In today's incredibly particular, local-and-organic-obsessed, farm-to-table-conscious food movement, Appalachian Cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy is a perfect example of truly mindful farming and cheesemaking.
Handmade on the Feete Family Farm in the Appalachian mountains of southwest Virginia, this cheese has been produced for more than 15 years on the family's herbicide- and pesticide-free pastures. Located at an altitude of 2800 feet, the farm has an ideal climate for producing grass for their unique Jersey cross-bred herd.
Cows are meant to eat grass, not grains as they do at most conventional confinement dairies. At the Feete Family Farm, the cows live outside and graze rotationally – they are moved from field to field on a regular basis. This keeps the pastures’ grass from being eaten to the ground and doesn’t allow the cows’ manure to be concentrated on a small area, which in turn keeps the chemical balance of the land in its optimal state. When the chemical balance of the soil is at its best, the grass has more essential vitamins and minerals for the cows, and the quality of milk improves enormously.
Not only is Meadow Creek Dairy committed to keeping their cows healthy and their milk quality pristine, but The Feete Family has opted to only make their cheese from milk obtained while the cows are actively feeding on pastures, thus imparting the cheese with more nuanced flavors and grassier notes. All of their cheese is made within two hours of milking the cows, so the milk is at its absolute freshest. This dairy could produce much more cheese – and make far more money – by selling cheese made from the cows while they eat stored food, but they choose not to because they feel that cheese would not live up to the standard of quality they strive to maintain. Doing what is best for the cheese and those who eat it is more important to the Feete family than making more money by selling a slightly inferior product. This is both rare and admirable in today’s harsh economy, and encapsulates the true mindset of the farm-to-table ethos.
As for the taste of the cheese itself: Appalachian is an authentic reflection of the farm. It is no longer patterned after any one specific cheese; rather, the Feete family’s goal has been to reflect the exceptional quality of the farm’s milk and in the process develop an American original. It is semi-soft, with sweet, bright, citrus flavors, and comes in a unique square shape with a dappled white rind and a bright yellow paste. Each cheese is aged in underground, high-humidity cellars, which over the past seven years have developed their own distinctive microflora. They are flipped once or twice a week depending on their age; they are aged for a minimum of ninety days.
This cheese pairs well with the Terrapin Rye Pale Ale, brewed in Athens, Georgia; this spicy rye beer will be perfect with the cave flavors and pasture notes in the cheese. And because I am a country boy, I'd recommend trying it with a nip of Julien “Pappy” Van Winkle’s 23-year-old bourbon. The first sip has a little bite, but the next few sips will be perfection
Appalachian Cheese is a fantastic example of a product that defines the food term "local." In the words of cheesemaker Helen Feete, "Appalachian is an original cheese designed to showcase our land, our milk, our cows, our cellars…to be a cheese of its place."
Additional reporting by Madeleine James.