By Lorrie Baumann
Cheese has taken Corinne Coniglio into a life that many downhill skiers would trade their souls for. She’s the full-time cheesemaker at the Deer Valley resort in Park City, Utah, and she makes her cheeses in a room a step away from the ski slope. “It’s really awesome. It’s right on the ski slopes, so it couldn’t be better. It’s so beautiful to see the mountain when I go to work,” she says. “It’s so beautiful and inspiring as I create the cheese.” But, as is true of many ultimate destinations, the road to Deer Valley Cheese was long and the journey was arduous.
Her dedicated cheese-making space was created for her after a pilot season two years ago in which she made her cheeses in the resort’s restaurant kitchen, working at night between 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., when the kitchen was unused and empty. “You need peace to make cheese; it takes time to allow the milk to curdle. You can’t have chefs running around with knives,” she says.
Once it became clear that house-made cheeses were an attraction valued by the resort’s clientele, Executive Chef Clark Norris convinced the management to invest in the construction of a new cheese room for Coniglio. “The customers really like the idea. One day we had a cheese tasting right there in Royal Street restaurant. We made a big cheese board to bring in, and customers coming in in their ski gear were asking if they could have that,” she says. “It’s a pretty high-end food place, so we have direct customers for the fine cheeses we’re making here on the resort. It’s nice for the people who are coming skiing.”
“It’s really unique to have access between ski times to a cheese board and charcuterie made from scratch. Everything is made right here on the ski slopes,” she adds. “There’s a nice sunny terrace with a lot of flowers in the summer and great food and everything made from scratch.”
She’s now making cheese all year round, supplying the resort’s restaurant kitchen as well as a local grocery chain that’s selling her cheeses in 16 stores around Utah. Coniglio makes European-style cheeses from local raw milk. “We go pick up the cow milk at Heber Valley Farm just 15 minutes away. The goat milk, from Sweet Deseret Farm, is directly delivered by Daniel the farmer, who always has nice stories to tell about his high-quality registered dairy goats. I pasteurize both milks myself at the lowest temperature allowed by the USDA,” she says. “I make a double cream brie that is really nice. There’s a triple cream brie with black truffles that Clark uses over a bison steak with foie gras on top at the Mariposa restaurant. I make a goat cheese with vegetable ash…. A marinated goat cheese with grapeseed oil, cipollini onion, lemon peel and a little sweet red pepper that looks like a little chocolate kiss. It looks really cute. Blue cheese with cow milk, which is not pasteurized and ages a minimum of 60 days. I have a French friend who told me that it reminded her of a Bleu des Causses.”
The road to Deer Valley had its beginning when Coniglio, who was born in Belgium, started making cheese 12 years ago. “I had my own little farm in Colorado, where I had goats and took cheese to the farmers market,” she says. “We had a little piece of land and there were a lot of wineries there, but nobody was making cheese. I was missing my cheese from Europe, where it’s possible to get cheese from Spain and everywhere. I bought some goat milk from a local farmer and took the cheese to little wineries, where they loved it. We bought a goat, then another goat, and soon there were 50 goats.”
Coniglio found places to learn more about cheese. She’s a native French-speaker, and she found an online forum which allowed her to connect with French farmers, and they invited her to come and tour their farm and cheese facility. A few years later, she contacted a French manufacturer while she was looking for cheesemaking equipment, and the company became interested in what she was doing in the United States. “After a few months, they actually hired me as a director of sales for the U.S.,” she says.
As part of her training for the new position, the company brought her to France and then to Germany to visit cheesemakers and learn about the equipment. “They sent me back to the U.S. with that knowledge,” she says.
She had the chance to visit cheesemakers all over the U.S. until the company decided to close down its U.S. sales. “That’s when I started my own company, Fromage Without Borders,” she says. “Colorado was a lot of fun with raising the goats and doing the local farmers market at the end. We were doing some pasteurized cheeses for the market because the law did not allow us to sell raw milk cheeses. We had the good stuff under the table, and good customers knew about it. It was kind of a black market.
That part of her life ended when the farm was sold, and Coniglio moved to Utah along with her goats, which had been sold to a Utah farmer interested in starting a cheese business. “Deer Valley was buying my cheese,” she says. When the farmer decided that raising goats wasn’t for him and sold the flock, Deer Valley offered her the chance to come to the resort. “This is a permanent situation. I told them they need to bring some cows with some bells to put on the ski slopes and have their own cows and goats,” she says. “Right now I’m working on a little project with some ewe milk. We want to do a bloomy rind with a little bit of a blue touch inside. The difference in the milk is so interesting.”
As she continues, she’d like to try her hand at a raclette cheese. “That’s the thought for the future. If we start that, we’re going to have to have a bigger cheese room and a bigger aging room to store all those big wheels,” she says. “But I would love to do that. I would love to make raclette. That would be the next step.”