| Photo: Max Shrem.
The clay-like appearance of Manchester's ridges (which comes from the use of Italian cheese-basket molds) cannot be separated from the cheese's smooth, sweet aromatic flavor, which makes it comparable to a French Tomme de Savoie. In fact, it's the bacteria and mold around the cheese that contribute to this deliciously well-balanced masterpiece. Just eight weeks into the aging process, Manchester's rind already develops spots of red mold on what Peter Dixon, dairy foods consultant and cheesemaker at Consider Bardwell Farm, calls a "wild rind."
By "wild," does Dixon mean to say that the molds and the bacteria grow naturally out of nowhere? Well, yes and no. After making Manchester, Dixon uses a soft brush dipped in whey to wash the rind. "Whatever microbes like that [whey] will grow," says Dixon. "We make the cheese, and then create the look by turning the cheese and rubbing it a couple of times a week."
Basically, Dixon sets up the perfect environmental conditions in which the molds can develop naturally by repeating this method of affinage (washing and turning the wheels) and by placing the cheeses in a humid concrete cave. The distinct yellow mold we noticed on the rind appears after six months of this painstaking process. "Bacteria appear as well as the molds; washing the rind increases the pH levels which then increase the development of bacteria," adds Dixon.
The combination of Manchester's dusty-looking colorful spots of mold and its fragrant taste evoke a bucolic image that seems to transport us to an idyllic agrarian past. Perhaps, this almost magical quality has something to do with the fact that Manchester comes from Vermont's first cheese-making co-op, dating back to the mid-19th century. After over 20 years of experience in cheese making, Dixon joined Angela Miller, owner of Consider Bardwell Farm, in January of 2007, to help design the creamery and make cheeses.
When it comes to supporting local dairies and farms, Dixon means business. "I'd rather support the development of many small-scale farms over one big farm," says Dixon. "One of my inspirations behind cheese making is perpetuating dairy farming and diversifying the types of food on farms; for instance, the extra whey we produce goes to feed pigs on local farms." From 2007 to 2009, he increased the amount of cheese production from 7,000 pounds to 35,000 pounds.
A whopping 50 percent of Consider Bardwell Farm's cheeses end up at farmers' markets (eight in NY, five in Vermont, and one in Lenox, Mass.). The other 50 percent of their cheeses are sold to restaurants and select retail stores (via distributors). Missing out on Manchester would simply be denying oneself one of the best artisan cheeses being made in the U.S. In other words, try it, and stay tuned for Chester, a cow's milk cheese that will be hitting markets soon.