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Say Cheese: The Growth of Keswick Creamery

My new favorites from Keswick Creamery, left to right: Vermeer, quark and Briemeer. (Domenica Marchetti)

“I came to cheese making very differently than other people,” confesses Melanie Dietrich Cochran.

Cochran, who grew up on a 100-acre dairy farm in Newburg, Pa., was looking for a way to support her home and its 40 jersey cows after returning from college. Although she had majored in dairy science at Virginia Tech, Cochran says she had no interest in corporate farming jobs that pulled her away from the land. “I really have just wanted to farm for as long as I can remember,” she says.

In 1997, she hit on cheese as a possible means of income. She figured jersey cows, which produce milk with a high content of protein and butterfat, could produce high-quality cheese. She enrolled in cheesemaking classes and researched the production of raw-milk cheeses, made with unpasteurized milk and aged for at least 60 days.

In 2001, Keswick Creamery was born.

Four years later, Cochran’s husband, Mark, quit his job as a graphic designer to join the cheesemaking venture full-time. Keswick Creamery now produces more than a dozen cheeses, from traditional English-style cheddar to fresh whole-milk ricotta.

Cochran’s idea and hard work appear to be paying off. Earlier this month, two of Keswick’s cheeses — Vermeer and quark — earned bronze medals at the North American Regional Jersey Cheese Awards, which honors cheeses made exclusively from the milk of jersey cows.

Vermeer, says Cochran, “is modeled after Gouda but is not very much like Gouda.” For the first 18 months of production it was called “No Name Cheese,” until a customer came up with the name Vermeer. Indeed, while it bears a little resemblance to its Dutch inspiration, Vermeer is creamier and tangier. The cheese is brined and aged for 60 days, during which time it develops a natural mold rind. The rich, buttery paste is a mellow yellow hue that comes from the cows’ diet of grass and hay. Cochran recommends Vermeer as a melting cheese, especially in comfort-food dishes such as mac and cheese.

Keswick’s quark is a German-style fresh spreadable cheese (pasteurized because it’s not aged for 60 days) that is made with yogurt culture rather than rennet. The fresh curds are left to acidify for 12 hours before being cut, salted and drained overnight in draining bags. It has lots more character than your average supermarket cream cheese, is fluffier in texture and much tangier, with a subtle but distinct muskiness. Keswick pairs the cheese with tart cherry jam. The milky white cheese and vibrant red jam are a beautiful combination, both in appearance and flavor. But this morning I tried something different: I stirred a scant tablespoon of quark into a scrambled egg for breakfast. It was lovely.

Although it was not one of the award winners, I feel compelled to tell you about one more Keswick cheese: Briemeer. It started out as a batch of Vermeer, but during the 60-day aging process, the cheese began to develop a white bloomy rind, not unlike the rind on brie. Cochran determined that the pH balance of the brine was off and was resigned to throwing the cheese away. Her husband suggested letting the cheese age. What resulted is a deliciously sharp, salty pale-yellow cheese with a grey-white rind and a creamy, yet firm and crumbly interior. Cochran is hoping to be able to re-create her happy accident. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, too.

Keswick Creamery’s cheeses are available at a number of local farmers markets, including: the FreshFarm Markets in Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and H Street; Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, and Bloomingdale Farmers Market, as well as at Cowgirl Creamery, Cheesetique and La Fromagerie.

-- Domenica Marchetti. whose Web site is

By The Food Section  |  July 14, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Say Cheese  | Tags: Briemeer, Domenica Marchetti, Vermeer, quark  
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And they are also at the 14&U Farmers' Market Saturdays 9-1.

Posted by: robinshuster | July 13, 2009 7:44 PM | Report abuse

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