Some home cooks ferment their own yogurt or make mozzarella from a kit. Matt Spiegler takes DIY dairy to another dimension: Technically he’s a layman — keeping his day job as a web developer, and giving his homemade caseus away to friends — but he is anything but an amateur.
In his tidy Second Street kitchen, Spiegler, 40, creates real cheese — bloomy rounds of Brie; pinkish slabs of washed-rind beauties; mold-ripened Gowanish, made with raw goat’s milk; and tangy tommes with butter-colored pastes — that look and taste like they belong in a professional cheese case.
In fact some have already made their way there: After a recent stage at Vermont’s Woodcock Farm, Spiegler washed some of the cheeses he made on-site with a smoked porter from Queens’s new Finback Brewery. Billed under his byline at Saxelby Cheesemongers in the Essex Market, they sold for $21.99 a pound.
A graduate of the cheesemaking certificate program at Vermont’s Institute of Artisan Cheese, Spiegler hopes to try his hand at more “gypsy” cheesemaking in borrowed pro spaces. Until then, his home base is his apartment kitchen, aka his “nano-creamery.”
It’s an apt description, considering the place is home to teetering stacks of perforated plastic cheese molds, a stainless-steel spring press for packing curds, cheesemaking books with recipes for blending cultures, a tub of commercial-grade dairy sanitizer and two freestanding wine refrigerators, whose humidity- and temperature-controlled racks serve as Spiegler’s stand-in for caves. (One was purchased from Ted Allen, who posted it on Craigslist after the celeb chef renovated his Clinton Hill home.)
He admits the work appeals to both sides of his brain: “It has the complexity of creating,” he says, “but with a very technical mindset.”
Spiegler is one of a tiny number of homestead cheesemakers in the city; they occasionally get together to swap samples and share stories of their shared passion. For Spiegler, the obsession seems obvious, given his heritage (his mother is French) and his education, at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, part of a 400-acre biodynamic farm upstate, complete with 65 dairy cows and an on-site creamery.
Today Spiegler gets his milks from several pristine local sources. His long-term goal is to make cheese professionally, perhaps upstate, where all the milk is, or maybe right here in Brooklyn.
Why shouldn’t Gowanus have the first Brooklyn creamery, he muses aloud.
Some would argue it already does.