Made from sheep’s milk and wrapped in grape leaves, Ledyard is one of America’s most impressive new cheeses. And if you want to taste it before the year’s supply dries up, hop to it. The sheep are about to go on sabbatical.
Cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza developed this beauty about three years ago, shortly after landing a job at Meadowood Farms. This 225-acre estate in New York’s Madison County already had the dairy sheep and the creamery—mostly making yogurt—when the absentee owner hired Pedraza to build a cheese brand. “He was very skeptical that I would be able to do this,” Pedraza told me recently.
How sweet, then, to be already racking up the accolades and awards. Ledyard just took a blue ribbon at the American Cheese Society competition, and the creamery’s other cheeses—like Juvindale and Rippleton—are on the top cheesemongers’ radar. I would never bet against this woman.
Pedraza was heading toward a law degree when she detoured to cheese. Smart girl. Her next choices were good ones, too: apprenticeships at Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy, Manhattan’s Saxelby Cheesemongers and Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm. At Meadowood Farms, she has access to what many cheesemakers can only dream of: the rich milk of 140 pastured sheep. At this time of year, the milk approaches 9 percent fat—half again what it is in the spring.
Ledyard is loosely patterned after the leaf-wrapped robiolas of Northern Italy. But Pedraza enhances the “taste of place” by wrapping the two-week-old cheese in beer-soaked grape leaves. The brew: Deep Purple, a fruity, amethyst-hued pilsner from neighboring Empire Brewing made with the addition of Concord grapes.
I don’t find much trace of the beer or the grapes in this cheese, but the leaf wrap keeps the 10-ounce disk moist. Pedraza suggests serving Ledyard resting on the leaf; just peel it back to reveal the cheese underneath. The surface will be damp and tacky, with a slight peachy blush from the Brevibacterium linens that Pedraza adds to the milk. The soft, slumpy Geotrichum candidum rind is tender and edible, with the creamiest part of the cheese just underneath. The heart of the disk is more dense, yet still luscious and spreadable.
I love Ledyard’s aromas but they’re not easy to convey. I think of sour cream, mushrooms, cooked cabbage. The salting is perfect and the acidity keeps me reaching for another little taste, despite the richness.
Pedraza suggests Lambrusco as a partner. “It has the bubbles to cut the fat,” she says, “and a little of that fruitiness that evokes the aroma of the cheese.” But so do Belgian beers, which would be my preference. Pedraza likes Russian River Brewing’s Temptation, a Belgian-style sour blonde ale, with Ledyard. I opened Duvel, the Belgian golden ale, and could not have been happier.
Pedraza hopes to keep the sheep lactacting into October but their output declines dramatically. From 140 ewes, she is getting about 20 gallons of milk a day now, down from 100 gallons at the peak. So pick up some now, or hold your peace until next spring.
In California, look for Meadowood Farms Ledyard at Cheese Plus in San Francisco; Market Hall Foods in Oakland; Browns Valley Market and Oxbow Cheese Merchant in Napa; Sunshine Foods and V. Sattui in St. Helena; Oliver’s Market (multiple North Bay locations); The Cheese Shop in Carmel; Larchmont Village in Los Angeles; and New Leaf Community Markets (multiple locations).