Sequatchie Cove Creamery farmers all smiles over national contest win

Sequatchie Cove Creamery farmers all smiles over national contest win

September 12th, 2012 by Holly Leber in Life Entertainment

Cheese maker Nathan Arnold, right, and assistant Carroll Anderson, work to make a batch of Coppinger cheese at Sequatchie Cove Creamery.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

WHAT THEY MAKE

Cumberland: A buttery, tomme-style cheese. An overall favorite for general use. Makes good grilled cheese sandwiches or macaroni and cheese. Aged 60 days.

Dancing Fern: A velvety, creamy cheese with the taste of crushed walnuts. Delicious on a fresh baguette, melted over potatoes or paired with fruit. Aged exactly 60 days.

Coppinger: A semi-firm cheese with a very smooth body. Nutty overtones, with underlying sweetness. Pairs well with fruit or in sandwiches. Aged three months or longer.

Gruetli: Named for the town of Gruetli-Laager, Tenn., founded by Swiss immigrants. Firm, nutty, with a taste similar to Swiss, but more complex. Aged at least six months.

A Marion County farm recently won a really cheesy prize.

Sequatchie Cove Creamery took home a blue ribbon in the American Cheese Society's 2012 competition, winning first place in the Farmstead Soft Cheese category for its Dancing Fern cheese.

The creamery, part of Sequatchie Cove Farm in Sequatchie, Tenn., was licensed in March 2010 and sold its first wheel of cheese 60 days later.

"We've always had cows, and we've always been a grass-fed beef business," said cheesemaker Nathan Arnold. "A few years ago, we had the idea to add value to our grass. Like all small farms, we're figuring out ways to be viable."

Artisan cheesemaking has seen a renaissance, and, said sales manager Padgett Arnold, "we wanted to make something unique to this place."

Sequatchie Cove Creamery makes four signature cheeses, Dancing Fern among them.

The process

CHEESE, PLEASE

Here's where to find Sequatchie Cove Creamery's cheeses in Chattanooga.

Main Street Farmers Market, there 4-6 p.m. Wednesdays year-round (4-5 p.m. in winter), 325 E. Main St.

Brainerd Farmers Market, there last Saturday of every month, 10 a.m.-noon in September, 11 a.m.-noon in October, at Grace Episcopal Church, 20 Belvoir Avenue.

Signal Mountain Farmers Market, there 4-6:30 p.m on the third Thursday of every month at Bachman Community Center, 2815 Anderson Pike.

Greenlife Grocery, 301 Manufacturers Road.

Earth Fare, 1814 Gunbarrel Road.

On a September morning, Mr. Arnold stirs raw cow's milk curds with a large white paddle, heating them to encourage shrinking. Once the curds get to 102 F., he'll turn off the heat until the texture is right.

Afterward, the curds go into the milk press overnight to achieve the correct pH for salting. The long pressing process also allows time to achieve the right moisture content to give the cheese the desired shape and to form the rind when the cheese goes into the mold. The level of heat used, the cultures added and the sizes of the mold affect the texture, color and taste of the cheese as it ripens.

"Typically, the rind we create actually works from the outside in," he said.

He dips his hand into the vat, squeezing some curds to see if they're ready to drain. He is looking for the curds to stick together with a small amount of pressure and then to easily separate again.

"You have to remember that feeling," he said, "and if you're not making that cheese every day, you have to program that feeling into your brain."

Once the cheese is set in the molds, the wheels age for at least 60 days in a climate-controlled environment.

Wheels of cheese sit on shelves, ripening. There is a strong aroma in the air.

Work in progress

The cheeses at Sequatchie Cove Creamery are inspired by those of the Alps -- mostly French, with some Swiss and Italian influences as well -- Ms. Arnold said.

The Dancing Fern, for example, is inspired by Reblochon, a French cave-aged cheese with a soft, velvety texture.

The Arnolds spent time traveling and studying different cheeses in Europe. They consulted with French cheesemakers to learn how they could create different types of cheese using the equipment available to them.

Perfecting the product is a work in progress.

"Nathan's always making slight adjustments," Ms. Arnold said.

"It's amazing how much there is to learn about (cheese-making)," Mr. Arnold said. "It's easily the most challenging thing I've ever done."