New Jersey gets its fair share of ribbing, including from yours truly who mostly encounters it on the long drive to visit relatives in New York (made longer, of course, with kids in tow). But this week the Garden State gets its due with high honors awarded to its Valley Shepherd Creamery in Morris County, New Jersey. On 120 acres not far from New York City, over 500 sheep plus a few cows and goats are grass-grazed to provide milk for Pyrenees-inspired cave aged cheeses. Owner and cheese maker Eran Wajswol blasted out a hillside on the farm to build his aging cave.
Valley Shepherd’s Crema de Blue — blue ribbon winner for the “blue cheese with rind, sheep/mixed milk” category and 2nd place, Best in Show — is a cow and sheeps milk, cave-aged blue (aged 65 days). It is really a beautiful cheese with a rich, creamy base and pleasant, spicy bite. (And a natural rind, like yesterday’s Big Boy Blue. The picture above hardly does it justice, but that was all that remained by the time I reached it at the festival.) Should you have a chance, try the farm’s nutty Shepherd’s Basket, too. Their Oktoberkaas won a second place ribbon in the International style/sheep or mixed milk category. Both the best in show, Flagsheep, and the runner up, Crema de Blue, are mixed sheep/cows milk cheeses. Sheep dairies may be few and far between in the US, but they’re doing exciting things.
You’ll soon be able to watch Valley Shepherd cheese being made right in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market — here’s an interesting article about the process of building a cheese-making room in a historic building. They also offer occasional cheesemaking classes and lamb tours in the spring. Find Valley Shepherd cheeses at farmers markets throughout Jersey and New York.
Our Blue Ribbon Week continues tomorrow with a cheese from a Midwestern state that does not begin with W … any guesses?