Virginia Cheese Week – An Interview with Kat Feete of Meadow Creek Dairy

kat feete
Dany Schutte put it best when she said, “You can’t talk about local cheese without mentioning, first and foremost, Meadow Creek. They’re our stars. They’re our superstars.” The Feete family has been creating amazing cheese in Galax for 16 years. Their first effort, Appalachian, is an award-winning semi-soft cow’s milk cheese, and their Grayson is a cheese to behold – grassy, tangy, and creamy with a discernibly southwest Virginia attitude (but we’ll talk more about that on cheese-tasting day!)
Despite a hectic week on the farm, Kat Feete, cheesemaker at Meadow Creek Dairy and daughter of Rick and Helen, took some time to answer a few questions about life on the farm and the art of making cheese.
meadow creek
- How long has your family been making cheese? How did you get into it?
We have been making cheese for 16 years — we began in 1998. We’ve had our dairy and have been milking since 1988, but we wanted to produce high-quality, sustainable milk, and that was not something the commodity market rewarded. So once the dairy was stable and profitable we started to look around for the next step. Helen has always had an interest in food and had wanted to make cheese from the beginning, and cheese had more potential as a business to build up and pass on to the next generation. So cheese it was.

meadow creek appalachian
- What changes have you seen in consumers since you started Meadow Creek Dairy? How has your cheese changed?

We began making cheese right before the artisanal cheese movement really took off, so we’ve been in a great position to watch as the American consumer grow into a taste for European-style and specialty cheeses. Our cheeses, too, have grown; Rick and Helen made several visits to Europe while building the new plant, getting the chance to taste many other cheeses and learning in particular an appreciation for affinage. Of course, as our cheeses matured, they moved gradually and naturally further from their European benchmarks — they are each their own, unique cheeses now, true American originals. Every year we try to make them better and better.

meadow creek app
- What’s one of your favorite cheese that your family makes, and what makes it special to you?

To be honest the family has never agreed which of our cheeses is the best! Some of us prefer the rich, funky flavors of Grayson, while others are fans of the mellow, delicate citrus notes of the Appalachian, and still others prefer the full-bodied Alpine tastes of Mountaineer. Some of us even have different favorites at different times of year, as the cheesesgo through their subtle seasonal shifts. Plenty of room for family debates!

- What is a typical day on the farm like (or is there a typical day?)

There are all too rarely typical days on a farm, but most days do fall into a predictable pattern. The day begins at 7 am as the farm crew brings in the cows for milking. Morning milk is piped immediately to the cheeseroom, where the cheesemakers have set up to receive it. At 8 the cellar crew arrives and starts their day of washing and flipping cheese; shortly after that, milking ends, and the cheesemakers swap vats so that milk can be pumped over from the evening before while the morning milk (usually a Grayson) cultures. 

 

meadow creek 2

At 9, shipping and office crew arrives to start getting any orders wrapped, packaged, and shipped; the evening before’s cheese is put in brine, the cheeses that were in brine are moved into the dry room, and the cheeses from the dry room are taken to the cellar. The farm crew begins their morning round of chores, feeding the young stock and setting up fence. By 10 am, the cellar crew will have taken a break to help hoop the Grayson; the second vat (usually Appalachian, but once or twice a week Mountaineer) will normally be setting into curds. By 11 (or 12 if Mountaineer), the second vat will also be hooped. The main part of cheesemaker is usually over by one, which is when we all meet up for a farm-provided, home cooked lunch. 

After lunch cheese in press is flipped, and the cheeses are moved into their overnight stay in the brine room so we can begin washing and cleaning up the cheeseroom. In the meantime the farm crew begins once again feeding the young stock, moving fence, and bringing cattle up for the evening milking. Both crews usually finish up by 6 or 6:30, and everyone goes home for some well-deserved rest!

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(photos via Meadow Creek Dairy)

 

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3 responses to “Virginia Cheese Week – An Interview with Kat Feete of Meadow Creek Dairy

  1. There’s nothing the human body needs that it can’t get from plant based sources. Going to those sources directly, insures health, is less harmful to the environment and is certainly kinder to the cows and calves. The happy images in this article do not represent the truth about the harms involved in dairy production and consumption.

    With a fraction of fats and calories, great sources of calcium can be found in almond, rice, sunflower, hazelnut and soy milks… Most, just like dairy, are fortified with vitamin D. Calcium rich foods also include leafy greens, and a wide array of fruits, beans, grains and nuts.

    To get your nutritional needs by going through another animal first seems wasteful and ill advised. Please – Stop filtering your nutrition through others first. Eat smarter, live healthier – Go Vegan.

    • @ Provoked I don’t know where to begin to feel sorry for you. First, from a foodie perspective, you lack appreciation for what products of healthy animals can do for your taste buds. Second, if you think vegetable production is better on the environment, you are sorrowfully mistaken. Third, almond trees, cows, pigs, kale all come from the same genetic source code. To draw a line at animals is closed-minded, and you are intolerant of any other views than your own – and prefer to choose bucolic views of what it means to sustain life. Which leads me to my last point, why would a “vegan” read an article on cheese from cows and comment on it, if not to be inflammatory. Eat your nuts; I’ll eat my cheese – pretty simple.

  2. Pingback: culture: the word on cheese·

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