Did you know that we had the largest sheep dairy in the United States fewer than 25 miles outside of Albany? And did you know that they make some of the finest sheep milk cheeses around?
I first learned about Old Chatham Sheepherding Company many years ago from an article in Saveur magazine on the splendor of their flock, the magnificence of their restaurant, and the comforts of their inn. It was a dream to eventually travel to their farm in northern Columbia County for dinner, but sadly all the other arms of the enterprise were shuttered before I could make the trip. Honestly, it's one of the great regrets of my life.
But it's September, and that means it's time to eat local. So I'm putting my regret aside -- with one of Old Chatham's newest offerings.
The Kinderhook Creek, a very special 100-percent sheep's milk cheese, is a hefty discus. It weighs in at 14 ounces of creamy, earthy, buttery (dare I say, "sheepy") goodness. They say it is made in a Camembert-style, but generally Camembert are a bit thinner to help in the ripening process. This cheese has a white bloomy rind, like Camembert and Brie, so it ripens from the outside in.
That means the longer you keep a whole cheese in a cold damp portion of your refrigerator, the more gooey, runny cheese you'll see just under the rind. While the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company does sell its cheese wrapped, they use a special imported paper that allows the cheese to breathe and ripen from within.
However, given the girth of the Kinderhook Creek, it's clear the cheesemaker's intent is not for a fully runny cheese. It seems like it is more similar to a French Coulommiers, which is prized for its firm center when ripe.
The bloomy rind has a bit of a textural snap and characteristic bite to it. I'm not going to take sides here. Some people adore edible rinds and eat them with abandon. For others they are too intense, gritty, or otherwise unenjoyable. If you want to cut off the rind from your piece of cheese, I'm fine with that. If you want to gobble it up, more power to you.
But do not, under any circumstance, dig out the soft center from a bloomy rind cheese, leaving the rind behind and a cavity in the cheese. That's cheese etiquette 101.
The Kinderhook Creek is not an inexpensive cheese. You can buy a 14-ounce wheel of it from Adventure in Food Trading for about $17. Or you can buy it in smaller quantities from the Honest Weight Food Co-op for just shy of $30 per pound. Although the co-op will give you a 10 percent discount for buying the whole wheel. In either case you should call ahead just to make sure it's in stock.
Or you could just make a trip out to Old Chatham Shepherding Company yourself. The cheese would go great with some crisp, sweet and tart local apples, too. That and a loaf of bread, and you are well on your way to a balanced meal.
If you do pick up a wheel or even just a piece, always remember to take your cheese out of the refrigerator at least an hour before you plan to eat it. When you are paying a premium for good cheese, you are paying for its robust flavor. And if you eat your cheese too cold, you will be missing out on a lot of the experience.
Now go eat.
Daniel B. is the proprietor of the Fussy Little Blog.
Earlier on AOA: Touring Washington County's cheeses
We'd really like you to take part in the conversation here at All Over Albany. But we do have a few rules here. Don't worry, they're easy. The first: be kind. The second: treat everyone else with the same respect you'd like to see in return. Cool? Great, post away. Comments are moderated so it might take a little while for your comment to show up. Thanks for being patient.