MILFORD, N.Y. — An invitation to President Barack Obama’s inaugural luncheon at the U.S. Capitol Monday is one of the most prized tickets of the daylong festivities.
Bob Sweitzer and Sharon Tomaselli won’t be there in person, but those lucky enough to sit down to dine with the president will be enjoying the pair’s mild and creamy Jersey Girl and nutty and rich Toma Celena cheeses.
For the owners of Cooperstown Cheese Co., that’s a big prize in and of itself.
The cheeses are among a number of New York-grown items that will make their way to the plates and palates of inaugural guests, in part thanks to New York Sen. Charles H. Schumer, chairman of the inaugural ceremonies.
The theme of the luncheon is “Faith in America’s Future,” and Schumer included agricultural products from New York state that demonstrate that faith, combining the talents of New York farmers, processors and chefs.
The menu features American agricultural products that have long been popular in our cuisine, but with an added modern touch.
Schumer has been traveling the state, revealing the New York products that will be served following the swearing in of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. He visited Cooperstown Cheese Co. on Jan. 9.
Sweitzer and Tomaselli have been operating the Cooperstown Cheese Co. since purchasing the buildings in March 2007. Today, they produce about a dozen varieties of cheeses, many as a flavored cheddar.
“Our cheese goes into upscale markets where they cut cheese to order,” Tomaselli said. “We would like to reach a national level with larger distributors in Boston and Washington. This publicity makes that easier to make a national cheese.”
Jersey Girl has a creamy, buttery taste, like a European cheese, and the Toma Celena is nutty tasting.
Of the Toma Celena, Sweitzer said, “We invented the cheese and the first time we tasted it, an old woman visiting her local family was in the shop. We all sampled it and she purchased all of it. Her family asked what it was called, so I asked her name and replied it was the woman’s name, Toma Celena.”
The majority of the cheese goes to distributors in New York City, while some is sold locally during the peak tourist season.
Sweitzer and Tomaselli do not claim to be dairymen, but they are the cheese makers. And they rely on the dairymen producing the high-quality milk.
“We pay a premium for the milk. They are typically in a contract and we need to make it attractive to them to supply us with milk,” Tomaselli said. “We demand higher quality milk than the creamery does because it is used to produce raw milk cheese.
“We want to partner with the farmer, making it profitable for them and remaining in business,” she said.
Patti and Tim Everrett of Stone House Farm in Sharon Springs, N.Y., supply a day’s worth of the milk from their 20 Jersey cows for the production of the Jersey Girl cheese.
Their grass-based herd is fed only hay and some high-moisture corn, which they raise. For the past 10 years, they also have produced maple syrup, selling the product at the pancake breakfasts they host each spring.
“Visitors buy at the breakfasts and return to purchase syrup; this frees us up from attending farmers markets and (we) can spend time with the cows as we have no hired help.
“We credit Cooperstown Cheese for the success of the cheese. They produce, package and market the cheese; we are just the dairy farmers who supply the milk,” Patti said.
In addition to the milk from the Everett’s dairy, Cooperstown Cheese purchases milk from Lester Tyler, whose Brown Swiss herd is within miles of the plant, to produce more cheeses.
Each cheese begins with its unique culture and technique and the cheese is placed into one of three caves at the facility. The different temperatures and humidity determines the type of cheese produced. The Jersey Girl cheese is placed in brine then laid on hard maple boards in the cave. For the first two weeks, the cheese is turned every couple of days. After that, it is turned once a week.
Federal regulations say raw milk cheese is ready to sell at 60 days. Cooperstown Cheese produces six batches of Jersey Girl cheese a month without any surplus. With a variety of cheeses made, there is daily work.
Schumer supplied a list of New York foods to Shannon Shaffer, head chef for the inaugural luncheon and a graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute of America. The chefs chose the New York state products to be used on the menu.
“It was an honor to be chosen, but even more amazing was that the chef was familiar with our cheeses,” Tomaselli said.
Tomaselli recalled how a representative from Schumer’s office called and told her of the plans to use the cheese and asked to visit the plant. Within a week, the arrangements were made and the cheese shipped.
In addition to the cheese, a Tierce 2010 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling, produced with the collaboration of Anthony Road Winery, Fox Run Vineyards and Red Newt Cellars, will be served during the first course. The second course wine is a 2009 merlot from Bedell Cellars on the North Fork of Long Island.
The third course will include a Hudson Valley apple pie made with apples from Golden Harvest Orchards in Valatie and honey from Seaway Trail Honey in Rochester.
Crown Maple Syrup of Dutchess County will be used in two different courses — in the butternut squash puree included in the second course, featuring bison with red potato horseradish cake, and in the dessert wild huckleberry reduction. Using the maple products as an organic sweetener is meant to highlight the maple industry in New York state.
Chobani of Chenango County and Fage USA of Fulton County will provide vanilla and plain yogurt to be served with strawberries, pineapples, pears and granola toppings.