Every month, Melina Hammer, Food52's very own Hudson Valley correspondent, is serving up all the bounty that upstate New York has to offer.
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I have long loved triple-cream cheeses. They contain at least 75 percent fat, and are typically young. They are also supremely spreadable. Mascarpone is an example of a fresh triple-cream, whereas Brillat-Savarin, Explorateur, and St. André are soft-ripened. Think of this sort of cheese as an extra luxurious, extra creamy Brie — velvety, decadent, and easy to combine with savory or sweet pairings. France has historically cornered the market on triple-cream cheeses (they originated there in the 19th century), but today there are several wonderful ones made in the United States. So when I discovered a triple-cream being produced right in my own region, I had to learn more. Meet Four Fat Fowl, an award-winning creamery — then get cooking. (This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.)
Melina Hammer: Who is Four Fat Fowl, and how did you get your start in cheese making?
Four Fat Fowl: Our cheese maker is Willy Bridgham. I am Shaleena Bridgham, Willy's wife, and Josie Madison is Willy's sister. We run everything. Willy got his start making cheese at the Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. He made cheese there for several years before we opened our own creamery.
MH: How did Four Fat Fowl get its name, and St. Stephen, too?
FFF: We wanted our name to represent the area where we are making cheese. We looked through many historical documents before coming up with Four Fat Fowl. When Stephen Van Rensselaer settled this area, he was the largest landowner around. He leased or rented his land out, and based on the amount of land they rented, people paid in the form of a day's labor, bushels of wheat, and four fat fowl.
The name St. Stephen serves two purposes: One, we are located in Stephentown, so there's that. Two, we love music! All of our cheese has musical references. St. Stephen is a song made famous by the Grateful Dead.
MH: How did you end up in the Hudson Valley? And how do your cheeses fit into the landscape here?
FFF: We were born and raised here in East Nassau, New York, and Stephentown is the next town over. We wanted to be close to home, so the location is perfect, allowing us to work and live within 15 minutes of our home and creamery. We use all local milk and cream in our cheese making — the perfect terroir of Stephentown and the Hudson Valley.
MH: I love triple-cream cheeses, and they aren't easy to come by. How did you decide to make a triple-cream? Can you describe the process of making St. Stephen?
FFF: Willy's experience making soft-ripened cheese serves us well here. Soft-ripened cheeses are his favorite style. We noticed that there wasn't another New York state cheese maker producing a triple-cream, so it seemed like a great cheese to start with, since we couldn't find a local one.
St. Stephen is made in small batches using milk and cream. The milk and cream are pasteurized, and we add rennet and culture. After cutting the curd, we ladle it by hand into molds, where it rests until a certain pH is reached. Then it's brined in a saltwater bath before being put in the aging coolers for a couple of weeks, until it's ready to be wrapped.
MH: What cheeses inspire you?
FFF: Jasper Hill cheeses make us all giddy over here. We just love their cheese and what they stand for as far as sustainability goes.
MH: What else should we know about you?
FFF: We are family owned and operated, and we source our milk and cream locally from Dutch Hollow Farms.
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Score Some Triple-Cream, Then Make This
Thanks to their lush richness and mild flavor, triple-cream cheeses pair well with robust foods. Cherry preserves, dried apricots, cured salmon . . . Or these two recipes, specifically dreamed up with triple-cream in mind: Cheesy mushroom toasts with a honey-miso dressing, and earthy chickpeas with stinging nettles. Whether St. Stephen or another variety, the cheese's tanginess becomes more pronounced as it melts. However you use it, allow the cheese to come to room temperature—so it can nearly be eaten with a spoon — to experience its full character.