In honor of American Cheesemakers Month in May, the Local Palate highlights makers like Firefly Farms, Georges Mill Farm, and other artisan cheesemakers creating a tasty way of exploring the Mid-Atlantic.
Just an hour’s drive from Washington, DC’s pulsing center, rolling pastures, and acres of pristine countryside stretch as far as the eye can see. The rural hills of Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia attract lots of driven, innovative entrepreneurs looking for new specialty cheese shops. Economic barriers are substantial in the Mid-Atlantic; many cheesemakers have settled in Maryland and Virginia where land, particularly in the west toward West Virginia, is more affordable and farming is viable.
The area is home to cow and goat cheesemakers whose products can be found in specialty cheese shops and Whole Foods locations along the East Coast, including Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, Virginia, Georges Mill Farm in Lovettsville, Virginia, and Chapel’s Country Creamery in Easton, Maryland.
The remote locale poses challenges to small business owners: Most East Coast food distributors travel through DC, and they are the lifeline to transport specialty food products north to Philadelphia and New York or south to Richmond and North Carolina. Many rural cheese-makers struggle to meet distributors on their scheduled routes. Instead, they sell their products at local farmers’ markets and on-site farm stores.
Firefly Farms took matters into their own hands. Owners Michael Koch and Pablo Solanet have refrigerated trucks, so they deliver their cheeses to distributors in DC. After careers in the District, they made their “bucolic exit strategy,” as Koch calls it, in 1997. They bought a piece of property in Accident, Maryland, and, after spending a few years figuring out what to do with it, they became enamored with the idea of making goat cheese—at the time the style wasn’t being produced on a large scale anywhere nearby. They got a herd of goats to start their journey, and two decades later, Firefly Farms goat cheeses are regular award winners at national competitions.
The Mid-Atlantic’s Cheese Scene
Firefly Farms | Deep Creek, Maryland
Their cheeses are much lauded, but the owners’ commitment to sustainable production sets this Maryland-based creamery apart. Visit the Firefly Farms Market in Deep Creek or in Baltimore’s White Hall Market.
Georges Mill Farm | Lovettsville, Virginia
Selections from this 270-year-old farm vary depending on the season—go for the tomme-style Grey Ghost, veined Eula Blue, or seasonally flavored chèvre.
Come to this retail shop for the 100-plus cheeses; stay for a glass of wine and gourmet grilled cheese.
What We’re Eating: Mountain Top
From Firefly Farms
Despite its decadent texture, this pyramid-shaped, blue-ripened goat cheese has a delicate tang that makes it dangerously crushable. We’ve taken to eating it for dessert. With a spoon.
Take a funky, fresh gastronomical tour of the Southeast through its artisan cheese and cheesemakers, including where to go and what to eat.
- by Erin Byers Murray