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New Yorkers' love of cheese is saving regional farms

The Great Northeast Cheese & Dairy Festival brings a ton of cheese to Queens to celebrate a growing industry.
Raclette was among the cheesy dishes at last year's festival. B.A. Van Sise

The Great Northeast Cheese & Dairy Festival is everything it promises in the title. Farms from Maine to Pennsylvania are coming to Queens this Saturday to bring 75 varieties of cheese for a walk-around tasting of the terroir in our great region.

After all, it’s because of cheese lovers that the industry has grown enough to support the event, now in its second year. Though the practice of cheesemaking is hundreds of years old, “consumer interest is really driving a resurgence,” says Nicole E. Day Gray, vice president of festival producer New York Epicurean. “Social media has been really impactful on getting that information out to consumers and saying, ‘Oh wow, look at all these great products.’”

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The enthusiasm about cheese coincides with a time when small- and medium-sized farms are looking at diversifying their output given the low price of dairy and many other produce. The surge in interest in cheese has done nothing short of helping them save their farms, according to Gray. Cheese isn’t the only thing they’re making with milk instead of selling it at rock-bottom prices — new butters and yogurts are also coming to the market, as well as whey and other byproducts from the process of making cheese. “Cheese is a value-added product,” she explains. “They’re able to keep the profit on the farm moreso by creating a creamery on the farm.”

This year’s event is bringing some serious starpower in the cheese world, with more award-winning cheesemakers taking part like Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm, which claimed two Best in Class awards at this year’s World Cheese Championships. Right now, the region is best at making chevre and fresh cow’s milk cheese, according to Gray, but there are some “stinky awesome beautiful” cheeses as well from Vulto Creamery in the Catskills and more to come as new cheesemakers get into the business and learn the ropes of making aged and other kinds of cheeses.

The products they’re working with are changing, too. The explosion in craft beer, a natural pairing with cheese, has led to farmers using vastly different brews in their washes, alongside the rising use of ciders and distilled alcohols like whiskey and bourbon. Attendees will be able to sample them all with wines, beer and cocktails, and learn more from Queens’ own Trish Keene, author of “The Art of the Cheese Plate,” then decide the cream of this year’s crop with a People’s Choice Award.

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Besides cheese samples, you’ll find nibbles like cheese curds (“We have an amazing cheese curd resurgence in New York right now,” says Gray) as well as cheese-centric dishes from top New York City chefs including Michelin-starred Hugue Dufour of M. Wells Steakhouse, Harry & Ida’s Will Horowitz, Humberto Guallpa of Cuban-Chinese eatery Calle Dao and the Brazilian-tinged Favela Cubana's Brian Hayford.

More than food or beverage tastings, cheeses are a way to really taste the different terroirs of the region. And you’ll be doing it knowing you’re supporting agricultural entrepreneurship.

Great Northeast Cheese & Dairy Festival
Dec. 10, 6-9 p.m.
Flushing Town Hall, 137-35 Northern Blvd., Queens
$60-$100, eventbrite.com

 
 
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