Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Day Two Hundred and Eleven: A look inside Mecox Bay Dairy

While out in East Hampton this past weekend, I decided that if possible, I would love to pay a visit to Mecox Bay Dairy --  one of very few cheesemakers/dairy farmers that I can think of based on Long Island. I love their cheeses that I have tried and am always interested in going to see where the magic happens. Thankfully Art Ludlow was kind enough to take a nice chunk out of his day to show us around.

Mecox is run by Art and Stacy Ludlow, a husband and wife team who are fourth generation farmers; originally potato farmers who decided to convert their farm into a strictly dairy operation in 2001, opening their doors in 2003. Every room has been built by Art himself and each space emanates his complete love and care.

Our tour started with a "meet and greet" with six of their twelve milking Jersey cows, a self contained farm for more than the past five years, each cow whose milk is utilized to make Mecox's cheeses has been born and bred right on their property. You can certainly tell that when you taste the cheese that it is the ultimate in local. Art and his son are working hard to be able to grow the grains necessary to feed his cows in the winter months so that he doesn't have to have them shipped from a different location. If this happens, the farm will be a completely self sustaining unit.

Moving along from our time with the cows, next up, we entered into the milk container/transfer room, a standard procedure space for a cheesemaking facility. This was immediately followed by the cheesemaking room. Art had made cheese that morning, we were too late to see that, but we did get to see the homemade cheese aging room. This was truly a sight, cheeses of every shape and size sitting on plastic and wooden shelves, some with plexi or plastic over them to increase the amount of humidity necessary for the cheese to age properly. What I in particular really appreciated about this room was that it seemed as though Art had created the best possible scenario with the options that he had available.

The final stop on our tour was a tasting of a few of their cheeses. All of their cheeses are raw cows milk and aged for at least the minimum amount of time legally necessary to sell here in the US.

First up was their take on Cheddar -- crafted in the traditional English style this baby is aged for anywhere from six months on up. Subtly sweet with a grassy and creamy finish, this was cheddar done right. I'm typically not the biggest fan of cheddar style cheeses, but this one definitely won me over.

Next up we tasted their Gouda -- a cheese still in the experimentation phases but gosh is it fabulous! This was unlike any Gouda I had ever had before -- the depth of flavor here was just smashing, a real toast to the richness of the terroir. Smoky and barnyardy yet luscious and milky, this Gouda puts the Dutch wax rind version to shame.

Lastly we tried their Atlantic Mist, which Art mentioned he'd been having some issues with this year. According to Art, his cheeses tend to have a shift yearly in the springtime just as the cows go from eating grains to grass, sometimes making them somewhat temperamental and not necessarily producing the specific flavor profile Art is seeking. Therefore he said that when he takes those sorts of cheeses to a farmer's market, he makes sure to offer his customers a taste before selling it to them -- he wants them to know the product that they are getting, a truly honest and well intentioned cheesemaker, that's for sure! But back to their Atlantic Mist, a small hockey puck sized cheese modeled on a traditional Camembert style of cheese making, this guy is rustic, gooey, and farmy with a mustiness to it -- a complex cheese truly unique to Mecox Bay Dairy.

All three were winners in my book, but the Gouda took the cake, such a unique and unusual take on a classic. I thought before we wrapped up here, I'd fill you in on the other cheeses they produce that we did not try upon our visit to the farm:

1. Sigit - Their Gruyere style cheese that is aged for traditionally at least one year, if not more. It is the oldest cheese Mecox Bay makes and has a dynamic flavor profile with that comforting and warming feeling of good hard Gruyere style cheese. This is the sort of cheese that would be perfect with a nice glass of red wine on a cozy winter evening.

2. Mecox Sunrise -- Their award winning cheese that is in such high demand that we could not take a taste -- a definite sign of a good cheese. Sunrise is a washed rind medium aged (2-4 months) semi firm cheese that comes in medium sized wheels. This cheese has the brightness of the sunrise with a piquant kick of washed rindness along with a smooth finish.

3. Shawondasee - The last cheese in their portfolio; I've not had the pleasure of tasting this one but it gives me something to look forward to for next time. Named after a Native American word that translates to "prevailing southwest wind," this is a mold ripened cheese aged for longer than the Sunrise, but not as long as their Sigit, traditionally somewhere between four and five months. Somewhat nutty, the longer this cheese ages, the better it is for grating purposes.

To wrap up my trip to Mecox Bay Dairy, I wanted to take a brief moment to thank Art for giving us this fantastic tour Monday and for crafting such fantastic cheeses that I imagine not that many people have had the opportunity to try but from now on, if you stumble across Mecox's cheeses, pick one up. Each cheese is lovingly crafted with a true stamp of local terroir. Unique and individual interpretations of the classics and others as well with the twist of their own inventiveness.

Mecox Bay Dairy cheeses are available for sale at local farmer's markets and a few supermarkets. For those of us who live in Manhattan or else where, it's a little harder, I recommend you go through their website: Tough to find but worth the search, this Long Island dairy farm is local in the very best of ways.

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