By Paul Partica, The Cheese Shop Of Centerbrook
I made the mistake of cutting into a Cochran Farm soft-ripening goat cheese the other day. In the cheese business, we call this a quality control check. With the aid of a fresh pear, I managed to eat half of what was supposed to be a sample meant for many others. It’s a good thing a nice white wine did not also need a quality control check or the other half of the round would have disappeared along with the wine. The things I have to do for work.
There’s a new taste treat for those who love goat cheese, and it comes in both the fresh and soft-ripening variety. Lucky for me, cheesemaker Patrick Apfel recently found his way into my shop and presented me with samples of both, made on his farm. I immediately ordered a few dozen of each and then found myself wishing they were already on-hand. Here’s a little more about this great goat cheese duo:
This is a fresh cheese which ages in taste like all fresh varieties, from sweet to tart, then sour when overripe. Mohawk Mist is very moist with a mild goat flavor, a slight tangy finish and creamier texture than most fresh goat cheeses. It is meant to be eaten young. Like most goat cheeses, it can be eaten on its own and does not require a topping. You can only enhance the taste by adding honey, figs, fresh fruit, chutney or preserves of choice. Patrick likes it for breakfast on toast, with blueberry preserves or honey.
Cochran Farms’ soft-ripening version is called St. Johnsville, and this one is the flagship cheeses of the farm. St. Johnsville goes through the typical process of all soft-ripening cheeses. As the snow-like mold does its work, the cheese begins to ripen from the outside in. The ripened part will soften and change to a supple, creamy texture that can be described as having a delicate “earthy” flavor with a faint hint of mushrooms. If it were to be cut in half during the ripening process, you would see three layers: a hard chalky-looking, creamy-textured white center over a softer, somewhat thick honey-like top, and a bottom layer. The center is referred to as the core. When the core fully disappears, it is considered fully ripened. Soft-ripening types are usually consumed before full ripening, depending on your palate and how pungent you like your cheese.
Patrick likes to pair St. Johnsville with Sancerre, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or even a nice lager. As I mentioned earlier, I like to serve it on a slice of fresh pear and drizzled with Acacia honey, which also pairs nicely with wines.
About the Apfels
Patrick grew up in France, which offered him an early education in the world of cheese. As France boasts one of the largest selections of cheeses in the world, it’s no surprise that cheese was a big part of Patrick’s diet growing up.
As fate would have it, he and his wife Gwen spent five years on assignment in France at a later date, where they were able to taste their way through over 800 cheeses. Wow, could I have done some quality control checks on that trip. And there’s a little wine in France too, I’ve been told.
The pair made additional trips to Burgundy in 2012 and Poitou in 2013. And Cheese-making became more than a dream for the Apfels. They learned the biology of cheese-making, the importance of high quality milk, and the care of farming goats. At the farm, the Apfels built a cheese house and now make cheese the artisanal way.
More About the Cochran Farm
People tend to think of New York State as city-like, with plenty of cars and lots of congestion. After many years of driving to Buffalo, often facing thirty miles between exits, you realize just how far from the truth that is. New York offers some of the most beautiful country you could ever want to see, and the Cochran farm, an idyllic collection of rolling hills and hay fields, is no exception.
The history of this farm makes this story even better. The Apfels bought the farm which just so happens to be once owned by General John Cochran, who served as Surgeon General under General George Washington. It is told that Washington considered Cochran a friend, as did the Marquis de Lafayette, who credited Cochran with saving his life on two occasions. Alexander Hamilton was also known to be a frequent visitor and, according to Patrick, Joseph Brant, chief of the Mohawk nation, stopped in as well.
In my opinion, these two delectable cheeses are fine examples of what domestic artisanal cheese-making can be.