Lancaster Duet Cheese
Below is an article of a Farmstead First cheese featured in Slash Food. You can also view the published article directly.
Gouda fans and those who love sweet, butterscotch-like flavors in their savory snacks may well go wild for Lancaster Duet, a cow and goat's milk cheese from Farmstead First in Lancaster, Neb.
A bite of this beautiful caramel-colored cheese initiates a complicated succession of flavors that begins with notes of dried dates and apricots, evolves into honey and candy and finally tapers off with a mild, sweet and milky tang. Its texture mimics its broad range of flavors: dense, with a sturdy exterior, it yields at a bite to reveal an incredibly creamy center.
In layman's terms, this is a handcrafted gastronomic masterpiece cave-aged to perfection. The complex cheese comes courtesy of Farmstead First, a collaboration between Krista Dittman (right) of Branched Oak Farm, 15 miles north of Lincoln, and Charuth Loth (left) of nearby Shadow Brook Farm. The name "duet" refers to the collaboration itself and the use of two different milks in the cheese. (Incidentally, this means Lancaster Duet is not officially a "farmstead" fromage, which must use milk from only one farm).
Despite this technicality, this is as artisanal and local as cheeses get. Both Branched Oak's herd of grass-fed Jersey cows and Shadow Brook's 60 mostly Alpine and Saanan goats roam and graze on organic pastures.
Loth emphasizes that the creaminess and richness is produced by the mixing of her goat's milk with Dittman's celebrated raw cow's milk, tipping her hat to Dittman's talent: "Their milk is gold. People drive two hours to purchase [it]; it's literally golden-colored." Interestingly, despite the fact that in Nebraska raw milk can only be sold directly from a farm that eschews advertising, rawmilk.com has helped them build a following within what Loth calls the "milk underworld."
The cheese has developed a following among well-connected fromagers. "[There's] a pleasant tanginess with almost no acidity," says Greg O'Neil, co-owner of Chicago's Pastoral.
Raw milk brings its own flavor profile to the table. "'Bacteria in the raw milk is similar to the bacteria in cheeses like Gruyère," Loth says. Like Gruyère, this cheese is gratin-friendly and melts easily, unlike most pure goat's milk cheeses.
Among the first artisan cheesemakers in Nebraska, the duo began making Lancaster Duet four years ago. Loth was inspired by her Dutch heritage, and along with Dittman embarked on what Loth calls a "two-year cheese odyssey" in which they worked on 27 farms in the United States, Italy and Holland. We think it was well worth the journey.
Lancaster Duet is available for about $24 per pound at local Nebraska markets such as the Omaha Farmer's Market and at some Nebraska Whole Foods locations. In Chicago, swing by Pastoral.