Inspired by the cheeses of Europe, Valley Shepherd Creamery (VSC) owner Eran Wajswol began his journey of owning his own farm and making and selling cheese ten years ago. Originally starting out with a small acreage raising beef cattle, his interests grew to learning sheep herding and cheese making using European techniques and traditions. Eran’s goal evolved to creating a self-sustained sheep dairy farm, VSC. Rebecca Foxman, Company Executive Chef, sat down with Reading Terminal Market (RTM) to talk cheese, the people who love it, and Philadelphia’s activity in the cheese-sphere.
RTM: What elements do you think make VSC a "destination?"
Rebecca: The farm is definitely a destination. It’s one of the largest sheep dairy farms in the country and carries a natural beauty; guests can watch the cheese making process, see the animals, purchase cheese during their visit, and more. At RTM, we sell those cheeses, use them in our grilled cheeses, distribute them to some of the merchants and local restaurants, and offer cheese making classes.
RTM: To whom does VSC appeal to the most?
Rebecca: It truly appeals to everyone. Our customer base ranges from the corporate business crowd to the young college crowd, and all the travelers and food adventurists in between. For lunch, Meltkraft by VSC is a merchant that allows customers to play it safe with a familiar food, yet still be adventurous at the same time by eating real local cheese and great ingredients. We also try to make buying cheese from our VSC counter fun and easy. Our talented mongers are excited to help our customers.
RTM: What’s the most outrageous grilled cheese someone has ever requested?
Rebecca: There’s a regular customer who always requests a grilled cheese with jalapenos, mac and cheese, chicken, watercress, cranberries and bacon cooked in duck fat. It turns out to be a very expensive grilled cheese.
RTM: How is the rise in artisanal trends contributing to the demand for Meltkraft?
Rebecca: Artisanal is a term used mostly to describe local cheese; meaning the product is made in a traditional, non-mechanized way. We are one of the few businesses out there that makes the cheese we use in our sandwiches. The grilled cheese sphere is growing, and the true artisanal cheese movement is hugely impacting the popularity of grilled cheese. People want local, small batch, handmade whole food products. We deliver that to our customers.
RTM: DiBrunos is a major player in the Philadelphia cheese market. Do you feel under pressure to compete?
Rebecca: No, we most certainly don’t feel under pressure. We like DiBrunos! Competition is a healthy thing; it makes you strive to make your business successful and the best it can be. Together we help bring cheese enthusiasts to the city, help educate people about cheese, and grow the passion of cheese consumption too.
RTM: Have you noticed anything unique about RTM’s customers?
Rebecca: Having worked at Meltkraft in Brooklyn, NY and the Meltkraft in Philadelphia, I feel as though our base here at RTM is more diverse. The people are exceptionally genuine and I find that the city as a whole has a sense of understanding and togetherness.
RTM: Have any of the Merchants inspired creative new grilled cheese concoctions?
Rebecca: The Merchants always inspire new flavors for our products. We have a good working relationship with Molly Malloy’s, Iovine Brothers Produce, Martin’s Quality Meats and Sausages, and Salumeria. Sometimes we use their products and sometimes they use our cheese. The marrying of our businesses creates some great sandwiches.
RTM: Do you have a formulaic process when creating your recipes?
Rebecca: We don’t like to create anything haphazardly, so we always aim to match the message to create a nostalgic feel. Of course we also consider seasonal ingredients, and draw inspiration from pop culture to add a fun touch.
RTM: When hiring new employees, what are you looking for in terms of skill and knowledge of cheese?
Rebecca: We look for people who are genuinely passionate about food and easy to hold a conversation with. We actually prefer for them to come to us with little to no knowledge of traditional cheese mongering because we (our exec cheese monger Zeke and I) like to be the ones to educate them. This education goes beyond VSC products; it’s about cheese culture as a whole.
RTM: What’s the most successful class or demo that VSC does, and why?
Rebecca: The Mozzarella Pulling class is extremely popular. We run four to five classes a month, and each class holds up to twenty people. Participants learn the history of the cheese, and get to practice the technique by pulling their own mozzarella to take home with them.
RTM: What are some passions beyond cheese making that you are immersed in?
Rebecca: I love to cook and experiment with ingredients all the time, even beyond the realm of cheese. I also like exploring the growing beer and cocktail scene in Philly.
RTM: Using the names of cheese, how would you describe VSC?
Rebecca: We can assure you that our cheese is Gouda not Morbier. We never feel Feta up or Bleu.
Valley Shepard Creamery has taken an American favorite and blended it with cheeses made by European traditional methods. Their presence in and out of Reading Terminal Market has made them one of Philadelphia’s foodie favorites. We would like to thank Rebecca for sharing her VSC experiences with us, cheesy and all.