When I received a call on a Sunday afternoon about a visiting chef wanting to see my farm and sample my cheeses first thing in the morning, I was frankly unenthusiastic. I asked that the chef be questioned if he was doing a cheese board and if he was featuring regional cheeses, and being assured that, "yes, he was," I was a bit happier, set a time, and got on Google.
Chef Antoine Westermann not only has been awarded three Michelin stars, but is known for his dedication to searching out the best in regional and seasonal ingredients. Imagine my total about-face in attitude. Chef Antoine was up touring breeders of exotic game birds for his soon to be open Le Coq Rico in NYC and had expressed an interest in cheese of the Catskills.
He arrived with Philippe and Patricia from the restaurant, and I was immediately struck with their enthusiasm and comfort level on being on a working farm. This wasn’t their first rodeo!
The thermometer was below zero so the “girls” were in the barn. So we started there. The cow’s were introduced to accolades of how lovely they are (cows like that), and I started kicking hay back into the mangers (they are pretty but messy eaters) without being asked Chef Antoine mimicked my sweeping leg motion and I knew he had farmer in his heart.
After the source was introduced, we proceeded to put on disposable booties (no complaints) to tour the cave and production facility.
Normally, I host tasting in the farm store/shipping room but it being so cold, I invited everyone into the plant where I was pasteurizing milk to taste some cheese. Of course the regulations regarding fresh cheese in France are totally different (better?) so I explained that all cheese under sixty days old must, by law, be pasteurized and that I pasteurize at the lowest legal limit to minimize the loss of flavor and nutrients.
After tasting my cheeses I offered to introduce other local cheese makers but was told that they had their cheese board.
I may have my NYC restaurant. It is about quality not quantity.
Trading her stilettos for muck boots, Aissa O’Neil left a successful career as a fashion designer in NYC to pursue farming full time in 2001. After years of study and apprenticeships in cheesemaking she opened her on-farm creamery 2013.