Happy goats. Great cheese.
A love of animals and a passion for cheese make an outstanding product
Originally published June 11, 2008
By Rochelle Myers
To be specific, I am surrounded by female goats of kid-bearing age. They've been taking turns in an automatic feeding cubbyhole, but their zest for new flavor sensations has led to them exploring me, the visitor in their yard. First, the edge of my skirt is nibbled. Then my purse and the corners of my notebook undergo investigation. One particularly inquisitive goat is checking out the hem of my T-shirt, tasting it with her tongue before experimentally closing her teeth on the edge. These goats are not really hungry, nor are they unaccustomed to humans. On the contrary, these are some of the happiest goats imaginable, coddled by plenty of free land for running around, a tight-knit goat social network, and plenty of food and fresh water. In return, they give Cherry Glen Farm fresh, sweet goat milk from show-quality, award-winning goats. The owners of the farm, Diane Kirsch and Wayne Cullen, then turn the milk into some of the best goat cheese available on the market -- and they do it all from a small farm located in tiny Boyds. As one of the goats roots for my pen, Kirsch attempts to reassure me: 'They can't really touch you with hands like we humans do, so they're exploring you with their mouths."
I don't mind. These goats, a mix of French Alpine and Swiss Toggenberg breeds, were far closer to friendly than aggressive. And the same is true of the cheeses that come from their milk: easygoing, fresh flavor without any of the "goaty" game-like aroma of some of the imported versions.
Kirsch and Cullen are rightfully proud to create farmstead cheeses in Maryland. Their farm includes about 400 goats, an automatic milking machine, a pasteurizing machine, and a sparkling room lined with aging refrigerators where their milk is turned into cheese. Their care of the entire process for making these cheeses is obvious, as is their pride in making a fantastic product from Maryland. Twice a day, about 175 of Cherry Glen's goats are milked by automatic milking machines on the farm. They're herded up a ramp, hooked up to the milking parlor, and given a small snack so they'll all face the same way and relax. These goats give about 600 pounds of milk total at each session.
The milk is instantly chilled and pasteurized by machines only a few feet away from the milking apparatus. Every three milkings, there's enough milk to start the cheesemaking process. The milk is separated into curds and whey with the addition of a vegetable culture, and then the curds are hung in cheesecloth bags in a specially designed aging room for one day. The resulting cheese is pressed for six hours to push out any excess whey. The resulting cheese is the basic chevre sold by Cherry Glen Farm.
"The chevre is the clay for everything we make, except for the Monocacy Gold," Kirsch said. "The Monocacy Gold has a higher pH than the chevre -- we put it in molds, salt it, and press it for one day." The other cheeses are mostly variations on the chevre: flavored, aged in different ways, inoculated with different microorganisms to give them different tastes and textures.
Cherry Glen's goat cheeses are surprisingly complex and varied, especially considering that they all come from 175 goats eating the same diet and living in the same quarters. Besides the basic chevre, Cherry Glen makes a selection of chevre-based cheeses.
The Monocacy Chipotle is packed with smoky, chile-spiked flavor and a gentle golden color spotted with flecks of chopped chipotle peppers.
The Monocacy Ash is treated with a vegetable ash, giving a gentle blue cast to the rind. It has a line of blue-gray ash running through the center of the cheese. The Monocacy Ash cheese took second prize at the American Dairy Goat Association national convention.
The Monocacy Silver is a blooming-rind chevre inoculated with a strain of penicillin and aged at 57 degrees for six days. It's saltier and runnier than most of the other cheeses, with a sharper, aged flavor.
The Monocacy Gold differs in that it has a higher pH than the other cheeses, and it is pressed for one day after it is placed in molds. This cheese is runny with a creamy center and a solid, chewy rind. Cherry Glen also makes a whole-milk goat ricotta and a goat cheese crottin.
Kirsch first became interested in goat dairy products because she was married to a man who was lactose intolerant; goat milk contains very little lactose. She and her husband established Cherry Glen Farm in 1982. After her husband passed away, Cullen eventually befriended Kirsch, moved to the farm and started helping with the dairy operations. The cheeses were mostly created by Cullen; the farm started producing cheeses after finding it difficult to sell fresh goat milk. He's hoping to develop a robiola cheese in the coming weeks.
Cherry Glen cheeses come covered with a special cheese-aging paper, and Cullen is emphatic that the cheeses do not spoil if stored properly. "Cheese never spoils," he said. "It can look ugly, but a cheese this acidic -- no harmful guys can live on it."
They are best left at room temperature for an hour before consumption; wrap in new plastic wrap before returning them to the refrigerator.
Cherry Glen Farm cheeses are available at My Organic Market and The Common Market in Frederick.
They are also sold at the farmer's market at Shab Row every Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. Cherry Glen Farm cheeses are also on the menu at some area restaurants, including Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Va., and Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard in Dickerson.
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