Chicagoist’s Cheese Of The Month Is The Appalachian
By Erika Kubick in Food on Aug 13, 2015 9:10PM
Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy. Photo by Erika Kubick
Summer is the best time for food lovers: all our favorite fruits and vegetables are ripe and in season, as, too, are grass-fed artisanal cheeses. Like any other agriculture product, cheese is a seasonal food. Our August cheese of the month illustrates the true beauty that lies in the milk of cows grazing on pasture in full summer bloom. While we often celebrate fresh cheeses like burrata and feta at this time of year, we must also praise the less obviously seasonal cheeses, like this buttery Appalachian from Meadow Creek Dairy, in Virginia.
The diet of the animals producing the milk heavily influences the flavors of the cheese. Many classic Alpine cheeses, like Gruyere, are made only with summer milk, when the cattle have access to pastures with fresh, diverse plant life. Compared to cheeses made from cows that are fed a winter diet of dry hay and grain, these cheeses have a lighter flavor, more buttery texture and a deep yellow color as a result from the added beta carotene.
Appalachian with fresh figs and pepitas. Photo by Erika Kubick.
It’s of this Alpine Tradition that owners Rick and Helen Feete partake with all of their cheeses at Meadow Creek Dairy. Since 1980, the Feetes have concentrated on building a model of sustainability with quality milk and healthy land. Their farm sits at an elevation of 2,800 feet, in the Appalachian mountains of southwestern Virginia. The picturesque landscape is an ideal location for their herd of Jersey cattle. The cows are never confined, but allowed to roam the pasture feasting on a diet of perennial grasses, legumes, grains and Norwegian kelp.
All of Meadow Creek's cheeses are dependent on the cows' lush grass-fed diet and are therefore in season for as long as the pasture is verdant. The official milking season ends on Christmas eve, initiating a two month break for both family and herd.
Photo by Erika Kubick
Appalachian is a raw cow’s milk cheese created in the style of Tomme de Savoie, a classic French cheese. The 8-lb. wheels come in a square format, coated with a powdery white rind. The cheese smells of clean soil, cultured butter and fresh anise bulb. The flavor is approachable, comforting, and rich, yet with a earthy complexity—think Fettuccini Alfredo with mushrooms. It’s an extremely versatile cheese that shines in many contexts, whether melted into sautéed bitter greens or simply sliced up alongside fresh peaches and honey-glazed nuts. We also recommend it alongside a glass of seltzer water spritzed with absinthe—a pairing trick we recently learned at Arbor Restaurant in Logan Square.
Though beautiful when fresh, Appalachian has the tendency deteriorate rather quickly if cared for improperly. Make sure the rind is snowy white and always ask to taste before purchasing. You can find the Appalachian at Potash Markets, Pastoral and Eataly.