When you hear “Piedmont”, you may think of Italian cheeses, but did you know that Virginia has a Piedmont region as well? Caromont Farm — an artisan cheesemaking operation in the town of Esmont, 23 miles south of Charlottesville, Virginia — is in the heart of that region, and is producing cheeses worthy of the parallel. 

Gail Hobbs-Page is the cheesemaker and driving force behind Caromont; for the last 8 years she’s been producing small-batch cheeses, working with a mixed herd of Alpines, Saanens and La Mancha goats. Hobbs-Page transitioned from almost three decades in the restaurant business. Caromont also sources cow’s milk from dairy farmer Nathan Vergins, a former apprentice who also put in time at Joel Salatin’s acclaimed Polyface Farms and is now the owner of Silky Cow Farm in North Garden, Virginia. 

I had the opportunity to meet Gail and her husband Dan at Virginia Craft, a culinary event hosted by the Virginia Tourism Board and held at Chelsea Market. The event featured many Virginia artisans from across the culinary spectrum, with restaurants, distillers, brewers, oyster farmers and more sampling and discussing their wares with the NYC crowd (the photos above include shots from the event). Caromont was the only cheesemaker in attendance, and made a strong showing with two cheeses: Red Row and Esmontonian Tinto.

Red Row, a washed rind, raw cow’s milk wheel, aged 60 days and washed with hard cider from a neighboring cider maker, Albermarle Cider Works. The rind is amber-colored and lightly mottled, tacky to the touch. The paste is dense and velvety, buttery but not oozing, well-balanced on the salt, with peanuty, meaty and grassy flavors, and a nice yeasty, floral overtone from the cider wash. The washed-rind aroma is assertive but not strong, wet hay and a beguiling hint of barnyard. 

The Esmontonian Tinto, a raw goat’s milk tomme, is washed with Merlot from local Barboursville Vineyards. The stony gray,  basket-weave rind, with a lightly musty aroma, opens to reveal a firm white paste, dense and flaky, lightly eyed, with an earthy, nutty flavor profile and fruity notes from the wine wash. The Esmontonian took 2nd place in 2013 at the ACS competition in Madison, Wisconsin, in the “American-made, International-style Goat” category.

Caromont’s cheeses are still mostly available regionally, but they’re finding their way further north and west as they expand production. Murray’s Cheese in NYC carries their Esmontonian.

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    Might have to stop by next time we are in the area.
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