Sequatchie Cove Farms Dancing Fern
By Billy Lunsford, Assistant Grocery Manager
Over the last few decades the artisan cheese movement has been growing by leaps and bounds here in the States. You can go almost anywhere, to almost any region of the United States (U.S.), to almost any climate, and find local, handmade cheese. To set yourself apart from the pack is becoming harder and harder, and cheese makers must work not only more diligently but also smarter and with an eye to ecologically sound practices to make a name for themselves in this ever burgeoning field. One farm that really has set itself apart, both in quality of product and for its sustainability practices, is the Sequatchie Cove Farm.
Located in Sequatchie County, Tennessee, just outside of Chattanooga, this farm boasts not only delicious artisan cheese but also grass fed beef and pork, as well as raw milk. Run by Bill and Miriam Keener, Kelsey and Ashley Keener, Miriam's parents Jim and Emily Wright, Nathan and Padgett Arnold, Randall Tomlinson, and seasonal helpers from their local community, Sequatchie Cove knows what it means to be a group of close-knit folks with a common goal in mind. Their heartfelt slogan is "From our family farm to your family table," and they really practice what they preach. This is just one snippet from the Seqautchie Cove Farm website:
"The health of the land, water, air, livestock, and ourselves are all linked inextricably. We make decisions and work with this basic philosophy close to our hands and our hearts. You can be sure that all of our products arrive at your door with this level of integrity in mind.
How we raise our animals is very important to us. Our animals spend their entire lives grazing in open pastures. They graze, scratch, root, and roam the way the animals were designed to. We use no pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, or growth promoting hormones. Just earth, water, compost, and careful management.
We raise healthy, content animals in order to provide a product healthy for our consumption, our environment, and our whole human ecology. Each day we learn a bit more about what each animal needs to live a stress-free and productive life. If an animal is stressed, the whole farm, including the farmer, is stressed. They know us, we know them, and we treat them with respect."
This is never more evident than in their award-winning, soft-ripened, deliciousness known as Dancing Fern, a Reblochon-style cheese. The United States has not been able to get a true Reblochon cheese since the laws surrounding raw milk and raw milk cheese changed (thanks, FDA). Reblochon is aged only 50 days, ten days shorter than the 60-day aging that the U.S. requires for all raw milk cheeses. If you aren't familiar with this cheese that was the first of the Savoie region to be named controlled under the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, the governing body over cheese, 1958), Reblochon is a soft washed rind cheese that has been made since the 14th century. Traditionally, mountain farmers would hold back some of the milk in order to pay less taxes to the landowner. This milk would be less abundant, but much richer in fat and make a wonderful cheese. Reblocher translates to re-milk, literally to pinch a cow's udder again. In lieu of going to France, I recommend hunting down the Dancing Fern.
As Matt Spiegler of cheesenotes.com describes it:
"Dancing Fern is made in one pound wheels with the milk of Devon cows — an heirloom breed far less common in the States — and aged for just over 60 days, allowing it to be made with raw milk. With a delicate, pillowy white rind over a golden-hued, velvety oozing paste, the flavors are reminiscent of a rich, cultured butter with notes of walnuts, mushrooms and grasses with a lovely earth, musty undertone. A delicate, even mild cheese but with an impressive depth and complexity. "
How Sequatchie Cove Farms manages to age this soft-ripened treasure for 60 days (allowing them to use the traditional raw milk) and still have a product this moist and buttery is a mystery. A mystery that I'm fine to leave undiscovered as long as I can have this delectable cheese. Made in limited quantities and very hard to lay your hands on, especially if you are not in the south, Dancing Fern is a wonderful representation of true artisanship. Come try some for yourself!