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AMERICA'S BEST : Mold Gold

July 18, 1996|RUSS PARSONS

Jonathan White likes to brag that he's "setting the dairy industry back 100 years," a claim that's only slightly undercut by the fact that he's making it on his own World Wide Web site on the Internet.

Nevertheless, the cheeses from his Egg Farm Dairy are about as close to farmhouse products as you can find in the 1990s.

White, a former engineer, makes wild-ripened cheeses from cow, sheep and goat milk in his Peekskill, New York dairy. They're available at most of the best cheese counters (including Los Angeles' La Brea Bakery and Marmalade and the Beverly Hills Cheese Store) as well as at most Whole Foods Markets and Bristol Farms stores. The cheeses are also sold by mail order.

Wild-ripening means that rather than being inoculated with a single ripening mold, the cheeses pick up a variety of airborne molds from other cheeses in the ripening room. It's kind of the cheese equivalent of real sourdough bread. Or, as White prefers, "the difference between a putting green and a wildflower meadow."

That's why you won't find the familiar blank white rind you see on most cheeses; instead it's a gray-green mold White calls the American patina.

"Generally speaking, if our cheeses still look nice, they're not fully ripe," he says. "I suggest when you get them, you let them sit in the wrapper at moderate room temperature for several days. When the rind starts looking ugly, the cheese is getting ripe. When it's really, really, really ripe, the rind will turn black, and I trim it off. But it almost never lasts that long." It gets eaten that fast, he means.

The top of Egg Farm Dairy's line is the muscoot, a creamy, complex cheese that took a second prize in the American Cheese Society's 1994 competition.

The Amram, named for composer David Amram (a neighbor and one of White's earliest supporters), is buttery and rich. The Hollis is a somewhat mild-mannered cousin of Limburger, though it has a wonderful pungency all its own.

White also makes soft cheeses--including clabbered cream, ricotta and mascarpone--and his butter has to be tasted to be believed.

Prices range from $4 each for some of the smaller cheeses to $35 for a whole 2-pound-plus wheel of Delphina, a soft sheep's milk cheese that's made in Portugal and wild-ripened at Egg Farm. For starters, there are two sampler packages at $30 and $40, plus shipping.

Egg Farm Dairy, (800) CREAMERY, or via e-mail at http://www.creamery.com

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