On a recent continuing education trip for work, a group of cheesemongers visited Ferndale Farmstead which is located–go figure–in Ferndale, Washington. Up in Whatcom County, not too far from good ol’ Canada, lies one of Washington state’s cheesiest counties. In other words, Whatcom County is home to the greatest population of cheese producers in the state.
Ferndale Farmstead is one of those producers, a family operation that opened its doors after the son’s interest in cheese making was piqued. Under the tutelage of an Italian cheese maker, the farmstead creamery produces a slate of Italian-style cheeses with cultures specially produced in Italia.
All of the farmstead’s cheeses are made with cows milk. The farms cows are an interesting mix of Holstein, Jersey, Scandinavian Red, and Montbeliarde. On the day that we visited the farm, we got to see a newborn calf learning how to stand up.
The Ferndale asiago is a true asiago. Believe it or not, the hard, grating-style asiagos we tend to consume in the US are quite different from the soft asiagos Italians prefer. Ferndale’s version of the pressed asiago (asiago pressa) is a supple, pale yellow, semi-firm cheese that is an excellent melter. It’s also pretty great on its own.
The farmstead also produces scamorza, which is an aged mozzarella that’s hung by a rope. The hanging and the rope create an odd-looking shape that is pretty memorable. The cheese itself is absolutely delicious–also supple and semi-firm, but a little harder than the asiago. It’s great for cooking–topping a pizza, pasta, or lasagna, for example. It’s got a little bit of that mozzarella flavor we all know and love, but the aging process brings out more of complexity of the flavors from the milk. This cheese is probably my favorite of Ferndale’s offerings.
Beyond the asiago and the scamorza, Ferndale makes their own aged Fontina, mozzarella balls and logs, and a delightful little thing called caciotta (pronounced kah-chee-oh-tah). A pressed cheese that looks like a baby asiago pressa or even a tiny wheel of parmigiano reggiano, the caciotta is described as an “Italian table cheese,” which really doesn’t mean much of anything.
It’s a semi-firm, pale yellow cheese that melts well. It’s related to mozzarella and scamorza in that it is a pasta filata, or stretched curd, cheese. In the photo to the left, you can see tiny caciottas draining on racks in their little baskets. The cheeses are flipped over routinely as they drain, before they head to a curing room to age a little bit and become the scrumptious morsels you can purchase and eat.
The flavor of caciotta, like that of scamorza, is not unlike the flavor of mozzarella. It’s a bit milder than scamorza, and slightly more complex and less salty than mozzarella. The texture is everything, as it’s a little bit spongy despite the firmness it gets from its stretching. It’s difficult to describe. You’ll have to find some and try it — trust me.
So why write about Ferndale? Well, as one of Washington’s newer cheese farmsteads, Ferndale is worth checking out. As artisan cheesemaking continues to make a comeback across the country, newer cheese making operations show that there’s more to American cheese than that gross orange “cheese product” that comes individually wrapped in plastic.