When it's a "good milk year" at Shellbark Hollow Farm, it's a great cheese year for the rest of us. That's because when Pete Demchur's herd of 100 charming Nubian goats are milking at full tilt, there's enough to spare that he can expand the line of offerings well beyond the tangy clouds of fresh "Sharp 2" chèvre he's become best known for over the last two decades. A nutty, well-aged tomme-style hard cheese is among the occasional highlights. But so is the Bloomy Ash, a velvet-rind regular cheese threaded with a core of ash that becomes creamy beneath the surface as it ages. My favorite of Shellbark's occasional cheeses, though, is Maysiola, a six-inch-square bloomy rind modeled loosely after Italian robiola.
This cheese, created in 2012, was named for one of Demchur's favorite goats ("Maisie Daisy sat up like a dog in the corner," he said), and its pasteurized milk also gets inoculated with a special mold-wrangling penicillin and a geotrichum yeast that helps it develop a wrinkled, opaque rind that adds complexity to the flavor as it ages. If you get a slice that's been aged as perfectly long as the one I had, about a month and a half, Maysiola acquires a trio of textures and layered flavors in one bite — the chalky fresh core, the creamy halo tangy rich like buttermilk near the edges, and a flavorful, mildly funky rind that Shellbark CEO Jeanne LeVasseur says "tastes like the farm," with its earthy, clover grass flavor of spring milk. This year is the first time, in fact, that Demchur has made Maysiola since 2013, thanks to a welcome bump in milk production. He's expecting that supply to continue, as they plan to buy 30 more goats for their herd, grazing on 15 acres of lush farmland in Honey Brook, Chester County.
"We're a dying breed of cheesemaker out here who produces our own milk," LeVasseur says.
"That's because it's cheaper to buy [other peoples'] milk," Demchur adds. "But I can't buy the quality of milk that I make – and, man, that's what makes the cheese." — Craig LaBan