The Big Cheese

Lively Run cheese and wine pairing

Steve Messmer of Lively Run Goat Dairy in Interlaken is passionate about cheese. “For me, personally, as an owner I like the whole philosophical movement part of it,” he says, “bringing local, sustainable food to the American public in the form of cheese. It’s relatively new in this country. We’re more of a reformation than a revolution. We’re a reform to the artistic base of cheese making. We’re going back to our roots.”

Lively Run is one of 12 members of the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail, an association of local farms that started in 2010. Since then, Finger Lakes Cheese Trail members have drawn thousands of visitors to the region and introduced them to a wide variety of locally produced cheeses. Lively Run alone has attracted visitors from as far away as Australia, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

The Finger Lakes Cheese Trail sponsors a variety of events, including a Cheese Festival in July and open houses at least a couple of times a year. This fall’s open house will be on October 11. Also, Cheese Trail members have partnered with local wineries to host “Preferred Pairings” events.

Messmer bought Lively Run in 1995 and moved it to its current location in 1999. It is mostly a family operation – Steve’s wife Susanne and sons Pete and David are employees. Holly Taylor is also a partner in the farm.

Because it takes 10 goats to produce the same amount of milk as one cow, goat milk is more expensive on a pound-for-pound basis. Despite this added cost, Messmer is happy to use mostly goat milk at Lively Run. “The trademark properties of the milk are radically different than cow milk,” says Messmer. “There are a number of results from that fundamental difference. Goat milk and goat milk cheese are way healthier in general.”

Lively Run’s cheeses include several varieties of chevre – the classic goat cheese – as well as Seneca Blue Moon, Goat’s Milk Feta, Finger Lakes Gold and Blue Yonder, a cow’s milk blue cheese.

Irish inspiration at Keeley’s Cheese Company
At Keeley’s Cheese Company in King Ferry, cheese making is also a family business. Keeley McGarr is the head cheese maker. Her parents own the farm, and her husband also helps out.

McGarr grew up on a dairy farm. After a work-study job at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, and a cheese making internship in Ireland, she decided to start Keeley’s Cheese Company in 2009. She says of her time in Ireland that she was “really lucky to work on a farm that started really small and grew into a large business. I got to see the commercial side. That was good for me. It gave me something to work toward.

“I think I wanted to come back to the farm in some capacity,” she adds. “I was going to college in Vermont, and there are a lot of small producers up there. I was studying animal science and dairy studies, so it fit together. I liked the science part of making cheese.”

Keeley’s Cheese Company makes Across the Pond, a semi-soft cheese with a washed rind. McGarr says it is “definitely” influenced by her time in Ireland.

Experimenting at Sunset View Creamery
Carmella Hoffman of Sunset View Creamery in Odessa says her favorite part of the cheese making process is that “sort of self-satisfaction in that I can take a raw product and turn it into something that people enjoy. It’s experimenting.”

Sunset View’s cheeses include cheese curds, flavored cheese curds, Monterey Jacks, cheddars and Heritage, a blend of Parmesan and Swiss. It sits on 415 acres, 120 acres of which are farmed. There are 150 cows and calves. They stay in small, kennel-type shelters that Hoffman calls “cowdiminiums.”

Hoffman says that after the Cheese Trail started, there was a tremendous increase in business, “almost like a floodgate. All members of the trail can see the benefits of being a part of it.” The store at Sunset View also sells other New York state products such as peanut butter, mustard, crackers, fudge, syrup and soaps. “I support people who support me,” she says of the products in her store.

A family tradition at Kenton’s Cheese Co.
Farming is a family tradition for Kenton Burr of Kenton’s Cheese Co. in Trumansburg. The farm began in 1837, making him a sixth-generation dairy farmer. “Making cheese, to me, completes the circle,” he admits. “It helps continue the legacy for the next generation.”

Kenton’s Cheese Co. makes Bianco, a brie-style cheese, and Emmentaler, a Swiss cheese that requires six months of aging. Burr says he started making Bianco because he “wanted to make something that no one else was already making. I wanted to make something that was versatile, that could be used in a lot of different ways, not just on a cheeseboard.”

The most difficult part of cheese making “is the aging process,” he says. “It takes so long from when you make the changes to see if they work or not. With the brie it’s only 60 days, but with the Emmentaler it’s six months. That’s a long time. We have to rely on intuition. The raw milk has to be aged for 60 days.”

In 2009, Kenton’s Cheese Co. received an environmental stewardship award encompassing all of its environmental practices and management of the field and soil from Schuyler County Soil and Water Conservation through the New York State District Agriculture Environmental Management. The cattle are all Ayrshire and Holstein.

Because there is no production facility at Kenton’s Cheese Co., all production has to be completed off-site. Burr says he may add an on-site production facility in the future. For now, cheese from Kenton’s Cheese Co. is available at farmer’s markets in Ithaca and Trumansburg, as well as
grocery stores in the Finger Lakes.

Finger Lakes Cheese Trail Members
Note: Not all farms are open to the public. Please call ahead or visit the website.

Dutch Hill Creamery
114 Knapp Hill Rd.
Chenango Forks, NY 13746

Engelbert Farms
182 Sunnyside Rd.
Nichols, NY 13812

Finger Lakes Dexter Creamery
1852 Black Rock Rd.
King Ferry, NY 13081

Hillcrest Dairy
66 W. Cayuga St.
Moravia, NY 13118

Jerry Dell Farm & Store 
41 Fall Creek Rd.
Freeville, NY 13068

Keeley’s Cheese Company
539 Rt. 34B
King Ferry, NY 13081

Kenton’s Cheese Co.
5939 Burr Rd.
Trumansburg, NY 14886

Lively Run Goat Dairy
8979 County Road 142
Interlaken, NY 14847

Muranda Cheese Company
3075 State Route 96 South
Waterloo, NY 13165

Shtayburne Farm
2909 Chase Rd.
Rock Stream, NY 14876

Sunset View Creamery
4970 County Road 14
Odessa, NY 14869

Vanillen Dairy
6762 Log City Rd.
Ovid, NY 14521

Visit to view a map

by Michael Fallone

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