Taste the Difference
Words and Photos by Austen Diamond
“A happy cheesemaker makes a happy cheese,” says Corine Coniglio.
Deer Valley Resort’s resident cheesemaker starts her day early, but probably not why you’d think.
The cheesemaking process can wait until after she’s gotten some fresh tracks. Coniglio’s passions are skiing and cheese, so you might say that every work day is a perfect day.
Around 11 a.m., Coniglio heads to her ski locker, located directly in front of the dedicated cheesemaking kitchen at Silver Lake Lodge. She exchanges ski boots for sanitary booties, and helmet for hairnet.
Walking into the kitchen, Coniglio finds her assistant, Dianna Cappas — who takes the early shift so Coniglio can ski — belting along to a Broadway show tune blasting over the speakers.
“The cheese likes it,” Coniglio says with a chuckle. “We talk to them, we complement them, we pet them, we flip them, we change their diaper if needed.” Whatever it takes.
Coniglio, a native of Belgium from a French-speaking family talks to the cheese in both English and French. "Oh la la comme ils sont jolis mes petits fromages," she coos. (She is commenting on her "pretty little cheeses.")
Deer Valley Artisan Cheese begins with fresh local milk for optimum flavor. Drums of fresh, raw cow’s milk from Heber Valley Cheese, located in nearby Midway, Utah, come in daily, along with goat’s and sheep’s milks from the Salt Lake and Sanpete valleys. (The goat's milk comes from Drake Family Farms in West Jordan, a few miles southwest of Salt Lake City and the sheep's milk comes from Cedar Creek Sheep Dairy in Mt. Pleasant, about two hours south.)
The milk used in cheeses such as brie are pasteurized; once the milk cools to temperature, cultures are added, and the curd begins to form. The curd is cut with a special copper tool, which looks like an ancient stringed instrument (Coniglio shows a picture of herself playing the cutter like a guitar, which is especially humorous with her hairnet on).
The curd is scooped into molds, with finishing touches applied, and sent to the aging caves. These specialized refrigerators mimic the humidity, airflow, and temperatures of ancient French cheese caves.
The bries are ready in about 10 days, whereas blue cheese and other raw-milk cheeses must age for a minimum of 60 days by U.S. law. In total, Coniglio makes between 30 and 60 pounds of cheese a day.
“It’s a slow process, but it’s very peaceful,” Coniglio says. Despite a fairly standardized process from start to finish, she says that there’s a lot of personalized touch in making cheese. So each batch can vary.
“It’s not like canned goods or mass-produced cheeses, where you cut open a wheel and you know exactly what to expect,” Coniglio says. “It’s always a surprise, so it’s a bit magical.”
Coniglio began making cheese inadvertently. She married an American and soon moved with him from Connecticut to the North Fork Valley in Colorado. There, she realized the thriving wine-making industry was not supported by local, artisan cheese. Why not give the enterprise a go then? Coniglio began dabbling in cheesemaking by purchasing a neighbor’s goat milk. When business became so successful, she was forced to invest in her own two goats.
Next thing she knew, seven years later, Coniglio had a trip of 50 goats. She was selling cheese to the wineries and at local farmers markets, and sales were good. However, a divorce with her husband — her then business partner — led to selling off the goats to a farmer in Midway. She decided to start anew and moved to Midway to help the farmer make cheese.
With tested recipes in hand, Coniglio became a cheesemaking consultant to farmers around the Intermountain West and beyond. She helped the Midway farmer sell his cheese to Deer Valley, and when the farmer decided to get out of the cheesemaking game, Coniglio took the opportunity to inquire about work at Deer Valley Resort. Clark Norris, Silver Lake Lodge executive chef, wasted no time offering her a job.
During her first year at Deer Valley, Coniglio utilized the main kitchen during off hours — from about 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. But demand was so good for the immaculate Capra Bella feta, the divine Triple Truffle brie, the mesmerizing Moon Shadow ash-ripened goat cheese, and more, that Silver Lake Lodge went in for the second kitchen, dedicated exclusively to cheese production.
The Deer Valley cheese program is now in its fourth year, and Coniglio currently produces nine cheeses. She thinks this high-elevation cheese adventure is happening at the right place. To her knowledge, no other ski resort in America is making cheese daily, on site, from local milk. But the important thing is that the artisan cheese adds to Deer Valley’s exquisite dining experience.
“Customers come from all over the world to ski and eat here,” Coniglio says. “They want unusual cheeses, and they know the good stuff.” You know, the kind that buckles your knees. Happy cheese.
Deer Valley Artisan Cheese can be found at Silver Lake Lodge, Deer Valley Grocery Cafe, and Harmons in Salt Lake City.
Deer Valley Resort
How to Cut the Cheese
More often than not, people cut the cheese incorrectly. Never cut the tip off of a triangle of cheese. “In France, that’s how you show your disagreement with someone,” Coniglio says. On a more practical note, cheese ages from the outside, or rind, inwards. So by shaving off a slice along the edge of the triangle, you’re getting a full profile of the cheese and its maturation.
As one of Utah’s most popular luxury mountain resorts, Deer Valley Resort goes out of its way to ensure the best skiing experience possible. Deer Valley limits the number of lift tickets sold in a day, grooms like a champion and keeps their season nice and tight to ensure premium ski conditions.
Meanwhile, many believe Deer Valley boasts some of the best slope-side hotel lodging anywhere, including the modern and luxurious St. Regis and Montage, in addition to hundreds of condo properties right on the mountain. To help you make the most of your ski vacation, plan on enjoying a meal — including some local artisan cheese — or scheduling a spa day to best experience all that Deer Valley has to offer.