Mystic Cheese Company built on tradition, ingenuity

Photo by Linda Pugliese Spring egg toast with green garlic and Melinda Mae

When you literary types hear the names Melville and Melinda Mae you obviously think of Herman Melville, author of " Moby Dick" and may even know the more obscure fact that Melinda Mae is a girl who eats a whale in a Shel Silverstein poem.

You probably don't think of cheese.

But those are actually the names of the first two original American cheeses to be made by The Mystic Cheese Company - inspired by owner/founder Brian Civitello's favorite literature.

Civitello uses a number of awesome alliterations to describe Melinda Mae:

"Melinda Mae is a rinded soft ripened 5.5-ounce square cow's milk cheese concisely curated in our ripening room for 23.5 days at 87.5 percent relative humidity. Premeditated not to pillage palettes and conquer cuisine, Melinda Mae marries well with malty brews, lighthearted whites, and mother nature's initial annual offerings of wild edibles, crisp cultivables, and preservable pomum."

Melville, he says, "is a soft ripened cow's milk cheese square aged in our ripening room a fleeting seven days…Young Melville has a bright acidic and briny edge that quickly reaches a fine equilibrium of mellow tartness masked with rich lactones and a mild buttery finish."

Everything about the Mystic Cheese Company, still in its infancy, is unconventional; including the way the cheese is made - in a pod, which is actually a mobile artisan cheese factory.

"We took two large recycled chipping containers and turned them into a mobile cheese making infrastructure, which means we make cheese inside the containers on a farm," Civitello explains. "The best way to get great tasting cheese is to have fresh, clean milk. So our first mobile installation is at Gray Wall Farm in Lebanon where we started in November."

The operation begins at 7 a.m. when Civitello and his small crew begin collecting the warm milk.

The cheese couldn't be fresher, he says, because "While they milk the cows, we draw off milk directly from the cows. Our milk is never cooled. It goes straight from the cow into our pasteurizer.

Civitello says that what he is doing has never been done before in the U.S. or even in the world.

"We're the only cheese makers that don't own a farm. I created the cheese pod. I designed and built everything from scratch. It just came out of my head. All the equipment inside it is homemade."

CHEESE JOURNEY

Civitello grew up on a 50-acre farm in Salem.

"My grandfather was a first generation immigrant from Italy," Civitello says. "He was into farming and cooking and keeping animals. I had a very food-oriented upbringing. He always had a fondness for cheese. He told me a story of when he first came to this country and his family kept some goats and he would make cheese."

Inspired by his grandfather's story, Civitello set out on a journey in his early 20s. He went overseas and apprenticed with all sorts of cheese makers in Italy - both artisan and industrial. When he returned to the U.S. he finished a degree in agricultural economics at University of Connecticut with the intention of starting his own cheese company one day.

Civitello began making cheese 15 years ago and opened a consulting company four years ago. He then started traveling around the country, teaching people how to make better cheese and he was also involved in designing factories for cheese makers. He founded The Mystic Cheese Company two years ago.

"I spent the last 15 years of my career trying to open my own company. It's taken me awhile to get there," Civitello admits. "'Melinda Mae' is really a poem about finishing something you start. Cheese-making is a tough career path. It's a lot of hard and physical work. It takes a lot to create your own company and get it going. A lot of people don't follow through with it. Most of the day is spent cleaning, 20 percent making cheese."

Civitello plans to continue to blend art and science and release a total of five cheeses.

"There's a big artisan cheese movement in the U.S. I use what I learned in Europe and combined with general curiosity and experimentation, I've come up with my own original American recipes that don't taste like any other cheeses."

Why The Mystic Cheese Company if it's based in Lebanon? Within the year Civitello plans to open a retail and education center for cheese in Mystic.

"I'm building up varieties on the manufacturing side and then I'll launch into the retail side," he says.

Currently The Mystic Cheese Company produces a few hundred pounds of cheese a day and ships more than 600 pieces of cheese a week in Connecticut alone. Mystic Cheese can be found in restaurants and cheese stores and was just selected to be sold at Whole Foods markets.

If you can't get to a Whole Foods, on Sunday, The Mystic Cheese Company will be at the Grilled Cheese Get Down at Gray Wall Farm in Lebanon. Mystic Cheese will serve special seasonal grilled cheeses featuring Melville and Melinda Mae along with a green salad and gazpacho from the Caseus Grilled Cheese Truck, seltzer and soda from Hosmer Mountain, and ice cream from The Farmer's Cow.

SPRING EGG TOAST WITH GREEN GARLIC AND MELINDA MAE

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, separated

1 stalk green garlic, white and light green parts sliced thin

4 eggs

1/4 cup whole milk

Heaping 1/2 cup Melinda Mae, cubed

2 (or more) thin slices of Melinda Mae

Salt and pepper to taste

2 slices of bread, toasted

In a small frying pan, melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter on medium high heat, add green garlic. Cook until browned and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

In a double boiler, with the water on a low simmer, add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, milk, eggs, salt and pepper. Wisk until the eggs begin to take some shape, 1 to 2 minutes.

Using a heat proof spatula, continue stirring the eggs. About halfway through cooking time, after approximately 5 minutes, add the cooked green garlic and cubed Melinda Mae and fold into the egg mixture to incorporate. Continue stirring until the eggs have reached your preferred consistency. Ideally they will still be wet, but soft, fluffy, and cooked through.

Spoon egg mixture onto toasts, lay slices of Melinda Mae on top, and place under the broiler for a minute or so, just until the cheese melts. Serve immediately.

 

IF YOU GO

What: The Grilled Cheese Get Down

When: Sunday, May 18, 2:30-4:30 p.m.

Where: Gray Wall Farm and The Mystic Cheese Pod, 49 Chapell Road Lebanon

How much: Tickets are $22.75 and available at http://www.zvents.com/lebanon_ct/events/show/370233966-the-grilled-cheese-get-down. Refunds will be given in the event of rain. Tickets include live music by Hannah Fair. Bring your own seating.

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