Tag Archives: goat cheese

The Tale of Two Accidents

Alice and her Dad

Early last spring, my dad and I attempted to go spring skiing out in Deep Creek, Maryland. Rainy and foggy with lots of slush and mud, we were not entirely successful in our sporting endeavors. It got to the point where one day we looked up at the slopes, and decided to go to the movies instead. Let me tell you, you know the conditions are really bad when the best option is to watch a sappy, poorly written sports movie in an empty theater with sticky floors and the distinctive aroma of old popcorn clinging to the walls.

Even though the weekend itself didn’t exactly go according to plan, it was far from a bust. First of all, I got to hang out with my dad (hi Dad!), which was, as always, a great time. And secondly, I stumbled upon FireFly Farms.

We were on our way out of town when we decided to stop and get some snacks for the road. Driving through the small town of Accident, the FireFly Farms Creamery and Market sign caught my eye. I’d heard the name bantered about by various mongers in DC, and knew that they made goat cheeses. And, well, you guys know me – I’ll jump at any chance to try some new cheeses, so we stopped.

Goats at Firefly Creamery

After tasting through a bunch of their gorgeous, goat’s milk cheeses, I settled on my favorite: Mountain Top Bleu. Made in the Valencay style, these beautiful, surface ripened pyramids are a perfect gateway blue – mild and creamy with just a hint of funk. The piece that I got that day was just the way I like my soft cheeses to be – ripe, oozy, and full of flavor. During the two and a half hours it took us to drive back to DC, we easily devoured the entire thing.

I’ve learned a few things since that inaugural visit to FireFly. Firstly, although Mountain Top Bleu is one of FireFly’s original three cheeses, it was initially made by accident. It came into being when a bloomy-rinded cheese was cross contaminated by a nearby blue. Instead of throwing the contaminated batch away, the cheesemakers created this beautiful hybrid. And it’s a great thing that they did: Mountain Top Bleu is the most awarded cheese in the FireFly repertoire. With twenty individual honors to its name, including a bronze medal at the American Cheese Society conference this past summer and multiple World Cheese awards, this cheese is certainly no mistake. Saveur Magazine even named it as one of the top 50 cheeses in the nation.

Mountain Top Bleu

I was also impressed to learn about FireFly’s commitment to sustainability, both with regards to the farmers that they partner with and to the environment. FireFly is a small cheesemaking operation on the Allegheny Plateau region of Maryland, and they use milk from six goat farms within a 30 mile radius of their shop. By working closely with these farmers, and implementing a mutually beneficial contract, Firefly assures that the farmers are committed to “humane animal husbandry and restrict the use of antibiotics, hormones, and animal feeds that have been treated with chemical or synthetic fertilizers”, while also paying them a fair price for their milk that doesn’t penalize producers for “under-production” in winter months, nor “over-production” in summer months.

Additionally, FireFly is very conscious of their energy consumption. Instead of using energy-hungry machines, they’re committed to handcrafting and wrapping each of their cheeses. Furthermore, as of the summer of 2015, one third of the energy used by FireFly comes from their newly installed solar panels.

It is my great pleasure to announce that not only will Mountain Top Bleu be Via Umbria’s October Cheese of the Month, but that FireFly Farms founders Mike Koch and Pablo Solanet will be joining us for our monthly Cheese Party! Please join us on Wednesday, October 5th to eat, drink, and learn all about this wonderful local cheese and these awesome cheesemakers!

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

A visit to FireFly Farms Creamery in Maryland Read more

Early last spring, my dad and I attempted to go spring skiing out in Deep Creek, Maryland. Rainy and foggy with lots ...

‘Tis the Season for Some Cheesin’

Many of my customers are shocked to find out that cheese is seasonal. Yep, you read that right – cheese is a seasonal food product. “But Alice,” you might be asking yourself, “how can that be? Cheese is not like a fruit or vegetable that pops up out of the earth or suddenly materializes on a branch – how can cheese ever be “out of season”?”


The seasonality of cheese depends on two main components. The first factor is the lactation period of the animal who is providing you with the delicious milk for your cheese. Different types of animals give milk for varying amounts of time after breeding – for sheep, it’s eight months, goats clock in at about eleven months, and cows have a lactation period of about 13 months. Since animals tend to breed at the same time during the year (as opposed to farmers being able to stagger their animals breeding cycles throughout the year), this means that for a few months out of the year, cheesemakers working with goats or sheep have no fresh milk with which to make cheese.


The second component has to do with how long the cheese itself ages for. For fresh cheeses like chevre and sheep or goat’s milk ricotta (which require no aging time), this means that they are only made when fresh milk is available – usually March through about October. For cheeses that do require aging, seasonality plays a part as well, but you need to factor in the aging time to figure out when that particular cheese’s season starts and ends. For example, if you have a goats milk cheese that’s aged for three months, it’s going to stop being available at the end of the milking season plus three months. For cheeses that are aged for a much longer time, the seasonality isn’t as much of a factor and are available more or less year round.


There’s another seasonal factor in cheesemaking that has less to do with milk availability and more to do with the quality of milk produced – what type of food is available to the animals during their milking season? As we all know, we are what we eat, and there are few instances where this is as obvious as with milk. The difference between milk from an animal who has been eating lush, fresh grass and herbs during the spring and summer, and an animal who has had dried, uniform fodder during the winter is night and day. The flavor of that summer milk showcases the terroir of the region – particular combinations of wildflowers, grasses, herbs, and other greenery that the animals consume all become apparent in the milk. This nutritious summertime feed also has a positive effect on the milk’s protein and butterfat content. As such, certain farmers will only make cheese using spring and summer milk and forgo cheesemaking with inferior winter milk.

Whew! So what does all of that mean for Via Umbria’s cheese counter? Well, we’ve got a seasonal treat to showcase for our next Cheese of the Month – delicious, fresh sheep’s milk cheeses from Landmark Creamery in Wisconsin. These little one ounce buttons, named Petit Nuage, or “Little Cloud” en francais, are only made April – September, when the sheep are being milked and are munching on delicious spring and summer Wisconsin grass. Bright and citrusy with clean flavor and a distinct, sheepy tang, these little wonders are gorgeous summer treat that are great paired with heirloom tomatoes and olive oil for a simple salad, topped with fresh or grilled stone fruits like peaches or nectarines, or simply smeared on a baguette and enjoyed on their own.

Don’t miss out on this gorgeous cheese – sign up for our Cheese of the Month Club and get a half pound of Petit Nuage to enjoy during July. Swing by our next meeting, Wednesday, July 6th, and to taste and learn all about your new favorite summer cheese!

Alice Bergen Phillips
Alice Bergen Phillips

The seasonal factors in cheesemaking Read more

Many of my customers are shocked to find out that cheese is seasonal. Yep, you read that right - cheese is a ...

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 ...