Meet A Producer: Valley Milkhouse

While it's too early to say exactly which vendors will have goods at our co-op, we've begun forming relationships with local farmers and producers. Co-operators, meet Stephanie Angstadt, of Valley Milkhouse!

Stephanie AngstadtValley Milkhouse is located at the historic Covered Bridge Farm in Oley—and couldn’t be happier about it. Stephanie Angstadt, owner of Valley Milkhouse, explores old world style cheese making. She loves bacteria, mold and yeast equally, and is inspired by the French and Belgian traditions of developing a cheese’s character through the rind. She handcrafts each cheese with special attention to texture, and is always excited about allowing the terroir of the region—that sweet, bright creaminess that can only come from fully grass-fed herds of cows and sheep—to shine.

What initially brought you to cheese making?

I truly fell in love with cheese when I spent a college semester studying abroad in Paris. Of course, cheese is an institution in France. Each region of the country celebrates its own taste of the land, or "terroir", through cheese. I would visit the corner cheese shop every day to adventure into the next stinky cheese. The cheesemongers at these shops always wore white lab coats, taking their work so seriously, yet always willing to sharing their knowledge with even a lowly American tourist. So, I tasted and learned and explored.

Cheese will always be an adventure into the unknown because there are infinite variables in creating it. The flora in the pasture, the weather, the species and breed of dairy animal, the milking times and methods - and only then begins the cheesemaking process, which has another two thousand variables depending on the style of cheese, the weather, the environment of the production and aging spaces. What I love the most about the craft of cheesemaking is that you can never fully master it. There is always more to learn and adapt to. It's a lifelong conquest.

I had your honey-kissed lambsquarters cheese this week (absolutely amazing), where do you find inspiration for your cheeses? Do you have any cheese making heroes?

While I'm generally inspired by French styles of cheeses, as evidenced by my love affair with white mold "bloomy" rinds typical of Normandy, I'm equally awed by the American artisan cheesemakers who produce some of my favorite cheeses in the world. Where do I begin? I love Vermont Creamery for its fresh chevre and fromage blanc and creme fraiche. My Lambsquarters fits into this category of tangy, fresh and creamy cheese you can have for any meal of the day, and its character shines through its simplicity. I love Cowgirl Creamery's Mt. Tam and Cypress Grove's Humboldt Fog. Valley Shepherd makes an excellent sheep Manchego. The list goes on. Locally, I think Sue Miller at Birchrun Hills Farm makes cheeses that are as rich and developed in flavor as some of the ones I loved in France. Her Fat Cat is decadent and puts to shame anyone who falsely assumes American cheeses lack the flavor of those of the old world.

I can honestly say I am proud to be part of a truly American cheese movement. There are so many cheesemakers out there today making unique cheeses. We are not constrained by the old world dogma of cheesemaking technique, although it surely serves as our foundation. We have a lot more freedom to adventure into the unknown and make up our own rules as we go.

For someone who might be a cheese novice, or a slightly picky eater, what cheese do you suggest they start with?

For those who prefer a milder flavor in their cheese, I love the Lambsquarters. It is a simple, fresh cheese made with a blend of sheep and cow's milk. It has enough character to stand on its own, or it can be dressed up with herbs, spices, or honey. I see my regulars buying it every week as a staple in their kitchen. The Milkweed is also fresh and mild. It has a consistency similar to Mozzarella, and people tell me they slice it with tomatoes or grate it onto a pizza. Through its simplicity, you can truly taste the quality of the milk.

What is the most memorable cheese you've ever had? What made it unique?

One of the most memorable cheeses I've had was Uplands Cheese Company's Pleasant Ridge Reserve. What made my first experience with Pleasant Ridge memorable was that I got to try it as part of a "vertical tasting" in one of the cheese lectures I recently attended in Lancaster. In a vertical tasting, you sample the same cheese at different ages. So, we tried the Pleasant Ridge at 8, 12 and 16 months. It was an eye opening experience for me to discover, through taste, how a cheese can develop at different points in its aging process. As a cheesemaker, you are constantly flirting with the question, "When is it done?" Often, the more patience you have, the better. That's something I am learning to appreciate.

What are some new cheeses you'll be making in the coming months?

Since the start of my production three months ago, I have been busy tackling this very question. Alongside the fresh cheeses I have been making for immediate sale, I've been storing wheels of cheese in the "aging cave" for this coming fall and winter. The Thistle, a 2-month bloomy rind cheese will be available in the coming weeks. My oldest batch of raw sheep's milk cheese, Blue Bell, also just turned 2 months. I'm waiting to see how it develops with age, as I want it to be a more robust blue. I am trying to temper my excitement with the key to a cheesemaker's success: patience.

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