Winter and spring are not peak season for the fresh cheese curds hand-crafted by the Shultz family of Ara-Kuh Farms in Lowville, New York. Joe Shultz isn’t quite sure why that is, but after a spike during the December holidays, things slow down until about Memorial Day—which is not to say that all sales cease, he notes.It's always peak season for die-hard cheese curd fans! Read more about a NY #Cabotfarmer bringing fresh squeaky cheese to his community Click To Tweet
During the busy season, the family sells curds to local stores and through farmers’ markets, as well as to schools and other nonprofit organizations for fundraisers. At this time of year, his wife, Sue, continues to make about 400 pounds of curds one day a week, most of which are sold through a local food store. “And we’ve still got our diehard people who pull into the driveway for a couple of bags every Thursday,” Joe says.
Those who love cheese curds will understand why they’re worth waiting in the driveway for. When they’re good and fresh, as the Shultzs’ always are, “they’re soft and squeaky between your teeth with a wholesome milky, buttery flavor,” explains Joe.
The curds were Sue’s idea back in 2011 when the family was looking for a farm-fresh product to supplement their milk income. Sue grew up farming and had worked in local dairy processing plants but, her husband says, “She was always much happier and felt healthier when she came back to milk on the farm.” Joe had also grown up on his parents’ small dairy.
Today, Joe and Sue run the farm with the help of their teenaged son, Bronson. It is called Ara-Kuh after the original family farm in Arabia, New York and the German word for cow, “kuh.”
Shultz Family Cheese was born in a converted room in the milk house after Sue traveled around seeing how other farms had diversified into value-added dairy products like yogurt or gelato. In Lewis County, located in northern New York state, Joe says, “Cheese curds are a huge, huge thing.”
Curds are also a relatively simple product, requiring no aging or complicated packaging. “Sue first made some on the stove,” her husband recounts. “The day you make them, you can sell them,” Joe explains. That said, it still takes time. “It’s a long process,” he says. “Like my wife says, ‘It’s not like making a batch of cookies.’”
Joe kicks it off by starting the batch pasteurizer at two o’clock in the morning. They use a longer, lower-temperature pasteurization, which they believe makes a huge difference in the final product. “It keeps the goodness of the milk,” Joe says.
After cooling the milk and adding starter and rennet to set the milk, the curds are cut, drained, stacked, milled and salted.
The Shultzs also add less salt than bigger curd producers. “Sue likes the flavor of our cows’ milk to come through,” Joe says. And so, apparently, do the diehard Shultz Family Cheese curd fans waiting in the driveway in the dead of winter.
The delicious French-Canadian tradition of poutine has migrated south from Quebec into the northeastern United States where it’s not unusual to find this compelling combination of crisp French fries scattered with fresh cheese curds and liberally drizzled with rich brown gravy on many restaurant menus. A few local restaurants use Shultz Family cheese curds for fried cheese curds and one features them in poutine.
Here is a home cook-friendly version with roasted new potatoes and crumbled Cabot, but you can substitute fresh cheese curds from a small, local cheesemaker if you can find them.