You don’t hear much about artisan, farmstead cheese from Florida so this is a welcome visit to three of the states practitioners.Photo: Tampa Bay Times
Leah Steele needed a place to board her horse, Fury. She found deluxe accommodations for her steed at a citrus-grove-turned-dairy, and in exchange, she volunteered around the farm.
Four years later, the 23-year-old University of Central Florida graduate is the cheesemaker for Winter Park Dairy near Orlando. She spends her days gently heating 570-liter vats of raw cow’s milk, adding cultures and vegetable-based rennet and stirring until the curds get rubbery and “popcorny.” She drains the vats of whey, scoops the curds into slatted plastic hoops, tends to them as they drain and solidify, brines them, then slides the 4-pound rounds onto ash boards in the cheese cave, where they spend 60 days before they emerge as blue cheese, cheddar, tomme or peppercorn blue.
Winter Park Dairy may have been a pioneer in producing natural, raw milk artisan cheeses in Florida, but it is not the state’s only cheese producer. The artisan cheese movement that started in this country in the early 1980s with big names like Maytag Dairy Farms and goat-cheese pioneer Laura Chenel has hit the Sunshine State with a vengeance in the past few years. We recently visited three cheese producers that represent different styles, different animals’ milk and very different agendas.
And by the way – this is Wedge in the Round’s 300th blog post. Thanks to everybody for the support, feedback and comments!