NORTH SANDWICH, N.H. - Who would think the road less traveled could lead to a tasty collection of artisan cheeses and gourmet ice cream? In New Hampshire's Lakes Region, salty caerphilly cheese and piquant ginger ice cream can be found at the Sandwich Creamery, a mom-and-pop dairy farm set along a dead-end in the shadows of Whiteface Mountain.
Half the fun of Sandwich Creamery is getting there. Leave the winding North Sandwich back roads for a mile-long ride under tree-canopied dirt roads to Tom and Lisa Merriman's 18-acre farm with cows, calves, chickens, and soothing flower gardens with picnic tables.
Raised on a Rye farm, Tom's enthusiasm for dairy took him to Scotland and England for cheese-making courses. The creamery began operation in 1995, and today the two lifelong Granite Staters, and former teachers, craft their products by hand for visitors to see. Tom is also a skilled carpenter and together the Merrimans built the small facility that houses the store and rooms for making cheese and ice cream.
The couple churn out cheeses, ice creams, and sorbets for area restaurants, farm stands, and markets - and for visitors who stop by any time of day. If no one is around, the store works on the honor system. Customers can pick out what they want in the retail shop, pass their dollar bills through a mail slot, and make change with coins found in a nearby old-fashioned cream separator.
The Merrimans' goal is to produce high-quality, handmade products from local ingredients. They buy their milk from a farm nearby in Bristol. Tom says that the rise of the local food movement has given their business a boost.
They started with cheddar; today they produce six cheeses. They still craft a traditional aged cheddar, along with a maple fire smoked cheddar and a Jersey Jack. Tom's fascination with English cheeses was the motivation for adding caerphilly, first made in the 1830s for Welsh coal miners. Their offerings are rounded off with a creamy brie and a slightly more subdued coulommier. They also sell soft cheese spreads.
Visitors can peer through a window to watch the cheese-making and occasionally get an informal tour. On the days brie is made, watch as the cold milk is poured into a 100-gallon, stainless steel cheese vat and heated to 145 degrees for 30 minutes to undergo pasteurization. After being cooled to 86 degrees, ingredients like cheese culture, rennet (an enzyme), and white mold are added to the mix for flavor to create curds, which are placed into molds. The cheese is set out to dry, salted on the third day, and then aged about two weeks before sale.
As the business grew, so did its offerings. Besides cheese, the Merrimans now concoct around 30 ice cream flavors. There's traditional vanilla and chocolate, but you can also go wild with half pints to quarts of pumpkin, Cow Track (chocolate infused), maple walnut made with syrup from a neighboring sugarhouse, and rum raisin with, yes, rum. Local specialties include the brownie-on-the-bottom Squam Lake Sundae and hazelnut-filled Birch Bark. Sorbet lovers can choose from a palette including lemon squeeze and black raspberry.
The frosty delights are made in the ice cream room, adjacent to the cheese-making operation. A pair of ice cream machines mix the tasty treats. In about 15 minutes, some 10 quarts of ingredients are transformed into 18 quarts of ice cream.
Running a dairy farm along with a cheese and ice cream business keeps Tom and Lisa busy. That's how the honor system was born.
"It can be a long way for some people to come here," says Tom. "We didn't want them to come here and not find us around."
Marty Basch, a New Hampshire-based writer, can be reached at email@example.com.