ODESSA, N.Y. — The popular Finger Lakes Cheese Festival was held this year at Sunset View Creamery in Odessa, N.Y. Visitors to the July 27 event had the opportunity to sample various cheeses from all over the region and chat with farmers and cheesemakers about their operations. Carmella Hoffman, owner of Sunset View Creamery, began her own cheesemaking pursuit in 2004.
“We are strictly a family dairy. We milk Holsteins and we also have a few Jersey-Holstein cross and Ayrshire-Holstein cross. It helps boost the butterfat just a little bit,” she said. “My husband and youngest daughter do all the milking, my son does field work and mechanical work, and I make cheese with my second oldest daughter. My oldest daughter is the PR person and she likes to compare the local wines with our cheeses.”
Sunset View Creamery includes 50 cows and American style cheeses including Monterey Jack, cheddar and cheese curd. In an effort to break out of the mold, the family has also started making a Parmesan Swiss cheese.
Carmella Hoffman believes making a value-added product like cheese was a beneficial decision.
“My husband says the bottom line is still the bottom line and when he sees the bottom line goes up, then it will prove itself, but I think we have definitely done something that we wouldn’t have been able to — we have sustained ourselves for a little while longer,” she said.
Hoffman said the festival is a great opportunity for visitors to sample many cheeses in one place and promote the dairy industry.
“We really want people to be able to try all the cheeses and really, the cheese trail is spread out over 80 to 90 miles, so it’s tough to catch all of the creameries. You can’t do it all in one day. At least this way you can visit eight or nine in one spot,” she said.
The cheeses offered at the festival included various cheddars and cheese curds, with a few producers offering something unique, including Tim Belforti, owner of Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery in King Ferry, N.Y., who offered samples of kefir cheese made from his Dexter cows.
“These are all strong by store standards. They have a European flair. We use natural kefir culture from Russia, not the factory stuff that they make all the kefirs and yogurts out of. It’s got 30 to 50 types of beneficial gut bacteria. This is the real deal,” Belforti said. “Americans are very funny and most of them aren’t ready for it, but a lot of people are. About 40 percent of people who taste will say it’s too strong, another 30 percent will say, that’s different but I like it,’ and another 20 percent will go crazy and say, give me more.’”
Keeley’s Cheese Co. at McGarr Farms, owned by Keeley McGarr and located in King Ferry, N.Y., also offered a unique cheese based on washed-rind recipes developed by Irish farmstead cheesemakers.
In 2008 McGarr headed to the “Green Isle” to learn the Irish craft of cheesemaking and participated in a three-month period of observation and training. McGarr’s cheeses are aged in an underground cellar and are a new and unique addition to the food movement of the Finger Lakes. One variety produced across the pond is a semi-soft cow’s milk creation with a washed rind and made from raw milk.
Aside from tasting the cheeses, visitors also networked with the cheesemakers and had the opportunity to learn about each farm’s background and the things that make each operation unique.
“This is a great event for educating the community on farm practices, especially dairy products and kids being able to see on-farm situations and seeing the calves,” said Kristy Alexander, Tioga County dairy princess.