I’ve traveled the world and the seven seas looking for something, and that something is cheese. Luckily for me, my search ended at North Country Creamery, a dairy farm in Keeseville. If you’ve been to Keeseville, you’re probably familiar with the vibrant and productive scene on Mace Chasm Road. There’s a butcher shop, a brewery, and a creamery all within a few miles of each other. In the Champlain Valley, sustainable agriculture thrives, and that is very evident at North Country Creamery.
I recently met up with Ashlee Kleinhammer, who owns North Country Creamery along with Steven Googin. The two took ownership of the farm in 2013 and have since become a staple of the region. Ashlee and I discussed cheese and yogurt making, the holidays, cows, and how North Country Creamery practices sustainability.
With the holidays approaching, finding the right gift or making the perfect meal is top-of-mind of many of us. Fortunately for whoever drew my name for Secret Santa, my wish list is simple: North Country Creamery’s Cheeseville spreadable cheese. (It's the little things that make us happy, right?) Ashlee said one of her favorite cheeses is their Havarti, which is a really versatile cheese and is perfect for melting. You can also choose from pepperjack, feta, and cheese made with bits of fresh dill. Really, there’s no wrong answer when you’re searching for the perfect cheese to gift to someone.
If you don’t want to wrap up a wedge of cheese for someone’s gift, there is absolutely nothing wrong with indulging in a cheese or charcuterie board. Large family gatherings may be off the menu this season, but you can totally prepare for 2021 by doing a “cheese board test run” for your more intimate household gatherings in 2020. Get a few of your favorite cheeses, some cured meats, fruits, dried nuts, and bread, and create something that appeals to all senses!
Aside from a delicious selection of cheeses, the creamery also offers yogurt. My favorite is the maple flavored, but you can’t go wrong with lemon or vanilla, or even plain with some fruit added in.
To help with the holiday gift giving, North Country Creamery offers holiday gift boxes, which are available for pick up at their farm store or at the Farmers’ Park-it in Saranac Lake.
History in the (cheese) making
But where does all this cheese and yogurt come from? As Ashlee attests, cheese and yogurt making is a labor of love. Ashlee said her day begins at 5:30 a.m., milking the cows for about 2-3 hours. Then, if it’s a cheese or yogurt day, it’s another 6-10 hours of production. Other days there is more farm work to do, and that is equally as important. Yogurt can be ready to go the next day, while cheese can age for a while. In touring the facility, Ashlee showed me the Cheese Cave. Here, the different cheeses age underground in a humidity-controlled environment to become to the tasty wheels they were destined to be. It's just as cool as it sounds.
But wait, where does all this cheese and yogurt actually come from? Without the cows of North Country Creamery, there would be no cheese or yogurt. The cows here are 100% grassfed and the farm is Animal Welfare Certified and Non-GMO. That means the cows are happy, and the product tastes great! To supplement their grass diet, the herd is fed local hay during the winter.
We’ve all experienced the chill of a North Country winter, so Ashlee and Steven made sure their herd can thrive in this climate. One needn't look further than the happy faces of their cows to see they are living their best life.
Part of a cold-hardy, mellow temperament breed, Tamarack, a friendly momma I had the pleasure of meeting, introduced me to pasture life. Tamarack, Ashlee, a few small calves, another cow, and I spent a few minutes snacking on apples before getting back to work. Unfortunately, even the best of snack times must come to an end. (There really is never enough apples, is there?)
Shop local, #ShopADK
The importance of shopping local cannot be overstated, especially this year. There is something to be said about purchasing local goods, but there is something even more to be said about eating foods that were made right around the corner. From healthy, probiotic yogurt to artisan cheese, there is something for the dairy lover and foodie here at North Country Creamery.
During this time of year and beyond, it’s important that we make a big impact in our communities by shopping small and shopping ADK. In doing so, we will support our friends, neighbors, farmers, and store owners by helping keep money within the area, ensuring that businesses in the Lake Champlain Region end the year on a strong note. Visit the farm store at North Country Creamery 7 days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. for all your healthy, local food needs. We promise it’s not too GOUDA to be true.