The number of American creameries making raw-milk cheese from their own grass-fed animals is minuscule and unlikely to climb. It’s a risky business given the unpredictability of the FDA and its rule-making around raw-milk cheese. Plus, there aren’t that many places in the U.S. where livestock can be outside, eating grass, all year. So you have to applaud those who still take this traditional path and consistently produce distinctive, well-made cheeses. In that light, it’s time for a shout-out to Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy and its newest creation, Griffin, a recent Good Food Award winner.
Griffin has an amusing origin story. Sweet Grass owner and cheesemaker Jeremy Little was trying to create a special wheel for a college friend’s wedding several years ago. He started with the recipe for his flagship Thomasville Tomme but made a few modifications, including washing the outside with Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard IPA (“kind of a joke,” says Jeremy’s wife, Jessica).
A couple of years ago, after nudging from customers who had tasted it, Jeremy decided to resuscitate the project and try to nail the recipe. The beer flavor wasn’t penetrating enough, and he wanted to switch to a regional brew, preferably a malty one.
Gate City Brewing’s Terminus, a Baltic porter, offered the deep roasted-coffee and cocoa aromas that Jeremy wanted, and he now dumps a keg of it into every vat of curds after draining the whey. The curds soak for 30 minutes in this sudsy bath before the beer is drained off.
“When they’re making Griffin, it smells like a cappuccino,” says Jessica. The seven-pound wheels are aged for at least four months and washed with beer twice during that time. Jeremy’s aim is to develop some internal beer aroma without covering up the subtle scent of the grass-fed milk. “I think it’s about 80 percent where I want it to be,” he wrote me. The best cheesemakers never stop tweaking.
Named for their third son, Griffin is a natural-rind cow’s milk wheel with a firm, dryish, crumbly interior and pronounced acidity. That was the target. Thomasville Tomme is moister and more buttery in its aroma, with grassy, nutty and toasty notes. Tasting the two side by side, I was reminded of how delicious that Tomme is.
Griffin, at this point, seems more variable; of the three wheels I’ve tried, one was too dry. The milk is heated a couple of degrees higher than it is for the Tomme, the curd is cut smaller and the wheel is pressed—all techniques intended to produce a drier, more acidic result. And of course, Griffin gets the beer bath, although I can’t say I detect any malty scent. I’ll look forward to seeing if Jeremy is successful in bumping that up in future.
“You change one thing and it takes four months to know if it’s going in the right direction,” says Jessica. The Good Food Award is a signal that they’re on the right path.
Look for Sweet Grass Dairy Griffin at Atelier Fine Foods (Yountville, CA); Central Market (multiple locations); Earth Fare (multiple locations); E.A.T. Marketplace (Temecula, CA); GreenWise Market (Tallahassee); Harmon’s (multiple locations); Pacific Market (Sebastopol, CA); Publix (multiple locations); Sigona’s (Palo Alto and Redwood City, CA); Sunshine Foods (St. Helena, CA) and Village Market (Oakland).