GRANVILLE — Visitors on this weekend’s tenth annual Washington County Cheese, Wine and Beer Tour found a little bit of Tuscany in the hills of northern Granville.
Dancing Ewe Farm makes Tuscan-style pecorino cheeses from a dairy flock of more than 120 Lacune-Friesian cross sheep, said Jody Somers, who owns the farm with his wife Luisa. “Our cheese isn’t exactly the same as Tuscan pecorinos because of the terroir,” or flavor imparted by local soil, plants, water and the way the animals are handled, Somers said.
Jody Somers learned cheese-making in Tuscany and Luisa Somers grew up there.
On Saturday, the milking ewes were grazing out of sight near the Mettawee River. They’re moved to fresh pasture every three to five days, Somers said. The different grasses and deep-rooted broad-leaved plants add complexity to the flavor of their milk, which improves the flavor of the finished cheese.
Visitors could pet the farm’s four junior rams, downstairs in the old dairy barn, and two adult rams in a pen near the road. The rams will be turned in with the ewes for breeding in November, Somers said.
Visitors could also see the ewes’ milking parlor and the cheese house and sample the farm’s four cheeses, two fresh and two aged.
“Everything is done by hand,” Somers said.
As part of their dedication to quality, the Somers send a sample of the ewes’ first milk every spring to a lab in Italy, which creates a cheese starter culture matching the characteristics of the milk.
Dancing Ewe Farm sells “salumi,” which is Italian for cured meats. Most are made from hogs raised on small Iowa farms, but there’s also an all-beef product for people who don’t eat pork.
In 2009, Luisa Somers set about restoring her family’s neglected olive grove in Tuscany. The Somers go to Italy every December to harvest the olives and have them processed. They return to Granville in April, just in time for lambing season, bringing the bottled extra-virgin oil and selected organically produced wines to sell in the U.S.
Guests can sample Italian cuisine and hospitality from summer through fall at Saturday night dinners and Sunday lunches, served in the farm’s new barn. The meals feature the farm’s cheeses, wines and olive oil and Luisa Somers’ fresh pasta, made with the farm’s own eggs. Reservations are essential.
“We try to give every guest the best possible experience,” Jody Somers said.
Dancing Ewe is making its debut on the cheese tour this year. Also new are R.S. Taylor and Sons Brewery in Hebron and Victory View Vineyard in lower Easton.
Rich Taylor, owner of R.S. Taylor and Sons, said his business celebrated its first anniversary last week.
Eight brews, including ales, a stout and Saratoga Apple Hard Cider, were on tap in the busy tap room. Visitors could order a four-brew sampler, a full glass, salad, sandwich, or bowl of chili and enjoy them under the umbrellas on the patio.
“It’s been steady,” Taylor said. “I didn’t expect the morning to be busy, but it was.”
Anne and Skip Gifford of Glenville and Pat and Todd Baumgartner of Manchester, Vermont, were trying the brews.
“This is our fourth stop,” Skip Gifford said. He and his wife have been coming on the tour for several years. The Baumgartners were on the tour for the first time, they said. Skip Gifford said he liked the Belcher Town Ale, named after a hamlet nearby. Pat Gifford’s favorite was the Willie’s Nut Brown Ale.
Mary Darcy of Albany was taking the entire six-stop tour with friends. “It’s really fun,” she said. “There are different farms every year. You can meet the farmers, try the cheeses and pet the animals. It’s a nice chance of pace.” Traveling the back roads to the farms, “you discover all the good stuff you didn’t know was here.”
This is the tour’s 10th year, said Renata Pilato, who organized it for seven years. This year she stepped aside for Angela Miller at Consider Bardwell Farm, one of the stops, and Tom Foster. Consider Bardwell Farm sells cheese to R.S. Taylor and Victory View, making them logical additions to the tour, Pilato said.
The tour draws 1,900 to 2,500 visitors a year. That was too much for some smaller cheese producers who sold out their entire stock, Pilato said. Dancing Ewe Farm joined in part to replace them.
“The tour may morph into an agricultural community support tour,” Pilato said. “Cheese will always anchor it, but it may fill in with other agricultural businesses.”