Caromont Farm, located in Esmont, just 20 minutes south of Monticello, is owned and lovingly operated by chef-turned-cheesemaker Gail Hobbs-Page and her husband Daniel. Together, with the commitment of cheesemaker Bridge Cox and dedicated interns and employees, they create artisanal, hand-crafted goats and cow’s milk cheeses that follow a seasonal path. All of their cheeses are hand-ladled, tended to daily, are made with the finest locally sourced milk, and are thoughtfully named. Gail’s goats, or “the girls” as she calls them is a mixed herd of Alpines, Nubians, La Manchas, and Saanens. Each breed contributes its own nuanced milk, and personality. Caromont “strives to capture the constantly evolving terroir of the Virginia Piedmont by creating complex cheeses from animals raised on extensive pasture and high quality forages.”
Caromont started gaining attention with their hand-crafted Farmstead Fresh chevre, which is a seasonal goat cheese made March-November. The milk is gently pasteurized and chilled, with enzymatic culture and a small amount of rennet added and left to ripen overnight. In the morning, it is drained and hand-ladled to create a wonderfully white and creamy chevre with pronounced acidity. This cheese is a nice complement to fruit spreads, chutneys, composed salads, young red wines, and aromatic white wines.
Similar in the cheesemaking process to the chevre, the fromage frais is made from locally sourced cow’s milk from Bob Albert’s Brown Swiss herd. It is similar to a cream cheese or fromage blanc and is available most times of the year. It is off white and creamy, with a silky texture that resembles cream cheese but is fluffier and lighter. It is aged 1-2 days and has a noticeable nuttiness and buttery-yet-tangy taste. I recently made a pimento cheese spread using the fromage frais in place of cream cheese and it was delightfully airy and spreadable.
The Mt. Alto feta is seasonal raw goat’s milk cheese available from June to January and is a blend of milk from the goats on the farm. After the raw milk is processed and the culture and rennet are added, the curd is drained overnight and then cut into “slabs” which are then brine-cured for 60 days. It is creamy but formed, has hints of blue cheese with a mild tang, and can be sliced or crumbled. It is a nice addition to salads, pizza, grilled meats, and goes well with summer-time gatherings “and the occasional Ouzo nip!”
A recent cheese creation named, Bloomsbury, has been gaining attention as far south as Atlanta, Georgia, where it was showcased at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival in May. It is a dense and creamy cow’s milk cheese with a “veil of penicillum” rind and it “melts like snow” in your mouth. It is made in the style of a chaource, has delicate flavors of grass, cultured butter, a rich, balanced acidity, and an earthy, mushroom finish. Bloomsbury is named after a small intersection outside of Orange, VA, and is also the name of a gifted core group of writers from the early 20th century called the Bloomsbury Group. It is available (at the moment) all year long and is aged for between two and six weeks, or as they “deem fit.”
The Red Row is also made from Mr. Albert’s cow’s milk and is a semi-pressed hard-rind cheese that is cave-aged for 2-3 months. It is a tomme-style cheese with a red, white, and brown mottled rind that is named after a little street in Esmont that houses the “rock stars” of the area including the only rural sanitation engineer, Sonny Barnett. The cheese is washed and hand tended with brine solution twice weekly until it is ready for release. Its availability is generally all year round, depending on supply. It has a faint acidity, but with sweet overtones, notes of pineapple, and an odor of “socks lost in hay.” It is great shaved over salads or pasta as a subtle alternative to Parmesean or pecorino.
Caromont’s cheeses are available in specialty markets around Charlottesville including Whole Foods, Integral Yoga, Foods of all Nations, and Feast. Gail can also be found Saturday’s at the City Market hocking her wares with the rest of the farmers.