Is Herkimer on Your Gastronomic Map?

Sharp eyes may have noticed the name on the wheel of cheese pushed by a plump bunny in this image included in a number of our posts:

The drawing is the cover of the 1899 Welsh Rabbit at Hildreth’s by Charles N. Miller, who delivered a high panegyric on the cheesy subject.

That’s Herkimer. What’s Herkimer? The name of a famous cheese district in America in the second half of the 19th century. I had not heard of it and it forms part of the 1001 little-known but fascinating food sagas of culinary North America.

Herkimer is a county in central New York State, one of number that comprise the Mohawk Valley.

Every summer, Nan Ressue and others hold a New York cheese festival there, one we hope to attend this summer. Ressue has written excellent notes, with sources listed, on the history of Herkimer cheese fame. Start here to bone up.

The story ended with the approach of WW I, as milk was diverted from creameries to make condensed milk for the Allied forces. Even before that, cheese shipments had declined domestically. Wisconsin and Ohio had started to compete with Herkimer production, and Canada too via increased exports of cheddar to the U.S. Much of this was from Ontario, still indeed a cheddar stronghold.

New York exports, especially to Britain, had declined by 1900 since newly-introduced frozen meat from Argentina and the Antipodes was selling for the same price as the cheese, ousting part of the market.

Still, there has been a modest revival of the former staggering trade which once reached 30M lbs of cheese a year. A Herkimer Cheese company, founded in 1949 in Little Falls, was the first part of the revival. Since then numerous dairy farms and artisan dairies have emerged to produce again fine New York cheese.

A cheddar-type was the principal product of the original industry, both white and orange-coloured (with anatto). Clearly it was prized for Welsh Rabbit, the melted cheese specialty that came with the colonists to America from Britain.

Charles Miller’s book appeared just as tolling time for the Herkimer cheese business was nigh. But culinary and beverage associations and reputations long endure. Virginia Elliott’s 1930s recipe for Welsh Rabbit I recounted yesterday recommended “well-cured New York or Old English cheese”.

The New York reference was clearly to the kind of cheddar Herkimer County specialized in before WW 1. Perhaps a little of it was still around, or a similar cheese was, made elsewhere in the Empire State.

Well, Herkimer is back, and Beeretseq will try some in July, hopefully. More anon.




2 thoughts on “Is Herkimer on Your Gastronomic Map?”

  1. It’s interesting the various products of NY state that have risen to fame then fallen. Hops, wine, dairy, iron, lumber…
    I took a course in my senior year of college (Plattsburgh) on the history of NYS and it was far and away my favorite course of my 4 years there. Fascinating stuff.

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