David F. Romero
Begun as a cooperative business among a group of neighbors, FireFly Farms in Garrett County is bringing a whole new flavor of goat cheese to markets all over Mar yland.
While most cheese lovers think of goat cheese as a traditional soft chevre, the owners and employees at FireFly have been working hard over the past six years to change that perception. While you can certainly buy traditional goat cheese from FireFly, the farm currently offers nine artisan cheeses, including a rich blue known as Mountain Top Bleu. The farm’s cheeses, like its owners and producers, are an interesting mix of traditional and innovative.
Michael Koch, an executive at Fannie Mae in Washington, DC, and his partner, Pablo Solanet, had long enjoyed making cheese in their own kitchen when the desire for a second home in the mountains brought them to Garrett. There they purchased a 130-acre farm adjacent to the dairy-farming Brenneman family.
Michael, whose Swiss ancestors were dair y farmers, thought it would be fun to raise goats and start making cheese on a large scale with Pablo’s help. A native of Argentina, Pablo had professional training in both pastry and cheese making. “It was hard, though,” says FireFly Farms’ Director of Sales and Marketing Andrea Cedro. “Raising animals and making cheese both take a lot of work.”
As a result, the farm-based creamery recently decided to purchase its goat milk from three local Amish farmers and focus exclusively on cheese making, all of which is done by hand, largely by Andrea’s husband, Matt Cedro. Trained in culinary arts and formerly a chef in Pittsburgh, Matt was eager for the new challenge. “We wanted to move to Garrett County,” notes Andrea, “and we saw an ad in the paper for a cheese-making apprentice.” That was five years ago, and the Cedros are still an integral part of this small business, which has only three full-time staffers.
“This is not a cookie-cutter product,” Andrea explains. “All our cheese is stirred, logged, and wrapped by hand. The process begins when Matt adds cultures to pasteurized milk. Then the cheese is cooled, scooped into forms or bags, depending on the type of cheese, then allowed to drip, and finally placed in the aging room, where it is carefully monitored.”
Andrea adds that FireFly’s cheeses age anywhere from three weeks to seven or eight months. Flavors range from Merry Goat Round, FireFly’s version of brie, to Roasted Garlic and Herb Meadow Chevre. While FireFly doesn’t currently have a retail shop at the Brenneman farm where its plant is located, the company is working on a new plant in McHenry that will be four times the size of its present one and will also include a shop. “We don’t have a huge sales force or a lot of marketing money,” says Andrea. “Most of our business comes through word of mouth.”
FireFly cheese has steadily worked its way into restaurants and specialty-food and retail shops all over Maryland. The brand can also be found in Mid-Atlantic Whole Foods stores.
“The whole phenomenon of people wanting to tr y different cheeses has been a huge benefit to us,” Andrea explains. “A lot of fine restaurants have cheese boards on their menus, and people want to buy the cheeses they eat in restaurants. The whole trend of people buying locally has also been a big help.”
Interested in nibbling FireFly cheese or touring the company’s Bittinger plant? Call 301-245-4630 or visit www.fireflyfarms.com.