aged cheeses.
In addition to the Cheese Tour hours, North Country Creamery’s cheeses are available at their Farm Store and Cafe. The store additionally stocks beans, grains, flours, meat, vegetables, honey, eggs, maple syrup and more.
North Country Creamery is just a hop and skip from Ausable Chasm. You could easily include a visit to the Chasm during your Cheese Tour day itinerary.
If you’re hoping to include a bite to eat during the tour day, you’re in luck! Each farm will have either their own cafe open, like North Country Creamery’s Clover Mead Cafe with it's really hearty selections of lunch items, or they'll have food vendors on site. At Sugarhouse Creamery the awesome Clay Hearth mobile pizza truck will serve up their amazing pies all day. At Asgaard Farm, Paul Smiths College culinary department will be on hand with a mouth-watering array of culinary delights. All these food vendors will be selling their products throughout the tour day. Make a point of stopping at one or all!
Download the Essex County Cheese Tour brochure, complete with map.
If you're smart, you'll plan a weekend in the Whiteface Region and take in all it has to offer. Make reservations early though because lodging fills up fast this time of year! I hope to see you out there on the Essex County Cheers - I mean Cheese - Tour.