Since I began working at Formaggio Kitchen South End, I have been drawn to a selection of small goat milk cheeses made by Tricia Smith at Ruggles Hill Creamery in Hardwick, MA. Shifting from the world of art and museums to cheese, I was at first more attuned to the visual details of the cheeses I encountered than I was able to analyze the incredible flavors and aromas they offered. Tricia’s cheeses, such as the delicate Ada’s Honor and the silvery gray Brother’s Walk struck me as distinctly beautiful for their carefully developed rinds and snowy white interiors.
Of course, the pleasures of Tricia’s cheeses are not only visual; I have yet to taste a goat cheese with quite the same velvety texture or mouth-watering balance of milky and lemony flavors. And yet, I will always think of these cheeses from a visual standpoint. Seeing them clustered together in the cheese case, I am reminded of the still life paintings of Giorgio Morandi – a lesser-known Italian artist who devoted much of his career to depicting collections of bottles and vases in a muted palette with careful attention to light and shadow. His work is subtle and meditative, using the same basic components over and over to create an atmosphere of distilled serenity. I experienced a similar mood a few weeks ago when I had the privilege of visiting Tricia’s cheese room at Ruggles Hill.
Afternoon light shone on cool grey tiles and stainless-steel countertops as Tricia instructed my co-worker Ross and I on ladling fresh curd into various molds. We stacked the yogurt-like substance in layers into each mold, allowing the whey to drain off under its own weight. Earlier, Tricia had shown us trays of young cheeses just beginning to form rinds. She took each one and patted it down with neat, even movements to ensure that the molds that create the rind grew evenly on the surface. Cheesemakers work with relatively few ingredients and yet the manner in which they manipulate milk, rennet, and bacteria cultures can lead to as many kinds of cheese as there are styles of painting.
Like Morandi, the beauty of Tricia’s cheese is in the details. From breeding her goats and milking them by hand to designing a microvat for small batches of milk, Tricia knows what goes into her work as intimately as Morandi did the objects he painted. Milk quality is a priority for Tricia, as shown by the consistently high results of her state milk tests. From that milk, she creates cheese that is elegant in both taste and appearance. When I see the fine line of ash running just under the rind on Alys’s Eclipse, it evokes the delicate shadows that define the curves of Morandi’s bottles. In the diffused light of the cheese room I can see Tricia bringing the same patience and dedication to her work that Morandi did in his shadowy studio. As different as their craft may be, it is this attention to artistry that links Ruggles Hill and Morandi in my mind.
Maarit Ostrow is a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen South End and an aspiring curator.