When several merchants I admire recommend the same new creamery, that’s all the word-of-mouth I need. I may be slow to part with my cheese money but I’m not stupid. After hearing about Boxcarr cheeses for the third or fourth time, I bought a Boxcarr cheese. Then I tried another, and another—all of them good. Who are these people?
Launched little more than a year ago by Austin and Samantha Genke, who are siblings, Boxcarr Handmade Cheese hit the ground running. Already, these young entrepreneurs have shipped cheese to all the hip Brooklyn shops, to Philadelphia’s Di Bruno Brothers and to the top Bay Area retailers. You couldn’t hope for a more auspicious debut.
The Genkes résumés show they’ve long been preparing for this moment, even if they didn’t know it. Raised in Florida, they left home early and moved together to Washington State. Samantha, who is four years older, became Austin’s guardian and helped see him through high school, where he excelled in a culinary program. The Culinary Institute of America offered him a scholarship, and with that training he landed restaurant jobs in Las Vegas, working under big-name chefs like Mario Batali.
Samantha, meanwhile, had moved back to Florida and a job behind the cheese counter at the local Whole Foods. The grocery business didn’t engage her but the cheese did, and she spent the next decade working at two esteemed North Carolina creameries: Goat Lady Dairy and Chapel Hill Creamery.
Seven years ago, Austin and his wife took their savings and bought a small farm about a half-hour northwest of Durham. They grow vegetables, raise pigs and chickens and operate a food truck and catering business. Samantha lives across the street and raises goats. Two years ago they borrowed enough money to build a proper cheese-making facility, a project they figured would merge their interests.
With help from Alessandra Trompeo, a trained cheesemaker from Northern Italy, Samantha produces the cheeses, most of them modeled on Northern Italian types, like Robiola and Taleggio. Boxcarr has no milking parlor yet, so the cow’s and goat’s milk come from neighbors.
Rosie’s Robiola (named for Samantha’s daughter and pictured above) is a 12-ounce cow’s-milk square with a wrinkled Geotrichum rind, a supple ivory paste and an aroma of bread yeast and mushrooms. The flavor is gentle, not too salty, with a lingering mushroom note.
"We use a lot of weird cultures on that,” says Samantha, although the cheese resembles a conventional Robiola to me. The young square is brined briefly, wrapped when it’s 10 to 12 days old and then shipped. She likes it best at about eight weeks old when it gets tacky and gooey. You may have to mature a whole square yourself to bring it to that stage. If you’re game, put the unwrapped cheese in a cardboard box in the fridge and see what develops.
For Cottonseed, a bloomy-rind square modeled on Italian Scimudin, the cheesemakers use a blend of cow’s and goat’s milk and a culture cocktail that includes both Geotrichum and Penicillium candidum. Cottonseed has a shorter shelf life than the Robiola—maybe four weeks.
“That one is my favorite,” says Samantha. “It gets really briny, truffley and super liquid. Alessandra says it ‘goes back to milk.’” I have not had the opportunity to taste it, but the local distributor tells me it’s Boxcarr’s best seller in the Bay Area.
Rocket’s Robiola, an ash-coated rendition of Rosie’s, impressed me when I tasted it in a cheese shop recently. Campo, a washed-rind cheese loosely based on Taleggio and smoked over pecan wood, was too smoky for me. But I would say the same about almost any smoked cheese. Not my thing.
Check Boxcarr’s list of accounts for a retailer near you. The creamery currently processes about 1,000 gallons of milk a week, and Samantha expects that some of that will be their own milk eventually.