What happens when you combine two engineer-turned-farmers, a love of cheese and a desire to buck the high volume and mediocre quality of many grocery store offerings? One vertically integrated creamery and 29 delicious varieties of cheese.
At Valley Shepherd Creamery, one family controls the product from pasture and pasteurization to cave and counter. The commitment to quality shows: This summer they took second place in the American Cheese Society’s 2012 competition for their Crema de Blue, a spicy, creamy Jersey Cow’s milk, cave-aged for 65 days.
Eran and Debra Wajswol initially met while studying engineering, then started a small cattle and sheep farm in New Jersey. Inspired by visits to European sheep creameries, they began making artisanal cheeses in 2005. Today the couple pastures sheep, goats and cows at their Long Valley farm, makes small batch cheeses and ages some in the four-room cave they blasted out of the side of a rocky hill.
Chefs love their products; consumers can find them online, at the on-farm Sheep Shoppe, farmer’s markets and a quaint brick and mortar store in Park Slope. This summer they expanded to open a cheese-making facility and retail center in Philadelphia’s venerable Reading Terminal Market.
Wajswol sums up his cheese-making philosophy with a quote by Charles Jordan: “What people do not understand, they do not value, what they do not value, they will not protect, and what they do not protect, they will lose.” In that spirit, the Valley Shepherd team makes the process accessible; they’re happy to talk cheese at a farmers market or store, and at Reading Terminal Market shoppers can watch the cheese-makers working daily behind a glass wall; they process 8000 pounds of fresh milk a week.
The farm itself gives visitors a firsthand look at the process behind each wheel via tours and classes. The Fall Hay Wagon Tours kick off in September: Guests get a peek at sheep milking, Old World cheese-making and cave aging. Those eager to learn the art of separating curds and whey can take a cheese-making class: After a day of touring and working the vats — plus 90 days of cave-aging anticipation — students will savor their own kilogram of delicious handmade cheese.
And for those who can’t make it to the Valley, there’s always the Slope.
Image courtesy of Valley Shepherd Creamery.