SPROUT CREEK FARM
BY: RIKKI SNYDER
It’s always encouraging when you meet someone who has found their passion. For Colin McGrath, he was at the right place at the right time when he found his. Growing up on the west coast, Colin was always getting himself into some sort of trouble when he was younger. At the age of 14 he was given a rather large amount of community service and he decided to do his time working at a church nearby that had a small cafe. Ever since, he was enthralled with the world of food and started working at restaurants. By the time he was 18, Colin made the decision to pack his bags and move across the country to attend the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.
The Culinary offers a vigorous program and is surely the best place to be if you want to go into the food industry. Being very familiar with the school, as my father once attended it, I have a pretty good knowledge of what goes on there. So when I met Colin I had to stop myself from bluntly asking, “How in the world did you end up at Sprout Creek Farm making cheese?!”. And after we got to talking I realized that wow, he really was just in the right place at the right time.
Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, NY is a charming little working farm nestled away in the heart of the Hudson Valley. It’s less than a mile down the road from where I grew up and because of the close proximity we would walk to the farm for field trips in grade school. So much of the farm and staff is dedicated to educating children about the natural world, community and agriculture. I have fond memories of spending days there, cooking vegetable soup in the kitchen with my classmates and standing out in the barns with the goats as they nibbled on my KEDS.
In the more recent years, Sprout Creek Farm has expanded into the world of artisan cheese and is now one of the go to weekend getaway places in the Hudson Valley for those living in the city. It’s just a short train ride away and hey, who doesn’t want to spend the day at a beautiful farm eating delicious hand crafted cheese? They have won 3, 2nd place awards in the American Cheese Society Competition and are also on the list of Wine Spectator’s 100 Best Cheeses. So this brings me back to my question at hand, how did Colin end up at Sprout Creek Farm making cheese?
With Sprout Creek only being a short 20 minute ride from the Culinary, Colin was first introduced to the farm as a student. “By chance I knocked on their door at the right minute and was able to land a spot in the creamery,” he says. Simple as that. He quickly became captivated with cheese and everything that goes into the process of making it. “It is something that is always on my mind, even when I don’t want it to be,” Colin says. After working here for many years, Colin is just as much in love with his job as he was the first day he started. He works with a wonderful group of people that all share his same love and passion for cheese and is constantly experimenting and producing new products.
After being behind the scenes where the cheese is made and watching it happen first hand, my whole perspective on the art of cheese making has changed. As I was observing Colin at work, I started to realize just how much goes into making a batch of cheese that I had absolutely no knowledge of. It was almost as if I was watching a mad scientist in his laboratory. Colin would look at the clock and jot something down on his charts, he had different colorful bottles of liquids and would mix something in a small cup then leave the room to go put it in the fridge to only take it out minutes later.
All of it is so intriguing and to my surprise, the better half of Colin’s day is spent not making the cheese, but cleaning and making sure everything is sterilized in between batches. They get the milk for their cheese fresh from the cows and goats they have at the farm. It is then turned into curds that will eventually be turned into wheels of cheese and only takes a few hours to complete. In that time, 2 ingredients are added and multiple steps are taken to separate the solids from the milk, get them into wheel form and then get them set up with the right components in order for them to ripen effectively. The range of age in their cheeses is anywhere from 2 days to 2 years. Each one requires a different length of time based on many different factors that control the ripening rate. And based on that age there will be different characteristics in texture and taste. Not only this, but weather, feed, stage of location, health and mood of the animal will all alter the composition of the milk and overall taste of each cheese. However, as Colin points out, you can’t forget the most important step to the cheese making process, adding love.
Sprout Creek farm distributes their cheese throughout the Northeast with a large emphasis on New York City. Their cheeses can be purchased at any Whole Foods store in this region as well as online at sproutcreekfarm.org. Grab a glass of wine or beer and be ready to sample some of the finest, local made, artisan cheese there is.