An insider's view of the Connecticut dining scene
Aug 13, 2013
09:35 AM
The Connecticut Table

Cheese as Sexy as Manolo Blahniks? Arethusa Farm of Litchfield Wins Awards

Famously a lover of cheese, the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste, said, “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”

Beautiful women (and men), wine, cheese—there’s a natural affinity among these lifestyle graces. One Connecticut epicenter at the moment for this eye- or palate-pleasing trinity is the small, rural borough of Bantam, a section of larger and (until recently) loftier Litchfield, home to signers of the Declaration of Independence and America’s first law school, among many other attributes.

In Bantam, where factories once provided a jagged juxtaposition to the beauty of the nearby lake the borough shares its name with, there is an ongoing blossoming of fine dining options, the arts and emporiums of home design and decor.

What’s all that have to do with cheese? A lot, actually.

Cheese arrived in Bantam courtesy of the refined agricultural engine that is driving the Bantam renaissance, Arethusa Farm, the dairy operation of George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, owners of Manolo Blahnik USA, the couture shoe company whose sex appeal was made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker’s character on “Sex and the City.”

First Arethusa Farm, headquartered on a gorgeous spread in the South Farms area of Litchfield, opened a creamery and retail store in the old firehouse in Bantam, selling its milk, ice cream, yogurt and, yes, cheeses—and then in June, an adjacent building became home to Arethusa al tavolo, a very stylish, Tuscan-inspired wine bar and restaurant. (See my first story on al tavolo and stay tuned for an update on the wine bar coming soon to this site.)

Now, Arethusa has brought home a couple of major awards from the American Cheese Society’s annual cheese competition, held at the end of July and beginning of August in Madison, Wis. The sour cream earned a third place award, while Arethusa’s creamy camembert scored a second place in the farmstead cheeses category, which is “limited to cheeses and fermented milk products made with milk from herds on the farm where the cheeses are produced.”

First place in the category went to the Coach Farm Triple Cream of Coach Farm in the Hudson Valley, and third place went to the Dancing Fern cheese of Sequatchie Cove Creamery in Tennessee.

The top award in the entire competition, the Best in Show cheese, went to the Cellars at Jasper Hill in Vermont for its Winnimere. Second place overall went to the Bear Hill cheese of Grafton Village Cheese in Vermont, and in a tie, third place went to two cheeses of the Bleu Mont Dairy, Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana. See the full list of winners.

 

Giving some measure of how impressive it was for Arethusa, a relative new kid on the cheese making block, to bring home two awards is the fact that 257 companies submitted 1,794 different products to the competition.

And as much as this all might seem like information for cheese geeks to chew on, the American Cheese Society is more Manolo than mathematical. “Unlike other cheese competitions, where cheeses are only graded down for technical defects, ACS’s goal is to give positive recognition to those cheeses that are of the highest quality in their aesthetic and technical evaluation,” its website says.

The word aesthetic is apt, and important. While it’s a given that everything Arethusa does is technically perfect, the aesthetics—with regard to the ice cream, the wine bar and all of the products' deep, rich flavors—are what put the experience over the top.

Putting Brillat-Savarin’s signature experiences together—beautiful place, beautiful people, wonderful wine, and great cheese—is easily done at Arethusa al tavolo, where the artisan cheese plate ($16) is served with a fresh honey comb, Melba toast, spiced walnuts and ripe fruits.

Or, especially with autumn closing in and dark evenings by the fire to follow that, you can do what I personally did with absolute contentment on a number of weekends last winter—which was to buy wedges of Arethusa cheeses in the creamery and pair them in the comfort of home with very nice Italian red wines. The creamery and retail store is located at 822 Bantam Road (Route 202) in the Bantam section of Litchfield. The phone number is 860-361-6600 and the email is shop@arethusafarm.com.

(Why not add to that recipe a novel by Umberto Eco, perhaps sourced at Dickens Books and Art, some crusty artisan bread from the Bantam Bread Company, a handmade serving vessel from Bantam Tileworks in a hue an Italian Surrealist could love, some olives from the gourmet Bantam Market, candlestick holders as a décor and lighting flourish from The Housatonic Trading Co., and decorate the table with flowers from Brierwood Nurseries—you get the idea.)

 

Cheese as Sexy as Manolo Blahniks? Arethusa Farm of Litchfield Wins Awards

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