Gelato, raw-milk cheeses capture taste of creamery

Ken Levy/For the Capital Press Kristopher Malling, Teton Valley Creamery cheesemaker, presses curds into cheese wheels. The mold-ripened variety will become Sapphire Blue cheese in about 60 days.

Gelato brings in money for creamery as first artisan cheeses age

By KEN LEVY

For the Capital Press

DRIGGS, Idaho -- As Teton Valley Creamery converted a 1930s-era gas station to make artisan cheeses, it found an unexpected hit in a cooler side business.

The creamery opened an on-site gelato-making enterprise last summer as the cheese-making area was under construction. It offered sweet treats to customers, who lined up early and often to get a scoop or two.

"The owners thought it would be some little, tiny side business, but when they opened on the Fourth of July, it went gangbusters," said Sue Muncaster, who works at the creamery for owner Lauren Hokin.

When the shop reopens in May after closing for the winter, the gelato will return with higher fat content and different flavorings to make it more authentic Italian ice cream.

Aged and ripened raw-milk cheeses -- the creamery's original intended product -- will be offered alongside the gelato. Cheesemaker Kristopher Malling said the creamery will roll out its first 8- to 10-pound wheels of Alpine-style cheese and 2-pound rounds of mold-ripened cheese also in May.

With a new aging room featuring computer-controlled temperature and humidity, and a 175-gallon Holland-made cheese vat, Malling made his first wheels of washed-rind and mold-ripened raw-milk cheeses in mid-September.

The washed-rind Alpine-style cheese, which Malling named Yellowstone, will age 4-8 months. This variety has a brevi bacteria growing on the outside.

With its orange-red color, the bacteria add pungency to the cheese.

"I'm looking at the milder end, but the inside is going to be nice, semi-firm and creamy, and the outside will have some earthiness and pungency to it," he said.

This variety should be available by summer.

Malling is also making mold-ripened cheese, which he names Sapphire Blue.

A white mold, Penicillium candidum, will grow on the outside, with a blue mold growing inside, he said. The white mold is the same used in making Brie.

"You get an earthy, mushroomy flavor right around the outside," said Malling. On the inside, a controlled growth of blue mold will add a sharper flavor.

"The style is for a slightly bleu cheese," Malling said. "This is something that can be a nice, approachable introductory bleu cheese, as it is not overpowering."

This cheese is ready to sell after 60 days of aging.

Although aging ultimately determines a cheese's flavor, the process starts with fresh raw milk. Malling gets his from Holsteins at the Wright Dairy about five miles away on the Wyoming border, just hours before he begins the cheese-making process.

"This milk was still in the cow this morning," he said.

"Within a few hours of going into the vat, the milk is converted into cheese curds, compressed and left overnight. Then it goes into the brine and into the aging room for the rest of its life," he said.

Teton Valley Creamery plans to market its artisan cheeses nationally and locally.

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