Maryland Wine Festival pairs with cheese

The Maryland Cheese Pavilion is a new attraction at this year's festival.

NEW WINDSOR — As she scooped the curds from her sheep's milk into molds, Colleen Histon explained how she prepares Tomae, a wash rind semi-hard Italian style cheese.

Tomae will be one of the cheeses Shepherds Manor Creamery of New Windsor will have for sale at the Maryland Wine Festival this weekend, Sept. 19 and 20, at the Carroll County Farm Museum in Westminster. Shepherds Manor is one of four creameries featured at the Maryland Cheese Pavilion, an attraction new this year to the wine festival.


"I love getting out there and sharing my wares. We're very lucky to have this opportunity," said Colleen Histon, who co-owns Shepherds Manor with husband Michael. "We hope the Maryland Cheese Pavilion will be successful and grow over time."

The New Windsor Town Council had encouraged the Histons to start a cheese festival, but they decided they could not take on the responsibility, Colleen Histon said.

Instead, last April, the couple met with the Maryland Cheese Guild's founder Alicia Clugh, Maryland Wineries Association's executive director Kevin Atticks and Carroll County Farm Museum's director Joanne Weant to discuss incorporating a cheese pavilion into the wine festival's attractions.

"It's a natural fit," Weant said. "Nothing goes together better than wine and cheese."

Shepherds Manor will sample and sell Tomae; a Tomae with an olive oil and cocoa powder rind; Colbere, a Colby-style cheese aged in shrink wrap like a cheddar; Colbere with herbs; Fetina, a salt-brined, shrink-wrapped Feta cheese; and a fresh cheese called Ewe Crème.

Histon said she is always happy to answer questions about her cheese.

"I really love to educate the public," she said. "It's amazing how many people don't know anything about farms or cheese making. It's a lot of fun to get out there and show it off."

Histon said she produces 850 cheese wheels a year. The Histons purchased their first dairy sheep in 2008 and bought their farm in 2009. In 2011, the couple built a dairy to harvest and process the sheep's milk. In 2012, the Histons started milking the sheep twice a day and Colleen began making cheese at night; now she makes cheese full-time.

"It's a major commitment," she said. "We milk 70 East Friesian and Lacaune sheep. Next year we hope to do more."

The Maryland Cheese Pavilion will also feature cheese from Firefly Farms, Caprikorn Farms and Whispering Breeze Farm in Taneytown.

Katie Brower, owner of Whispering Breeze, said she is eager to participate in an event so close to home.

"We're excited to meet everyone and educate visitors about the dairy industry and our cheese," Brower said.

Brower said she will sell and sample an Italian cheese and a smoked cheddar. She said she will also be entering some of her cheese in Saturday morning's artisan cheese contest.

According to Clugh, the cheese contest will be judged by two representatives of the American Cheese Society and a cheese-making teacher from Virginia. The winners of the contest will display certificates during the festival.


"We're hoping to spread the word about local cheese. A lot of people don't know that cheese is made right here in Maryland," Clugh said. "We want to support the local creameries and get consumers excited about the cheese-making process."

The Cheese Pavilion isn't the only new attraction at this year's Wine Festival, which is in its 32nd year.

According to Weant, another addition this year is the Explorer Pass.

The $50 Explorer Pass includes a 16-ounce sommelier tasting glass, samples of premium wines exclusive to Explorer Pass holders, a tented Hilltop Hangout and a private restroom.

"It gets you a little more face time with the wineries and the true connoisseurs get additional opportunities to sample wines from the best of the best," said Weant, of the farm museum.

Ashli Johnson, Old Westminster Winery's marketing director, said she and her colleagues look forward to the wine festival every year.

"It's a great opportunity to connect with local wineries and the community," Johnson said.

Johnson said the winery will feature a barrel of a red variety and allow the general public to taste wine during its aging process.

"Drew Baker, our vineyard manager, will be pouring samples from our barrel of red wine. He will be sharing his knowledge and explaining the differences in the vintages and the fermentation process," Johnson said.

Ray Brasfield, owner of Cygnus Wine Cellars in Manchester, said he has participated in the festival for years and looks forward to selling his wares.

"It's the oldest wine festival on the East Coast," he said. "It's changed over the years, but it's still pretty successful."

Atticks and Weant confirmed that a five-year contract has recently been completed to keep the festival at the museum.

"We're really excited about it," Weant said. "This year's festival features more food vendors than ever, great live bands both days and a variety of craft vendors and artisans."


If you go:

What: Maryland Wine Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 19; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20.

Where: Carroll County Farm Museum, 500 S. Center St., Westminster. Parking is limited. Shuttles will be available at the Carroll Community College and the Carroll County Office Building.

Costs: $30 general admission. $50 Explorer Pass. Those aged 13-20 are admitted for a discounted rate, and children 12 and under are admitted free if accompanied by a paying adult. Designated driver tickets may be purchased for a discount off of regular admission; no wine glass and no samples are included.

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