Belgian cheesemaker practices artisan craft at Deer Valley
Deer Valley Resort’s Artisan Cheesemaker Corinne Cornet Coniglio grew up in Brussels, Belgium, and when you grow up in Brussels, she said, you grow up with cheese. She fondly remembers eating fromage blanc with her breakfast nearly every day. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on it, she said, or some sugar, and it makes for the perfect accompaniment to the meal. As a young adult, Coniglio said a favorite pastime was getting together with friends for wine and cheese tastings.
"I used to organize wine and cheese parties with my friends," she said. "You have stores on every corner of every street, with every different type of cheese. You can pair them with different types of wines. And when I moved to the U.S. [in 2002], particularly Colorado, it was beautiful, there were all these wineries, but nobody was making any cheese."
To put it bluntly: Coniglio missed her cheese.
"I like to cook," she said. "So I thought, well, maybe I can come up with something. If those farmers in the mountains of France can do something, I can probably come up with something, too. And that’s how I started."
Coniglio, armed with a basic cheesemaking book and with the help of French experts online who were willing to share, bought goat’s milk from a local farmer and began making her own cheese. She sold her product at farmer’s markets and her skills grew.
"I had a herd of dairy goats there, and I loved it," she said.
Later, Coniglio moved to France to work for a cheesemaking equipment company, and she lived there for about three years. The company eventually named her sales director for the United States and in this position, she said, she learned a great deal more about the craft.
"I had training in France, and then I visited all the cheesemakers here in the U.S. so it was very interesting and I learned a lot that way, too," she said. "It was more on the equipment side, but to understand that you need to understand the cheesemaking, so it was kind of an interesting mixture of knowledge that I learned there. I loved it. It was awesome."
Coniglio moved to Utah several years ago and started her own consulting company, Fromages Without Borders.
"My idea was to help farmers create some more different European-type cheese here in the U.S., something different than cheddar that everybody knows how to make here," she said.
The venture began as a partnership with a farm in Midway, and that is where the connection with Deer Valley Resort was formed. Deer Valley was buying the cheese Coniglio was making in Midway, and when those partners decided to move on, Coniglio said Deer Valley approached her personally.
"They didn’t know where they would get their cheese, so they asked me, ‘Why don’t you come here?’ It was an easy decision," she said."
Since the winter of 2013, Coniglio has been Deer Valley’s in-house artisan cheesemaker. She has her own space to work, a modest room in Silver Lake Lodge with all the equipment she needs to make the six cheeses offered at the resort: a bleu cheese called Blue Belle; an ash-ripened goat cheese called Moon Shadow; Meadowlark, a double cream brie; The Provence Kid, an herb-encrusted goat cheese; a goat’s milke feta called Capra Bella; and Triple Truffle, a triple-cream Camembert-style brie infused with fine black truffles imported from France.
Ask Coniglio to pick her favorite and she demurs.
"It’s really hard to say. They are all my babies," she said. "I wouldn’t be able to make a cheese that I don’t like. But of course the Triple Truffle is very special. It’s a very unique flavor. Not many people are using it in their cheese and you have to be very careful [when you make it]."
Coniglio said as a cheesemaker she could not ask for a better job than at Deer Valley.
"It’s a beautiful place to work," she said. "It’s up in the mountains, right on the slopes. I have my ski locker right in front of my cheese room. I ski in the morning, make cheese in the afternoon it’s awesome."
Occasionally Coniglio will do demonstrations but she said she does not consider herself a public person. She prefers to be in her cheese room.
"I just like to work on my cheese, and be in this room, listening to my music," she said. "It’s really an art, you know? It takes time. And there’s no stress down here."
Coniglio said one thing she had to adapt to was the elevation at Deer Valley, though she said it is not much of a hurdle. In fact, it’s beneficial.
"The process of aging goes faster for some reason at higher altitude," she said. "And this is great because the air is really pure so we don’t really have any bad mold here. The air is very dry, and that’s good for the cheese. This way, we can keep it natural."
Coniglio said Deer Valley attracts visitors from all over the world, and she is proud to offer them a caliber of cheese they might not expect.
"It’s pretty unique, I think," she said. "I believe we are the only ski resort that makes their own cheese."
With that, Coniglio cuts the conversation short she has to check on the brie locker. The coating of white mold, she said, has to be carefully monitored. She opens one of the containers and gives a quick look.
"They’re not quite ready yet. They’re still teenagers," she said with a laugh. "I treat them like they’re my kids. I know them all, I talk to them, I check on them every day. I have to make sure they are feeling good."
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