A Visit to Shellbark with WHYY
Back in December, I trekked out to Shellbark Hollow Farm with a television crew from WHYY, my local PBS affiliate. The producer, Monica Rogozinski, wanted to shoot an episode of her popular “Art of Food” segment about the Philadelphia cheese scene. I wrote this post to coincide with the show’s airing, this week on WHYY Friday Arts. In case you missed it, click here to watch The Art of Food segment on Madame Fromage!
When I moved to Philadelphia a decade ago, the first local goat cheese I tasted was a creamy flavor bomb called Shellbark Sharp II. Most soft goat cheeses are grassy little things, bright and tangy, but not what you’d call assertive. Shellbark Sharp II is a bruiser, “a chèvre with attitude,” as its maker, Pete Demchur, likes to say.
Pete’s a legend in the Philadelphia cheese scene, an industrial machinast who makes cheese by night. He welds all of his own equipment and operates out of his bachelor pad — a cozy cabin surrounded by sprawl — just outside the city. In a land of swing sets and patio furniture, Pete milks goats, fixes old cars, and mans his cheese cave which is made out of a jiggered Pepsi fridge.
It’s the life of a successful DIY cheesemaker.
Since I first tasted Pete’s cheese, I’ve been curious to see his operation. Visiting his closet-sized cheese room reminded me that a little entrepreneurial elbow grease and a willingness to work with limited space can produce something rather exquisite.
Pete’s hobby began with a pair of goats named Natalie and Nelly — a father’s day gift. Nearly twenty years later, his hand-made hunks appear all over the city, from Talula’s Daily and Metropolitan Bakery to Di Bruno Bros. and the Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market.
Two things from our interview with Pete stand out: 60-70% of what he earns from selling cheese get spent on labor and feed. (He employs helpers at the farm and at farmers’ markets, and he buys locally grown western alfalfa — quality feed equals quality cheese). Also, I’ve never heard anyone speak so lovingly about buck genetics.
“Cold Comfort Lafayette,” Pete kept saying, referring to a favorite buck. All I could think of was how great that name was — hopefully, Pete will name a cheese after him.
One of my favorite pairings: Shellbark Sharp II crostini with dried figs, walnuts, fresh thyme, and a drizzle of buckwheat honey.
A big thanks to Monica Rogozinski of WHHY for taking interest in Pennsylvania cheese. And to Pete Demchur for taking a day off work to participate in this filming.