“Branding” is something that comes up often in the world we live in, and for some, much fuss is made over getting it right. Picture this: in 2010, on the eve of opening Antonelli’s Cheese Shop – with a major economic downturn offering no end in sight – our fresh-faced (yet somewhere between exhilarated and scared to death) young couple was about to make the trust-fall of their lives. Distilling countless hours of vision boards and heart-to-hearts into what would become the Antonelli's mission statement, a central principle emerged: Do Good. Eat Good. Officially our slogan today, this one phrase sums up everything we do, and encapsulates each one of the five points of our mission. Celestial smiles must have elevated our baby venture on that day, as this gift of branding was a bespoke blessing for the vibrant new business. As we get ready to celebrate our 14th anniversary this February, we are shining a light on five cheesemakers kindred to us in Do Good. Eat Good spirit! From advanced animal husbandry to highly scientific land management, the opportunities to improve every day are countless in the cheese world – and we, along with these five exemplary cheese producers – heartily accept the challenge.
Green Dirt Farms: Weston, MO
Past. Sheep, Fresh
Sarah Hoffmann left her career as a successful academic physician to make way for her kids to experience the joy and life-lessons of coming of age on a farm. In 2002, she hatched the idea of creating a humane, environmentally sustainable sheep dairy in Weston, Missouri. At Green Dirt Farm, she has achieved that vision, although not without challenges. In fact, sheep dairies are the unicorns of the cheese industry in the USA; they are far and few because they are the most challenging to keep afloat. Sheep are fantastic, and their milk is rich and luscious; yet, they only provide that milk six months a year, making it hard to be sustainable. The average ewe only produces a fraction of the milk a cow produces, making sheep cheese less common and more expensive. Lactic and bright, Fresh Sheep cheese is simply sheep milk, cultures, a tiny amount of natural rennet, and a touch of salt. Patterned after Brebis, a traditional French sheep milk cheese, and similar in texture to ricotta, the palate is greeted with a hint of lemon, giving way to clean milky notes on the finish.
Combine this fresh cheese with Food for Thought’s Blackberry Shiraz Jam on breakfast toast or a bagel for the perfect treat. Both of these makers have been awarded Good Food Awards. If it’s not a work day, treat yourself to our Chateau Moncontour sparkling Vouvray and let the bubbles dance across your palate in a perfect trio.
Nettle Meadow Farm: Warrensburg, NY
Past. Cow/Goat, Bloomy
Every summer, our founder John would visit his grandmother in the foothills of the Southern Adirondack Mountains in Warrensburg, New York, so it came as a huge shock when he found out that there had been an amazing cheesemaker just down the road (literally) throughout his youth. (How did his amazing nose let him down?!) Cheesemakers Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan keep a herd of three hundred goats and dozens of sheep at their Nettle Meadow Farm, originally founded in 1990. Also an animal sanctuary home to over 130 rescued and retired animals (from llamas to donkeys and pigs), it’s amazing they also have time to produce such delicious and award-winning cheeses. Kunik, or "Eskimo kiss,” is a delightful mixed milk triple creme made with goat's milk and rich Jersey cow cream. One of our most popular cheeses in the case year round, it has aromas of white mushroom caps and exhibits that characteristic tang of goat's milk with a smooth decadent buttery finish from the cream on the palate, occasionally with just a touch of (the right) funk depending on the age of the wheel.
Sticking with fellow Good Food Award winners, which recognize artisanal foods made in a way that is “tasty, authentic, and responsible,” we’re teaming Kunik up with Elevation Meats Calabrese Salami. The heat from the chilis is cooled by this buttery cheese, and while this pairing could stand up to a light red wine, we’re still enjoying it with the Chateau Moncontour sparkling vouvray.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Uplands Cheese Co: Dodgeville, WI
Raw Cow, Firm
Like the Alpage versions of alpine cheeses, Uplands Cheese Company only makes Pleasant Ridge Reserve from May through October when the cows are eating fresh pasture, resulting in a stellar, prized raw milk. This milk goes into making beautiful natural-rinded cheeses that are then matured for 6-12 months. Specially for us, our team of cheesemongers batch selects to find the wheels we like best. The result? Sweet, nutty aromas and savory umami, chicken stock flavors. Today operated by the Hatch and Mericka families, Uplands Cheese is known for its dedication to the cows, grasses, and cheesemaking techniques. In fact, they worked for years on their pastures and then their herd development before they ever began making cheese. Today, nine different breeds of cows are cross-bred for the best milk composition (protein content, butterfat, minerals). That meticulous precision has landed them numerous accolades, making Pleasant Ridge Reserve the most awarded Best of Show cheese in American Cheese Society history, claiming three top victories! It was also one of the first cheeses chosen to be exported out of the United States.
Pairing wise, you can’t go wrong with the jam or salami we’ve already introduced; this cheese is so versatile it works with most anything, from sweet to savory. That goes for wine too. Enjoy this cheese with either your Vouvray, or move into the Ruminat Primitivo, an organic and biodynamic red wine that hails from Italy.
Fromagerie L’Amuse: Brabant, Holland
Past. Goat, Firm
One of our most popular cheeses in the shop year round is Brabander Gouda, made from Saanen goat milk by the Cono Cheesemaking Cooperative in the Netherlands. However, each late fall, we get a special batch of wheels that have been extra-aged by cheese selector Betty Koster at her Fromagerie L’Amuse. Every year, affineur Betty Koster selects a handful of Brabander Gouda wheels, (normally aged 6-9 months), and further ages them for an additional 6 months. This extra time in the caves results in a firmer paste and a more intense flavor. The wheels are ripened in caves with slightly higher ambient temperatures to ensure proper drying, which also contributes to its 'sweetness' in flavor. To distinguish the cheese from the younger Brabander (which is coated in a white wax rind), Koster coats it in black wax -- hence, the previous nickname Black Betty. Striking due to its ivory white color, the paste is richly studded with crunchy tyrosine crystals. Since it’s both sweet and tangy, we lovingly refer to this as “cheese candy.” Look for flavors of caramel, tangy pineapple, and brown butter that lend to a juicy bite. (And celebrate! We always have lines out the door for this cheese that’s developed quite a cult-like following!)
While this cheese needs no pairing, enjoy it with some Askinosie Itty Bitty chocolate bars, each expressing the terroir or “taste of place” of the region where the cacao was sourced. And while most goat milk cheeses can’t stand up to bolder red wine, this one can due to the age and lingering flavor.
Rogue Creamery: Central Point, OR
Past. Cow, Blue
Rogue Creamery has a deep history, founded in 1933 by Ignazio Vella. Fortunately, just when Vella planned to pivot, David Gremmels came to the rescue (albeit not planning to) and found himself owner of the farm, dairy, and cheesemaking operation. Under his stewardship, the company became a certified B Corp for its social and environmental impact. Additionally, David converted the entire operation to an organic one and began creating multiple award-winning cheeses. Caveman, a natural-rinded blue cheese that’s aged in limestone caves for at least 2 months, is a steward of our cheese counter. We love its fudgy and creamy texture, with flavors of shiitake mushrooms and golden beets.
Moderate in the "blue" flavor realm, Caveman pairs deliciously with chocolates and the Ruminat Primitivo red wine will bring out some of the cave and soil notes that are complementary to all three. Also great for any stout or porters you have about!