This week, I would like to highlight the fresh pressed, sweet and mild Milkweed. I call it a farmer's cheese because of its simplicity to make, its young age and its semi firm texture. Many have told me that it has more developed flavor than farmer's cheeses they have tried before. This is a cheese without an ego - I think the name suits it well because it's one that lets the milk shine.
And, oh! That milk!
A word on that milk...
In my search for the highest quality milk for cheesemaking, I was so happy to meet Forrest and Greg Stricker, father and son owners and operators at Spring Creek Farms in Wernersville. I had to do some searching to find milk that was not only very rich and creamy, which is essential to the styles of cheeses I like to make, but also milk that is clean, which is the foundation of cheesemaking. It is not possible to make cheese that is consistent in quality, flavor and texture when you are constantly battling other bacterias present in the milk. It must start with a clean slate so that you can nurture the ones you specifically want to develop.
Enter: Spring Creek Farms. Incidentally, the Strickers knew my grandfather, Bill Angstadt, quite well, as they bought bone meal and natural fertilizers from him at his business, Reading Bone Fertilizer Co. Apart from the family connection, what endears me to Spring Creek Farms is their devotion to natural farming practices that translate directly to healthy milk that is the highest quality and, thus, the best milk for cheesemaking.
Their pastures are chemical free. If you ever have a chance to visit them, you will be engulfed by a thick blanket of deep green as you pull up the driveway. From April to December, their herd of Jersey, Ayrshire and Holstein cows never spend more than 12 hours on a single paddock of grass before they are moved to a new field. Their milking parlor is the cleanest and most pristine I have seen. And most importantly, the Strickers are filled with passion for what they do. That love truly does translate to happier cows.
Going back to the cheese, then, the reason why the Milkweed stands out in my mind this week is because it offers the chance to experience that beautiful milk in a concentrated, creamy little wedge. Jerseys and Ayrshires have a notably sweet milk, which is one of the characteristics that people first taste in the cheese. Apart from snacking on it with crackers or crusty bread, I have enjoyed it with fruit and honey for breakfast, as the mozzarella to my tomato salad, and even - for a special treat - grilled. Because of the high cook temperature and pH of the cheese, it has a slow melt time, so you can actually grill slices of it on a hot griddle or grill. My friend once seared the Milkweed in a hot skillet and added it to his curry dish, using it almost as a paneer.
Anyway you slice it (but preferably, in nice thick wedges), the Milkweed is a must for tasting the Berks County terroir and that Jersey-Ayrshire sweetness.