Best of Show: Valley Shepherd Creamery, Crema de Blue (Second Place ACS 2012)
It takes serious upper body strength to make Crema de Blue at Valley Shepherd Creamery in New Jersey. Each batch of curd is stirred by hand, a decision made last year by owner and cheesemaker Eran Wasjwol (pronounced wise-wall). “We stir with our hands deep in the vat, which preserves curd structure and gives us nice round, fat curds that act better once in the matrix [of the finished cheese],” he explains.
Wasjwol’s techniques paid off this year when Crema de Blue, a blended cow’s and sheep’s milk cheese, took second place at the ACS competition. No one was more surprised than Wasjwol himself, who didn’t even know the cheese had been entered (his sales manager submitted the cheese on the sly). His modest and hard-nosed response to this resounding success was, “We grinned for 30 seconds, then sighed and went back to the 700 animals, five vats, and endless cave shelves covered with moldy tomes.”
Former engineers, Wasjwol and his wife Debra Van Sickle ditched their “high-rise development careers” years ago and are now living the “culmination of our experiences, dreams, and hopes” making 30 different types of European-inspired cheese at Valley Shepherd. Wasjwol sells direct, through 26 weekly green markets and the company’s three retail stores in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. With a herd of 600 sheep to manage as well, one can only imagine Wasjwol covets his naps.
Crema de Blue is based on the recipe for Basque Blue, which Wasjwol learned to make in the Navarre region of Spain. “Being a sheep dairy, it was almost mandatory to use the natural gift of the milk structure in a blue cheese,” says Wasjwol. After the labor-intensive stirring process, the curds are gently molded, then hand-salted, pierced, and aged for two months in a custom-built subterranean cave. The resulting cheese has a rich mouth-feel and intense blue flavor, balanced with a slight sweetness and notes of butterscotch and toast. Wasjwol likes to eat it straight, “typically sneaking behind the counter when the shop is busy.”Photos by: Arthur Cohen