It takes a lot to bring the animals inside at Doe Run Dairy. “We’ll bring the cows inside for the hurricane,” their keeper, Kristian Holbrook, explained a few hours before Sandy’s landfall two weeks ago. “Maybe for snow, too, but other than that, they stay outside all year round. Even when there’s no grass, we’d rather feed them their hay out in the air.”
Doe Run Dairy, the cheesemaking arm of Urban Outfitters founder Dick Hayne’s 325-acre Doe Run Farm, sits on softly rolling meadows of south Chester County. Those wild fairways inform the style and flavor of the fine cheeses Holbrook and his wife, Haesel Charlesworth, craft for sale at local markets and restaurants neighborhoody and star-spangled alike. (Full disclosure: We occasionally carry Doe Run cheeses at my grocery, Green Aisle.)
“Our cheeses make sense for our area,” Holbook said. “We’re not in the mountains, so we don’t have funky, moldy things going on, but we do have lush pastures that stay green from the spring all the way past [fall].”
A graduate of New England Culinary Institute, Holbrook first dabbled in cheesemaking while cooking at a restaurant in Somerset County, Pa. “It was my hobby, and at the restaurant, we’d make créme fraiche, feta, ricotta with raw milk from a nearby dairy farmer. I got more and more into it and thought it was something I could make a career out of.”
That opportunity came via Blackberry Farm, a luxury resort in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains, which recruited Holbrook to launch and manage their cheese and dairy programs. After a few years there, Holbrook and Charlesworth answered an ad on the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s website looking for someone to manage a farm with a dairy component. Three months later, Hayne installed them at Doe Run.
Making seasonal cheese has always been the center of Holbrook’s mission for Doe Run. His cows produce milk all year long, while the sheep and goats lactate only in the spring and summer, which partially dictates the creamery’s cheesemaking schedule. “The seasonality in cheese is also based on the qualities of the milk based on the forage the animals are eating. Instead of homogenizing milk to make the same cheese all year round, we make different cheese based on different qualities in the milk.”
Doe Run’s flagship, the Gouda-style Seven Sisters, is available all year, as is the Alpine-style St. Malachi, which Holbrook named for the quaint white church at the top of a hill visible from the creamery. But the dairy’s crown jewel is available only in spring and summer. Hummingbird is a bloomy rind American robiola, one of the most compelling artisan cheeses made in our fine state. Or anywhere, for that matter — it won first place at the American Cheese Society’s 2011 conference. This spring, look for ones on the younger side, when the mold-ripened flirt is firm, fudgy and tastes, unsurprisingly, of fresh-cut grass.
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