Most of the local cheesemakers who sell their products at farmers' markets throughout the DC area consciously focus on one or two specialties (small-batch goat cheese, mozzarella from Jersey cow's milk, etc.), allowing them to fill small niches in the average shopper's basket. Keswick Creamery*, on the other hand, seems to aspire to be all things to all shoppers. The funny thing is, they seem to succeed.
Despite its relative youth (Keswick was founded in 2001), the creamery has continued to expand its line of cheeses to include something for just about everyone. Looking for a semi-firm cheese studded with an assortment of hot peppers? Try the Dragon's Breath. Looking for a blue cheese with a sense of humor? Step up to the Blue Suede Moo. Looking for a dry, aged cheddar? The Carrock is likely to please. Looking for a moist yet crumbly feta cheese that blows the store-bought varieties away? Not only does Keswick have it, they also have it flavored with tomato & basil, Italian herbs, and herbs de Provence!
No trip to the Dupont Circle FreshFarm Market is complete without a stop at Keswick Creamery's stand. They are generous with their samples, allowing customers to try everything from quark (a yogurt-like spread that is hugely popular in Germany) and fresh yogurt to blue cheese dressing, marinated feta and most of their cheese offerings. And they are competitive with their pricing - not just within the market, but compared to larger producers, as well. That's nothing to sneeze at, as most folks who frequent the markets do so knowing that they will be paying a small premium for the fresh, local goods they can find there. But Keswick's cheeses can hold their own against many of the national brands in terms of value almost as well as they do in terms of quality.
On my most recent visit, I picked up Keswick Creamery's Feta Sampler. Talk about value! For $5, I received samples of three different flavors of their feta cheese - original, tomato & basil, and Italian herbs. Each cheese came vacuum-sealed in its own package, allowing me to use them as I chose instead of forcing me to use them all at once. The cheese crumbles easily, but it is moist and tastes fresh and tangy. This is a far cry from the pre-packaged, pre-crumbled feta on offer in grocery stores, and I definitely appreciated the absence of that chalky residue that seems to accompany most of them.
To further compare Keswick's feta with its mass-produced counterpart, I reached for some of the store-bought stuff I conveniently had on hand and laid it out side-by-side with a few crumbles from the block of plain feta I purchased at the Farmers' Market. You can see them in the photo to the right of this paragraph, though it's not quite as sharp as I would have liked. The most obvious point of comparison you can see is the color - a rich, buttery tinge to the Keswick feta on the left compares quite favorably with the white and dried out look of the feta from Harris Teeter. But there was another easily observed difference when viewed up close. The textures were decidedly different, with the Keswick feta having a soft and natural look to its crumbles while the other's chunks seemed more rigid and less cohesive.
Pleased to see that the locally produced option measured up quite favorably to the comparably priced, mass-produced alternative, I wasted no time in putting it to good use. Although I normally prefer to plate my cheese selections and enjoy them as a pre-cursor to a meal, I figured the feta would work better as a component in a dinner made almost entirely from locally-grown ingredients.
I started with a fresh chicken purchased from Capitol Hill Poultry at Eastern Market. We brined the chicken and roasted it with some sweet potatoes purchased from Toigo Orchard's stand at the Dupont Circle Market. I paired the feta with some diced yellow pepper (from Trader Joe's, the one non-local ingredient) and served it atop the Loudon Lettuce blend from Endless Summer Harvest, who also sell at Dupont Circle. My wife and I were thrilled with the depth of the flavors that came from quality ingredients simply prepared.
Keswick's wide range of dairy products offers plenty of choices and lots of reasons to keep coming back for their samples week after week. Though not everything they sell represents as great a value as their feta sampler, you can rest assured that quality and flavor are prevalent throughout their product line. You can find Keswick's cheeses at several FreshFarm Markets in DC - look for them at Dupont Circle on Sunday mornings year-round, Foggy Bottom on Wednesday evenings from April to November, and H Street Northeast on Saturday mornings from May to October.
* = EDIT: Turns out the folks at the FreshFarm Market site and in the Atlas of American Artisanal Cheeses had a bad web address for Keswick. I have edited the first paragraph to include a link to their actual website, http://www.keswickcreamerycheese.com/. Thanks to Sandy for bringing it to my attention!