by Meridyth Orner
Often I am let down by American producers who attempt to replicate the classics. Wisconsin Provolone just isn’t the same as the Italian icon. But every once in a while a godsend appears and rescues queso-Philas everywhere from disappointing domestic imitations. Perhaps not the same as, or better than, but a cheese that pays homage to it’s ancestors while bringing something fresh to the table. Cherry Grove Farms’ line of cheese does just that.
Cherry Grove of Lawrenceville, New Jersey isn’t new to the local food scene. They’ve been a provider of grass-fed meats and eggs for years now. It wasn’t until a year ago that Owner Kelly Harding realized his dream of producing cheese. Despite decades of experience in the farming aspect Harding, a self-admitted cheese lover, knew little about production. So he brought in the big guns and enlisted young cheese maker Megan Caley who earned her stripes in both Italy and Vermont. With Harding’s passion for organic, quality milk and Caley’s skills they’ve harmoniously brought New and Old world together.
Their wunderkind has worked out to be the Filata Rustico, a cheese in the same family as Provolone. Like Provolone, Mozzarella and Scamorza, Filata is produced by stretching or pulling on the curds before it is formed into cheese. This method is known as pasta filata as depicted in the name. Filata has a similar texture to young Provolone: chewy and creamy, coating your whole mouth. The similarities end here. Filata resembles a small tree trunk due to rubbing the natural mold rind with olive oil turning it dark brown. Nothing like the wax you normally find on its ascendant. Upon splitting you’ll discover a golden spongy surface with a buttery sheen and as with a tree trunk, distinct concentric circles have mysteriously appeared.
Now, what lies beneath…
Something distinctly mid-Atlantic, green onion and sweet grass, a bit on the radishy side.
(Don’t forget these Jersey cows have been feeding exclusively on the lush pastures of the region.) These mingle alongside a bit of barnyard and brine. On the end comes a pleasant tanginess. If you’re looking for that sharp bite of Provolone that burns your throat and goes right up your nose, it’s not there. Instead you get a flavorful funhouse with tastes that creep up on you.
Of course this New Jersey native is delicious on its own, but it’s a delightful addition or substitute for all cheesy concoctions. The consistency almost begs to be melted. Cherry Grove has been providing local restaurants with cheese since their inception. Rumor has it’s great on your morning eggs along side some home fries and applewood smoked bacon. Sub it in grilled cheese, perhaps with a few slices of the other Jersey culinary wonder, tomatoes. I like the idea of stuffing it inside a poblano pepper with shrimp, red peppers, and corn for a spicy and simple warm weather dinner.
If I’ve got you lickin’ your lips DiBruno Bros. on Chestnut St. just picked up this Jersey gem. What a better time to try it than this Saturday, April 5th when Megan Caley will be stopping by. She’ll be able to tell you a lot more about the awesome stuff Cherry Grove is working on. Caley and Harding are as enthusiastic about sustainable agriculture and preserving The Garden State’s farming tradition as they are about cheese. Hope to see you then!