Did you know that in the Whiteface Region, there are two outstanding cheesemakers within a 20-minute drive from each other? Cheese lovers shouldn’t miss either one — the farms are as different from one another as their cheeses are delicious — and both offer Airbnb rentals, so it’s entirely possible to get the full night-at-the-farm experience.
I recently toured Asgaard Farm & Dairy and Sugar House Creamery to taste their cheeses and learn a little about how they do things. I was immediately reminded of how beautiful Adirondack farms are. Animals graze in rolling pastures, and barns are dwarfed by the nearby mountains. It’s a hard life, farming on this landscape, and like a lot of things in the Adirondacks the hardworking people who do it pull it off by combining passion and knowledge with a bit of creativity. The farmers’ stories are as much about their own experiences as they are about these mountains.
Asgaard Farm & Dairy — goat cheese done right
Off of Route 9N between Jay and Ausable Forks is Asgaard Farm, a picturesque piece of property that was home to famous painter Rockwell Kent from the 1920s until his death in 1971. In fact, Kent’s studio/house is still there, and so are some of his paintbrushes and other tools. It’s worth checking out, but I have to say the cheese was where it’s at for me.
Farm owners David Brunner and Rhonda Butler bought the property in 1988. David’s sister and her family lived in Lake Placid, and David and Rhonda began to feel the Adirondacks pulling them from their desk jobs in New York City. David grew up around farms in Ohio and wanted to get back to it, so the couple spent about 20 years repairing the farm up on the weekends.
“About 10 years ago we restarted what was already here, a farmstead dairy,” David said. “We did it with goats instead of cows, quite simply because we had a few of them and we loved them.”
The farmstead creamery is the centerpiece of the farm, and everything else works in tandem with that. The 250-acre farm is now home to about 70 goats, as well as a bunch of laying hens, pigs, ducks, and beef cows. David explained there’s a good reason for the variety of animals: as they are rotated through the fields they clean up after each other, consuming parasites as they go. All of this activity also helps spread manure and re-seed the pastures.
In the goat barn, 61 pregnant goats mill about, their impossibly bulbous bellies bumping into each other while two enormous great Pyrenees dogs eagerly guard them. This spring, at least 120 baby goats will be born. The kids will be celebrated during the farm’s annual Kidding Days event which is March 30 and April 20 this year. The kids deserve recognition. They are, after all, the future of cheese at Asgaard.
Meet the cheeses
- Asgaard Farm has won four American Cheese Society awards, which are given to small artisanal cheesemakers. “ACS is like the academy awards of cheese making,” Rhonda said.
- Fresh chevre: A soft cheese that really allows quality of the goat milk to shine through. It’s simple, ready to eat a few days after milking, and there are a bunch of varieties including maple, garlic-cilantro, basil-garlic, and olive oil and cracked pepper.
- Whiteface Mountain and Barkeater Buche: These cheeses are ripened from the outside in. As the molds, yeasts, and cultures in the milk are exposed to the air they work the paste, creating a cheese with a chalky center that gets softer as it ripens.
- Feta: Asgaard’s first raw milk cheese.
- Ausable Valley Tomme: Tomme is a general word for a mountain cheese. Asgaard’s is firm and was inspired by a goat milk cheese that’s made in the French Pyrennes.
- Blue Line Blue Cheese: A delicious goat milk blue cheese. Asgaard also makes a combined goat milk-sheep milk cheese.
Sugar House Creamery — simply delicious cheese
After working on a goat dairy creamery in Vermont, Margot Brooks and her husband Alex Eaton began dreaming of their own dairy farm. So they bought an old farm in Jay in August 2012 and spent a year-and-a-half fixing it up.
“Once we saw this property it all fell into place — a mini-dairy here in the mountains,” Margot said. “Something very small and very community-oriented.”
That dream is now happening. People visit the farm store to buy milk, eggs, cheese, meat, and other products that are produced on-site or nearby.
At 23 acres, Sugar House Creamery is modest in size compared to Asgaard Farm, but that doesn’t affect the flavor of the cheeses. Alex and Margot keep it simple — Sugar House only has three cheeses to choose from.
“We really wanted to hone in on a specific thing and do it really well,” Margot said.
A model of efficiency, the farm’s cows supply milk for the cheese and they live in the same building as the cheese cave, where the cheese ages on local, rough-cut spruce boards. I sampled two cheeses during my visit, Little Dickens and Dutch Knuckle. The first is a creamy, spreadable cheese while the latter had a sharper tang that was really to my liking.
Head cheese maker Casey Galligan urged me to eat the squiggly looking rind and explained that those squiggles are from the yeast and bacteria that are part of the cheese-making process. It’s paper thin at first and thickens as the cheese matures.
“We pride ourselves on our tasty rinds,” Casey said. “We tell people to taste the rind too. We believe it’s the character of the cheese as well, to participate in the rind. You’re tasting the whole farm. You’re tasting the milk that’s encapsulated in the microbial environment that exists in our cave.”
Meet the cheeses
- Little Dickens: Sugar House’s signature cheese is smooth, soft, and surface ripened. Made from pasteurized cow milk, aged 10-14 days.
- Dutch Knuckle: A raw milk cheese that sits in the cheese cave for a year building up a nice rind.
- Poundcake: A six-week, pasteurized cow milk cheese that’s soft enough to cut with a butter knife and is great for melting. The washed rind is orange — it’s washed in beer from a local brewer — and tastes a bit funkier than Sugar House’s other rinds.
Green Grass Get Down: A pop-up event that happens when the grass is ready in mid-May. The cows are released into the pasture, where they frolic to the delight of onlookers.
Snowy Grocery: Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. through the winter is the only year-round farmers market in the area. Vendors set. Up in the carriage barn and in the farm store.
Dinner events: Every other Saturday, campfire-cooked dinner events. Sit around the fire as dinner courses prepared with locally sourced ingredients are served by a local chef. It’s casual, communal, and fun.
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