Visiting McGrath Cheese In Hudson, NY

Recently, I visited the McGrath Cheese operation in Hudson, NY. Speaking with Colin McGrath about his passion for and knowledge of cheese making, his love of cheese was evident in it's taste

So how does the cheese making process work?

First, Colin sources milk from two local farms. Milk quality is one of the biggest indicators of a good quality cheese.  Since McGrath cheese is a small production, the quality of milk has a large impact on the finished cheese product. One of the challenges Colin faces during the summer months is the extreme heat. On hot days, cows are stressed, aren't eating as much and do not produce as much milk as they would on cooler days. According to the Cornell College of Agricultural and Life Sciences as of 2016, "climate change has increased the number of days New York cows currently experience heat stress to an average of 64 days per year." Cornell is working with the dairy industry to research ways to improve cow comfort and increase milk production despite heat stress. 

Once milk is brought in, it is time to process it. Here, fresh milk is pasteurized. Starter cultures of bacteria are added to acidify the milk and develop the flavors of the cheese. Each cheese variety, whether its Goliath, Hootenanny, Rascal, etc., has a specific starter culture used. Starter cultures begin to ripen the milk, then enzymes are added to curdle the cheese. Solid curds form and the whey, the liquid byproduct, separates from the curd. 

Curds then get cut and cooked, further separating the whey. Larger curd sizes retain greater moisture, while smaller curds are drier. Once the whey is drained, the curd is cut and stacked to force out more moisture. The cheese curds gets salted and spices may get added. The curds can be sold as is or move on to the next step, aging. 

Cheese gets pressed into a mold, then moved to the cheese cave.

Here in the cheese cave, the cheese develops its flavor and forms a rind over several weeks to months. At McGrath, the cheese cave is a nearly fully subterranean room. Before entering, we replaced our shoes with crocs and walked in a sanitizing solution, to ensure no dirt or microbes were brought into the space. McGrath described the cheese cave as alive; it is its own unique environment that provides the best conditions for the cheese to ripen. In the cave, cheese is sprayed with a mold solution to develop the rind and flavor of the cheese. Over months, mold grows and dies off, forming a flavorful rind around the cheese.

There are two types of rinds McGrath uses: either a moldy bloom or washed rind. Washed rinds tend to have stronger, stinky flavors. The Victoria has a bloomed rind. Rascal, Goliath and Hootenanny have washed rinds. On some of McGrath's washed rind cheeses, you will notice an orange hue from the bacteria that helped formed the rind. This is a sign of a high quality cheese and flavor. 

In this image, you can see the difference milk quality makes in the final cheese product. These are both the Old Goliath Cheeses (aged longer than the regular Goliath), though as you can see, there is a color difference. The golden yellow color comes from milk from cows that were on grass pasture during the summer months. The paler yellow color comes from cows eating hay during the winter months. Grass contains beta-carotene, a pigment that gives dairy from grass-fed cows a golden hue. In the body, beta-carotene converts to Vitamin A, an essential nutrient. 

Onto the samples!

Bambino is a soft, pungent, washed rind cheese
Rascal cheese is a semi-firm, elastic, nutty, mild cheese

Victoria is a soft, smooth, mildly pungent bloomy rind cheese 

Goliath cheese is a farmhouse cheddar cheese with a washed rind. 

Overall, I learned a lot about the cheesemaking process and all the factors that go into making good cheese. Colin was very knowledgeable and excited to talk about his production. I loved all the cheeses I tried and noticed the difference quality makes! McGrath cheeses are great cheese to recommend to cheese enthusiasts and newbies alike! 

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