ARGYLE — Milk is good for way more than pouring over cereal, as the cheesemakers of Washington County are demonstrating.
Recently at Argyle Cheese Farmer, Amy Rota-Poulin presided over a table of smoked cheeses and cheese spreads. One was quark; not the subatomic particle, but a European cheese.
Most visitors to the farm over the weekend, when the Washington County Cheese Tour took place, were unfamiliar with quark. Rota-Poulin was a tour volunteer.
“It’s similar to cream cheese with active cultures,” she explained of quark. “It’s good mixed with maple syrup and horseradish, or grated beets and horseradish, or you can put it plain on a bagel.”
She especially recommended the “schmear” with sun-dried tomatoes and chives as a sauce for spaghetti, chicken or shrimp.
“It makes a restaurant-quality recipe,” she said.
Other volunteers offered samples and sales of cheese curds, hard cheeses, regular and Greek yogurt and flavored yogurt smoothies.
Cheesemakers Marge and Dave Randles started the business 11 years ago. Marge Randles had to think for a minute when asked how many dairy products the farm produces.
“It’s over 40,” she said.
Everything is made at the plant on Coach Road with milk from a family member’s dairy herd.
The farm has won a number of awards for its products, including gold medals three years in a row at the New York State Fair for its Greek yogurt.
“People come looking for it,” Randles said.
Visitors could also see the cheese and yogurt-making room and the room where hard cheeses are aged.
“Cheese is like people,” volunteer Don Boucher joked as he answered questions and gave out samples of the farm’s hard cheeses. “As you age, you get sharper — up to a point.”
Boucher, who lives in New Rochelle and Argyle, said he was helping out because “we like Marge and Dave, we’re neighbors, and we love cheese.”
Debbie Moore and her husband, from Troy, usually buy their cheese from the Randles at the Troy farmers market, but drove to Argyle Saturday for the event, now called the Cheese Tour with Wine and Beer.
“We found out about the tour from Marge,” she said. “We got cheese curds and some sharp cheeses today. And I got some quark — I’m going to try it.”
A few miles away, Leah Hennessy was opening Moxie Ridge Farm and Creamery to the public for the first time. Hennessy took over the former Longview Farm and started operations less than six months ago with dairy goats, hogs, chickens and draft horses. Visitors to the farm could meet some of its animals.
“I’m very nervous. There’s a lot of stuff we’re still refining,” Hennessy said. “But the folks who are coming are so excited about cheese and so forgiving about first-time mistakes.”
Hennessy, who fell in love with goats and their cheeses on a business trip to France, has a small flock of French Alpine and a few dwarf Nigerian goats. The goats provide milk for cheese and clear brush. Her nine hogs till the soil, the draft horses pull loads and graze the grass and the chickens lay eggs and eat ticks.
The chickens and hogs also get waste milk from the cheese-making process. Some of them will be butchered for meat.
“Ethical meat is a big part of my business,” Hennessy said.
Two of the sows are mulefoots, an endangered breed from the American Southeast, and may be kept for breeding.
“Every animal gets a name,” Hennessy said, even if it’s destined for slaughter.
Unlike some farmers who avoid becoming friendly with their meat animals, “if they want the loves, they get it,” Hennessy said.
Hennessy had several varieties of her goat’s milk cheeses for sale as well as milk-finished chickens. Both were going quickly. With only eight milking does of her own, Hennessy was keeping her fingers crossed that she’d have enough stock to finish the weekend.