by Jenn Marcos-Tripoli
I'm going to start this by giving you a little history lesson (this was never my strong-suit in school, so I'll keep this very short and sweet). Let's rewind about 6,100 years when people produced wine because consuming alcohol was more sanitary than drinking the local water supply. From that point on, as wine-making spread across the continents into Europe, the first "foodies" began pairing their region's wines with local fare, especially charcuterie - regionally produced artisan meats and cheeses - to enhance their tasting experiences. And here we are in in 2014, continuing the age-old tradition of wine pairings in our wine tasting room in New Bedford using exceptional local artisanal cheeses from Shy Brothers Farm of Westport, MA. And as they say, the rest is history!
We've been carrying Shy Brothers' cheeses for a little over a year now after trading tastings at the Coastal Wine Trail Summer Wine, Chocolate & Cheese Festival and realizing how well our local wines paired with the cheese from this local dairy farm. I was invited to tour the farm and cheese house Westport on a cold, snowy morning in March. I met with cheese-maker Karl Santos, as well as staff member Kate, to learn more about the farm and the process that goes into making their award-winning hand-made cheeses.
The farm is run by the four (very shy) Santos brothers, two sets of fraternal twins - Karl and Kevin, Arthur and Norman. They are third generation dairy farmers, and a couple of years back in order to sustain their farm, they decided to delve into cheese-making. A trip to France led Karl and business partners Barbara Hanley and Leo Brooks to Burgundy, where they discovered a style of goat's milk cheese called "boutons de culotte" which literally translates from French to "trouser buttons." They fell in love with the button-sized cheeses, the complexity of the flavors and the process which takes 10 days to produce. They came back to Westport, tweaked the recipe to suit the milk from their 120 cows (I got to meet the cutest day-old calf when I visited!), added delicious herbs like rosemary, lavender buds or chopped shallots, and decided to name the little morsels of goodness "Hannahbells" - an ode to their Mom, Hannah, and the bell-like shape of the cheese.
Hannahbells are made from a base of their very popular artisanal cheese curd, Cloumage. Essentially, Cloumage is blended up in very small batches with each herb, and spread into tiny molds that stay in a temperature and humidity-regulated room to age for about a week before being packaged and shipped or delivered to some of the best restaurants and groceries on the East Coast.
Hannahbells are great because they are so versatile. Since they are so small, they are great snacks to just pop while watching TV or playing board games, or you can toss some into pastas or casseroles to amp up the creaminess and flavor. They also sell Cloumage, which is creamy with an addictive and delicious tang, is just as versatile and can be used for just about anything - savory stuffed pastas instead of ricotta, sweet cheesecakes instead of cream cheese.
We are lucky to have sampler packs of their Hannahbells at the winery to offer daily pairings along with our local wines to enhance the tasting experience. Lee's Market in Westport, MA, also carries packages of each of their Hannahbell flavors, as well as Cloumage, if you want to check it out!
Until next time, cheers!