Landaff Creamery gets a boost (and awards) from its cheese
Beneath the idyllic scene, however, there is a not-as-ideal reality: The state of the dairy industry has made it increasingly difficult for dairy farmers all over the nation to rely on milk as a sole source of income.
In the past, 'we were able to weather the ups and downs,' says Debby, 'but in 2006, they came more frequently in two bigger swings. We said, 'We've got to do something to add value.''
In 2009, the Erbs decided to add a cheesemaking operation to bring in more revenue. Made with milk from their own cows, their brand of Landaff Cheese is a mild, semi-firm cheese with a natural, cave-aged rind that they describe as being 'tangy, with a clean finish.'
'We didn't want to do cheddar because our (dairy) co-op does Cabot,' says Debby, referring to the Vermont dairy and cheese giant. 'We started looking into the history of Landaff, and (the town) was named after Landaff, Wales. This was a cheese that was made in that area of Wales, so it fit.'
With a trip to Somerset, England, Doug learned how to make Welsh cheese from a third-generation cheesemaker, Chris Duckett, an experience he describes as 'wonderful.'
With a few changes to the original recipe, the Erbs made a cheese that was 'more butter, less salty, able to melt.'
'I heard someone from Whole Foods call it 'the level above cheddar,'' says Debby. 'It's more moist than a cheddar, so it has a different flavor because of that. Cheddars are 36 percent moisture, and Landaff is 40 to 41 percent.'
A partnership with the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farms in Greensboro, Vt., has enabled the Erbs to focus solely on making their cheese, rather than marketing and distributing it as well.
'[Jasper Hill] means we can still farm and not have to know all the pieces to cheese,' Debby says. 'It works for us. Otherwise we'd have to do all of it.'
Working with the Cellars has proved especially beneficial because of Jasper Hill's already established and wide distribution range.
'They've been selling their cheese across the country for years, our cheese just gets put on the truck with them. If you go to San Francisco, or San Diego, or Seattle, our cheese is there. It's anywhere across the country.'
The Erbs' is the only New Hampshire farm currently selling to the Cellars at Jasper Hill; the rest are from Vermont.
'The industry's much more mature in Vermont,' says Doug. Debby adds that while there are 40 members of the Cheesemaker's Guild in Vermont, there are only 10 in New Hampshire.
The Cellars have also proved to be somewhat of a mentor for Landaff Creamery.
'They were very helpful in the development of the cheese,' says Doug. 'They know cheese and they know how to age cheeses. We would send cheese over, and they would give us feedback, which was critical in the early stages.'
This work has clearly paid off for the Erbs. Last year, they placed third in the 'semi-soft cheese with a natural rind' category in the World Cheese Championships, held every two years in Madison, Wis.
'It's a pretty big deal,' says Debby, noting that there were 51 entries in that category alone, and 2,000 entries overall, submitted from nearly two dozen nations.
Landaff Creamery is currently readying a second type of cheese, to be called Kinsman Ridge, for distribution. Kinsman Ridge, with 46 percent moisture, will be softer than Landaff.
'Our second cheese is a soft French tome,' says Debbie. 'It's got a washed rind and then it's naturally aged. It will be coming and readily available.'
Their operation is still fairly small, with one cheesemaker on staff and other volunteer helpers in the summer. For the Erbs, cheesemaking has proved its worth.
'It's made a significant contribution, and that's what we needed it to do,' says Debbie. 'It makes the farm more valuable because of it.'
Northern Comfort Macaroni and Cheese
Landaff Creamery's Macaroni and Cheese recipe placed first in the NH Made category at this year's New Hampshire's Own Macaroni and Cheese Bake-Off.
1 pound elbow macaroni, cooked per directions, tossed with olive oil
4 cups Landaff Cheese
4 cups Hatchland Farm half and half
8 tablespoons Cabot butter, plus 1-2 tablespoons for topping
8 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons cooking wine
4 cloves crushed garlic
1 cup chopped onion
Keebler butter-flavored crackers for topping
Cook the macaroni and toss with olive oil.
Melt butter in pan, add flour, stir. Stir in Hatchland half and half, salt and pepper. Cook until thickened to make white sauce.
After making white sauce, add the dry mustard, Worcestershire, cooking wine, crushed garlic and Landaff cheese. Mix until thoroughly melted. Pour over the macaroni and mix in 1 cup chopped onion.
Pour into baking pan and top with crushed crackers and extra melted butter. Bake for 1/2 hour at 350 degrees.