Hedgebrook Farm Announces New Artisan Cheese

Jersey-Milk-Raw-Cheese

New Artisan Cheeses, with Raw Milk Sourced from Hedgebrook Farm

Start Up Cheesemakers Source Ingredients from Traditional Dairy Farm

Virginia farmer Kitty Nicholas, owner of  Hedgebrook Farm, is now embarking on a new endeavor, marketing raw cheese made with milk from her dairy herd, for new artisan cheesemakers in West Virginia.

Penny-and-Jurgen

Penny and Jurgen plucking a chicken

Penny Sagawa and her boyfriend Jurgen Schelzik both had jobs at a downtown D.C. trade association. Wanting a weekend getaway, they started to look for rural property.  They purchased a 32 acre farm in a far flung part of West Virginia. One thing led to another, and they decided to make a permanent getaway from their professional careers to farm life.

“Cheesemaking seemed like something that two novices could learn to do fairly quickly and easily… plus we LOVE cheese” explains Penny.

They took a 3 day cheesemaking course in Vermont, and then spent over a year getting set up to do business.

Penny and Jurgen had to apply for multiple licenses, permits and approvals: FDA approval, state health department approval, West Virginia Department of Agriculture label approval, well and septic permits. They now have a bulk-milk hauling permit for two states.  Even though they are a tiny farm, they are regulated as though they are a huge operation. They had to be certified to test their milk for antibiotics, and invest in $5000. worth of testing equipment, even though Kitty Nicholas, the farmer they buy milk from, tests her milk! And, finally, they had to secure a food manufacturing license from their county health department.

jurgen-chicken-house

Jurgen fills the chicken waterer from the rain barrel while his nephew and niece look on.

Penny and Jurgen teamed up with Kitty and her traditional dairy farm in Winchester, Virginia. Kitty supplies the raw milk, and is also helping with public relations and marketing of the product. Kitty Nicholas, grew up in the dairy business and as a small girl fell in love with Jersey cows. She now has an all Jersey herd on her 100 year old farm. A sign at her beautiful farm boasts that pesticides have never been used. Kitty is very excited to now have artisan cheesemakers turning her milk into yellow gold!

spring-gap-mountain-creamery-cheese

Spring Gap Mountain Creamery Cheese Board

Kitty recently sent me some samples of Spring Gap Mountain Creamery cheese to try. So, eager to try them, I prepared a cheeseboard for a wine and cheese happy hour. I served the cheese with crispy pancakes, a recipe from Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook.

The first is Shenandoah Sunrise, a Tomme cheese (a generic name for farmstead). In France and Italy it is typically made with skimmed milk, but this cheese is made with whole milk. It is a salty and tangy cheese that Penny recommends serving with something sweet, fresh fruit, bread or white wine. Keith and I served it with red wine and it was delightful.

Their second product is called Jersey Gold Gouda, named for Kitty’s Jersey herd. Its high butterfat content gives this gouda  a creamy mouth feel. You would never know from tasting it that is was created by a beginning cheesemaker. This is a great gouda.

Gouda-and-tomme

Gouda and Tomme Cheese

The third cheese Kitty sent us to taste was the West Virginia Blue Cheese. This cheese is very salty and has the most fuzzy blue mold I have ever seen on a wedge of cheese. The flavor is excellent, it is a strong blue cheese. Since it is really salty, I decided to serve it melted over a grassfed steak. It was fantastic!

Stirring-the-milk

Penny stirs the milk

Penny told me that the cheese I tasted was only their second batch, and that the first batch of blue cheese wasn’t near as salty. They are still refining their recipe, so I guess each batch will vary until they are more established. I must say it is fun being in on the very first batches of cheese from a new cheesemaker!

Currently, Penny and Jurgen sell their raw Jersey cow cheese at three farmers markets: Foggy Bottom in DC on Wednesdays, Bethesda, MD on Saturdays and Fairfax, VA on Sundays.

“At my office job, I never knew whether anyone noticed or cared about what I was doing. Now, customers taste the cheese and buy it and come back the next week to tell me how much they enjoyed it — it’s extremely gratifying,” said Penny.

Kimberly Hartke is the publicist for the Weston A. Price Foundation, a nutrition education non-profit that promotes traditional foods like raw cheeses for their nutritional benefits.

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