Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in New York City
On a recent trip to Manhattan, I found myself in a hairnet scrubbing my hands and arms over a knee-operated stainless steel sink. A moment later soapy, hot water rushed under my shoes. I was in the sanitary “make room” of Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a Seattle-based producer of artisanal cheese, with Dan Utano, the head cheesemaker and Colleen Levine, author of the cheese blog, Cheese and Champagne. Dan generously gave us a tour inside New York’s most ambitious creamery and some insight into the challenges and rewards of making cheese in the country’s most populated city.
Every other morning, a tanker truck full of fresh, raw milk heads into the the Flat Iron district of Manhattan from two farms, Dutch Hollow and Ooms Dairy, originating just outside of Albany. After about two hours of pumping the milk into the enormous holding tank, pasteurization of the milk is underway. The milk is then pumped into large rectangular open vats where the liquid milk is slowly and carefully transformed into solid curds.
The process is slow and methodical. Each step, from acidifying the cheese with cultures to “cheddaring” (the long process of draining whey from stacked curds), is executed with exacting precision by passionate artisans. What’s special about this creamery is that anybody can watch the magic happen. The walls of this creamery are glass and everybody walking past can get a glimpse of this ancient craft.
Beechers creates six cheeses in this spotless, modern creamery. Though production focuses mostly on various cheddars, Dan, a former cheesemonger, recently developed Flat Iron, a young and supple washed rind cheese loosely based on Taleggio. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is a serious name in the industry — Flagsheep, a sheep and cow’s milk blend made in their Seattle location, took the Best of Show award in last year’s American Cheese Society competition.
The logistics of city cheesemaking are tricky; production is large though not enormous. At the time of my visit, they were only up to half capacity. But how does the creamery handle issues such as disposal of whey, a nutritious by-product of cheesemaking? Dan explained that they wanted to comply with the city’s regulations by not simply dumping thousands of pounds of whey each day into the city’s sewers. Their solution? Give it back to the farmers. The two farms use the whey for feed and fertilizer. A perfectly sustainable solution.
On your next visit to New York, consider stopping by Beecher’s Handmade Cheese. In addition to the creamery, they have a well stocked cheese counter and a comfortable restaurant.
Wondering how I did in the Cheesemonger Invitational? Your Cheesemonger won third place! I dedicate this great honor to Aldo Molina, my dear friend and fellow cheesemonger who passed away last year.
Photo credit: Colleen Levine