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Wed, Feb 20 2008 at 04:09 PM

Blue Ridge Dairy (and their Applewood Smoked Mozzarella)

Posted by Mike Bober, Feb 20, 2008

Img_4142 Even in the dead of winter, the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market is a great source of locally-produced vegetables, pasture-raised buffalo meat, and artisan baked breads.  Not surprisingly, the selections are significantly limited compared to the bounty that can be found from late spring through the fall, but there is still quite a bit that can be found and enjoyed.  Just make sure you show up early: although the FreshFarm website lists the market's winter hours as 10-1, I have seen vendors breaking down as early as noon when there's a chill in the air.

The changing seasons and colder temperatures have less of an impact on dairy products than they do on produce, so it should come as no surprise that most of the local cheesemakers who sell at the Dupont Market are still going strong through the winter.  One of them, Blue Ridge Dairy, has been catching my eye from the first time I saw them set up at the Penn Quarter Market.  Their hand-chalked sign Img_4143advertising yogurt, cheese and creme fraiche from Jersey cows' milk caught my eye, and the samples on offer made the sale even before I had a chance to ask about them.

Since that first encounter, I have learned quite a bit about Blue Ridge Dairy through conversations with the sellers and the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese.  Located in Leesburg, Blue Ridge turns out fresh cheese and cultured milk products using milk from Jersey cows.  Paul Stephan, who has been working at cheesemaking for almost a decade, cultures the milk at his facility and then stretches the curd by hand to make his fresh mozzarella, which is sold in 8-ounce balls for $6.  Other fresh cheeses are also hand-made, including a naturally low-fat small-curd ricotta and lightly sweet and creamy mascarpone.

Some of Stephan's most flavorful offerings, however, require a little more attention.  Feta is aged for two months before the 8-ounce squares are offered to the public, and their tangy bite is well worth the wait.  Slow-churned cultured butter is silky and rich, with a definite flavor and a higher fat content than what you'll find on most grocery shelves.  It is supposed to be excellent when used in baking, though I have not used it in that capacity myself.

Smoked And the most distinct of his offerings, for my money, is a smoked version of his fresh mozzarella.  Using applewood, which is popular with enthusiasts of barbecue, turkey and bacon for its deep, slightly sweet smoke, Stephan uses the "low and slow" method of bathing the mozzarella in wave after wave of applewood smoke until the finished product emerges with a latte-colored skin and an aroma more like bacon than anything else.  These smoked balls of mozzarella are sold dry in 8-ounce portions for $7, and a little goes a long way.  Unlike the fresh mozzarella, whose delicate taste and soft, moist texture encourage you to keep coming back for more, the strong smoky flavor is almost overwhelming when eaten by itself.  If you've ever tasted a packaged smoked mozzarella like the ones that can be found in Safeway and Giant (or even the ones that can be found pre-packaged at Trader Joe's), you will be hard-pressed to identify this as even remotely related...the taste is so distinct, the texture so much less rubbery.

It begs to be used in cooking, paired with caramelized onions or other semi-sweet flavors where it mellows into the taste equivalent of a deep bass rhythm.  Blue Ridge Dairy's applewood smoked mozzarella is wonderful on homemade pizzas, as well, where it can stand up to spicy ground sausage and sweet red peppers with equal aplomb.  It can be melted atop crostini or paired with fresh tomatoes and basil for a twist on a standard caprese.  Whatever you do with it, just make sure not to overdo it or you will find yourself overwhelmed by the smokiness to the detriment of your other ingredients.

Blue Ridge Dairy can be found year-round at the FreshFarm Markets in Dupont Circle, Courthouse and Penn Quarter (check the FreshFarm website for each market's hours and dates of operation).  They also sell some of their products through Whole Foods, but it's far more fun to walk up to Paul or one of his assistants at the market, take a taste, and get to know the people who make this delicious local cheese.

Categories: Arlington, Cheese, Dupont Circle, Farmers Markets, Penn Quarter
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belmontmedina

I picked up my first bit of smoked mozz and feta from Blue Ridge this past Sunday, along with some of the terrific Greek yogurt with honey. Everything's been divine. Also, it's worth nothing, their products are more expensive at Whole Foods.

Mike Bober

Glad you've enjoyed it, too, Belmont!

No big surprise that it would be cheaper to buy direct from the source than to go through Whole Foods. Even if they didn't mark things up significantly across the board, they would have to tack something onto the price to make it worth their while.

Maya

Did you happen to see this? :)

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/20/dining/20dairy.html?_r=2&ref=dining&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

Mike Bober

No! That's amazing - between BelmontMedina, us and the New York Times it has been quite a press day for Blue Ridge Dairy!

I'm glad to see Mr. Stephan get a mention in here - and I had heard rumors that he was going to be trying to bring the buffalo mozzarella back, so it's nice to see that confirmed in print.

Ramona

Great post Mike. I love Blue Ridge (and Keswick and Firefly). I think their mozzarella is excellent-including the smoked version. It goes well in a chicken dish with peppers. I use it like a would smoked paprika-a little goes a long way!
Blue Ridge is also at Kingstowne Market in season and I think (maybe) they are at Old Town too....I'll confirm that on Sat. ;-)

L

Almost two years ago I responded to a post the Blue Ridge Dairy had left on craig's list looking for a cheese maker. A new culinary school graduate, and someone very much in love with cheese, I applied. The man who called me back was very surprised when he heard a female voice that the end of the line. He proceeded to try to discourage me from interviewing (citing early hours and hard work) and asked if I was athletic. He said the job requires workers to lift 60 pounds. Confident in my ability to do the job, and in my strength, I set up a date to go in for an interview. The day before my scheduled interview I received a voicemail on my cell phone from this gentleman, telling me that there was no way a "girl" could lift 60 pounds- that it was “an impossibility.” I was horrified that someone would make such a sexist (and untrue) comment, let alone leave it on a voicemail. I told several people about the incident, and against the wishes of many, I never pursued the matter further. I am saddened that a company with such a beautiful product would behave in such a way that would prevent me- and many many people I know- from EVER purchasing their products. While I don’t discredit their delicious cheeses, I just want everyone out there to know how they run their business.

Nick Matyas

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