Tag Archives: cheese making

Fine Cheese and the Art of Affinage

One of the most exciting parts of being a cheesemonger is getting to know our cheese producers: the people whose love, care, and mastery create the decadent wheels that you see in our case. We stock the counter at Via Umbria with gorgeous cheeses from small farms, creameries, and affineurs that your average shopper won’t see at the supermarket. Meeting and developing relationships with these cheese artisans is one of the best parts of my job.

On a recent snowy morning, I had the privilege to visit Crown Finish Caves, a small-batch cheese producer located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The formerly industrial New York neighborhood is filled with empty turn-of-the-century factories like the one that houses Crown Finish Caves. Their old, brick building appears unremarkable at first sight, but a surprise lies in what’s buried underneath: long, damp tunnels.


A low, cavernous Crown Finish cellar.
A low, cavernous Crown Finish cellar.


When owners Benton Brown and Susan Boyle discovered these underground caverns, they scrapped their plan to convert the building into office space and turned their attention to producing cheese. Far-flung from the farm, the urban locale of Crown Finish posed unique challenges, namely procuring access to large quantities of milk. However, the climate of the tunnels that Brown and Boyle had unwittingly acquired proved perfect for affinage, the subtle art of aging cheese.

Affinage is what makes blue cheese blue, stinky cheese pungent, and gives brie and camembert their fuzzy white exteriors. It’s a large part of what makes every cheese distinctive. Brown, an artist with no former affinage experience, threw himself into mastering the tricks of the trade. He became well-versed on the subjects of temperature, humidity, and time requirements for aging different cheeses. He learned to recognize desirable and undesirable mold, and perfected the finer points of cleaning, brushing, washing, turning…all factors that go into creating a beautiful, unique cheese.


Say cheese ... and cheese ... and cheese ...
Say cheese … and cheese … and cheese …


Hanging out in a chill atmosphere.
Hanging out in a chill atmosphere.

Young cheeses, primarily from Northeastern farms, make their way to the caves year round. Currently, the Crown Finish caves hold about 11,000 pounds of cheese, and plans to expand and diversify production are in the works. There are, of course, a few favorite staples like Tubby, an alpine-style cow’s milk cheese from Spring Brook Farm in Reading, VT, and Reverie, an Italian toma-style cheese from Parish Hill Farm in Westminster West, VT. Ever the innovator, Brown loves to try out new techniques and create custom cheeses for clients. While I was there, he showed me a few experiments involving duck fat washes and wagyu beef tallow coatings–not exactly your typical cheese treatments.

Stop by our counter and sample the wonders of Crown Finish Caves, from the fruity, complex Suffolk Punch to the silky, toasted sesame-infused Gatekeeper. I was deeply impressed with the care and creativity that goes into crafting Crown Finish cheeses, and I’m sure you will be too.


Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

Get to know the cheese at Via Umbria Read more

One of the most exciting parts of being a cheesemonger is getting to know our cheese producers: the people whose love, care, ...

Goat Curds and Little Herds




How cute are these little white goats!?  Bill and and son Teddy and daughter Lindsey, along with Via Umbria favorite Simone Proietti-Pescigot a chance to visit the goats last week when they stopped by the farm of local cheesemaker and winemaker Diego Calcabrina. Diego is well known and respected in the area for making goat cheese, alongside small batches of hand crafted Sagrantino wine.  He is very passionate about his work as a farmer and a winemaker. He holds himself out as a biodynamic farmer, which means he practices organic farming, as well as many other strictures about following the phases of the moon and getting in touch with nature’s natural rhythms.


The Menard family visited Diego for the first time last fall, and Lindsey, Teddy and Bill (along with Simone) revisited on the first day of their current trip. Cheese first.


And just how difficult is it to make goat cheese? The process is not too complicated but requires completely clean and unadulterated goat’s milk, which is an art in itself. Those goats are not always the most cleanly, or easy, to milk. And it requires a cheesemaker’s niche knowledge of the right feel of curd, and the correct temperatures during the different stages of the cheese process.


But you should try it at home. Goat cheese is best when ultra-fresh. You can still taste the…goats…which most of the time is a good thing. Yours may not end up as good as Diego’s, but you can always drop by Via Umbria and pick up a bottle of Sagrantino to wash it down.


Simply follow these few steps:

In a medium saucepan, we heat the fresh goat milk until it reaches about 180 degrees.

Then we remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. This separates the curds (the fat and protein, which becomes cheese), from the whey (the liquid).

We shake the little curds into their cheese containers, and place them on a tray that allows the excess whey to run off into the pail. One the desired amount of liquid has come off, the curds all set in their containers, making a solid block of cheese.


Ci Vediamo!

– Via Umbria








How to make goat cheese at home Read more

  How cute are these little white goats!?  Bill and and son Teddy and daughter Lindsey, along with Via Umbria favorite Simone Proietti-Pesci, got ...