According to author Jonathan Swift, the fare of a bachelor is “bread, cheese and kisses.” But the sound of that is delicious to just about everyone, and not in small quantities. The proof? In 2011, the average American consumed 30 pounds of cheese, an amount that has been steadily increasing since the 1990s. Our affection for artisan cheese, made in small batches from local sources, is growing at a pace that exceeds even the growth rate of general cheese consumption. Presently it accounts for 10 percent of all cheese purchased in the United States—and given its exquisite fresh local tastes and exciting textures, dare we say a much higher percentage of total cheese enjoyment?
When searching for mouth-watering artisan cheese in the Upper Delaware River valley, Calkins Creamery in Wayne County, PA is a notable rising star. Under the inspired guidance of Emily Montgomery and husband Jay, this evolving venture has, for the last six years, been handcrafting creative small batch cheeses as a companion business conceived to help prosper the Bryant family dairy farm. And prospering it is. Calkins Creamery cheeses can be found in more than 100 locations across New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington, DC, where the brand is garnering affection from loyal customers and acclaim within the industry.
The couple first developed an interest in using raw milk to produce artisan/farmstead cheeses while living on the West Coast. Emily, who had worked at the Penn State University Creamery as a food science undergraduate, took a cheese-making course at Cal-Poly University, and Jay gained experience at an ice cream manufacturing company in California; his expertise is in food engineering.
In free moments they would daydream about Highland Farm, and the possibilities contained within the American cheese market. The opportunities that appeared to exist around Wayne County were certainly enticing, so they began to research the systems and costs associated with farm-based cheese production. Emily’s roots, which traverse back through five generations of dairy farm know-how and perseverance, began to bring forward the bloom of something fresh and full of possibility: an entrepreneurial venture into cheese making that would fuse the couple’s creativity, food science knowledge, business savvy and their heartfelt longing to help sustain and grow the family farm.
According to Jay and Emily’s first business plan, “Calkins Creamery will specialize in fine, artisan cheeses, using only the freshest milk possible from our very own herd of registered Holstein cattle.”
Cows have been wandering the grassy pastures of Highland Farm since 1841. These days, Emily’s father, Bill, and her brother, Zack, care for a herd of 160 head of registered Holstein cattle, in addition to 18 whey-fed pigs. Naturally, what the animals eat affects the taste of pork, beef and milk. Much effort is put into cultivating healthy pastureland as the foundation for delectable farm products. “Our cows are well cared for and comfortable,” Emily says. “Cow comfort reduces stress and results in an increase of milk production and butterfat.”
“The creamery complements the farm and vice versa,” Jay adds. Integrated, sustainable agriculture and land conservation projects that have been initiated by Bill and Zack result in vibrant pastures, very healthy livestock and ultra-tasty meats and cheeses.
Jay is quick to give credit to Emily for the success of Calkins Creamery. “Emily is really the brains behind the cheese operation,” he says. “Her background in food sciences has been very helpful. It is a tall task to go from never making cheese to running a creamery.” Because the base ingredient of these farmstead cheeses is raw milk, food safety expertise and continual oversight are paramount. But certainly true artistry comes into the success equation too. Emily is continually experimenting and developing new varieties of farmstead cheese that gain the loyalty of a growing base of customers, evidenced by over 1000 Facebook “likes” to date.
The creamery began to hone its cheese wizardry with three basic recipes—harvarti, cheddar and gouda—then developed flavor variations on each, christening them imaginatively with names such as “Four Dog Dill,” “Cowtipper” and “Vampire Slayer.” Later a tomme, produced from skim milk, was introduced, and most recently a soft, ripened cheese named “Noble Road” that is gaining widespread recognition for its superb texture and taste.
“Artisan cheese is an affordable luxury item,” Jay says. “It costs a little bit more, but it’s an extravagance that most people can manage. Coupled with a bottle of wine, you have a real treat.”
Fulfilling the vision
It is clear in getting acquainted with the Bryant/Montgomery family that the diverse backgrounds and experiences of members contribute significantly to the growth potential of the farm and creamery. Everyone’s talents are put to use. Jay holds the responsibility these days for marketing the Calkins Creamery enterprise. From one point of view, demand exceeds production, so sales are not a problem. “Everything we make,” says Jay, “is already sold.”
Still, growing the enterprise to fulfill the vision that has developed over recent year is no small job. In addition to producing quality cheeses, meats and honey, Jay and Emily hope Highland Farm customers will come to feel intimately connected to the place where the foods they enjoy are raised and manufactured. “Today, many people take food sources for granted, and we want to show them where it all begins,” Emily explains.
For those interested to see the place firsthand, Highland Farm is open for visits and shopping Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., and Saturdays, 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., or by appointment. While Calkins Creamery cheeses are available in many locations, the full selection is only found at the Highland Farm store. Check the website or Facebook page for information on occasional public tours of the creamery.
Cheese and wine pairings
Wine merchant Jeff Hock, owner of Barryville Bottle in Barryville, NY, offers these wine suggestions for your picnic or party featuring Calkins Creamery cheeses:
Vampire Slayer + Dr. Frank Dry Riesling (Finger Lakes) or Fritsch’s Gruner Veltliner (Austria)
This mild cheddar plus garlic, ginger, onion and paprika will pare perfectly with an off-dry.
Udderly Hot + El Coto Rioja (Spain) or Cline Zinfandel (Spain)
Choose a wine that will match the spice of this havarti double-dosed with chili peppers.
Four Dog Dill + Fleur du Cap Chenin Blanc (South Africa)
Pair this havarti that is loaded with dill with a lovely crisp white.
Smoke Signal + Astica’s Malbec Red (Argentina) or any Cahor Red (France)
Marry this applewood-smoked baby gouda with a dry red.
Cowtipper + Milbrandt Merlot (Washington State ) or
Hardys Merlot (Australia)
This porter-soaked gouda with slight tones of chocolate is a perfect match for a merlot.
Lida Gold + Nero D’Avola (Italy) or Castello Monaci Primitivo (Italy)
Pair this slightly fruity Montasio-style cheese with a musical Italian wine.
Noble Road + Hanging Vine Pinot Noir (California) or Potel Aviron’s Julienas Gamay (France)
This Brie-style cheese is earthy with butter and pepper notes that call for a pinot noir or Gamay grape.