It’s a scene from the Tuscan countryside. Dancing Ewe farm sprawls across a Washington County hillside, dotting it with sheep. The Somers family purchased it in 2000 and brought it back from years of neglect, inspiring son Jody to learn the Italian style of making sheep’s-milk cheese.
He’d already been training sheepdogs and was looking at a veterinary career when he moved to Italy instead. The result was a twofold bounty: he met and married Luisa Scivola and thereby expanded the scope of the operation.
The hours of herding and milking and processing started to pay off as they took their wares to a number of farmer’s markets, including local venues like Troy and Saratoga and the sprawling operation at Manhattan’s Union Square.
But they wanted it to be about more than just cheese, and four summers ago added dinners at the Granville farm. “The idea started,” says Luisa, “when customers asked what they should do with the ricotta we sold them. We wrote down recipes for them and put the recipes on our website, but we wanted to show them how versatile ricotta can be.”
Out of that has grown a summer tradition that sees Saturday dinners and Sunday lunches through November, beginning with an aperitivo and a tour of the farm, and then a sit-down meal in the rustic splendor of a large, scenic barn. Each meal includes antipasti, main course, and dessert, with an added entrée course at the dinners. You’ll start with a selection of Dancing Ewe cheeses: pecorino stagionato, pecorino fresco, and pecorino al tartufo. The capocollo and salame also are made in-house, and the recipe for crostino maremmano (chicken liver on toast) comes from Luisa’s family. And there’s a well-chosen wine included. Lunches are $55 per person, dinners $75 apiece.
Special events this summer include the return of Notte Sotto le Stelle on July 22, when guests will be guided by candeleros to a table sparkling in the midst of a verdant field for dinner under the stars – a gathering that sold out so quickly when they did it before that they’re considering repeating it in September.
“On July 8 and 9 we’ll have the Sheepdog Trials,” says Luisa. “Last year we started participating with an open trial for the dogs, and these are qualifying events for the United States Border Collie Handler’s Association finals. We had about 60 dogs each day last year, and we’ll have dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday for people who want to come and see how it works.”
Other special events include a benefit dinner on July 16 for the Haynes House of Hope in Granville, a comfort care home for the terminally ill, and participation in the annual Washington County Cheese Tour, with meals on September 9 and 10.
“The dinners work on two different levels,” says Jody. “One, it’s an opportunity for our customers to see the farm and ask questions. They could be agricultural questions, or ‘how do you make this?’ kind of questions. They’re aren’t many restaurants that are also a working farm. And the restaurant brings new life to the farm: it breaks up the everyday-life ‘time to make the doughnuts’ routine.”
They’d had visitors in the past, but he believes the dinners are also more rewarding for Luisa. “Instead of having people come out and she throws some cheese and capocollo on a cutting board, she can put her heart and soul into a full-blown dinner.”
Luisa is a native of Manciano, which sits between Florence and Rome. She and Jody met when both were working at Antica Fattoria La Parrina, a farm near the Tuscan coast. But the romance didn’t blossom until she decided, a year later, to travel to the U.S., where he encouraged her to visit his own farm.
She uses many of the recipes she grew up with in the meals they serve, with the added bonus of olive oil harvested from the trees on her family’s Tuscan farm – a rich, grassy oil you also can purchase from Dancing Ewe.
Cured meats and sausage also are handcrafted in the Tuscan style. “We’ve been doing this for four or five years now,” says Jody. “We have two aging rooms that are getting filled up. We actually have three, but one of them became a bedroom for our son, Matteo.”
“He needs to age, too,” notes Luisa.
They’re making capocollo, from pork loin; bresaola, made with beef; and pancetta. Among the sausages you’ll see hanging in the aging rooms are cacciatorini, merguez, and three types made with fresh pork – morellino, which is flavored with red wine; rosemarino, which adds rosemary to the mixture; and another with truffles. And there’s sartuccio, where the pork is mixed with boiled potatoes and seasoned with a touch of nutmeg. “A friend named Sartucci gave us the recipe,” Luisa explains.
Cheese remains at the heart of Dancing Ewe production, most of it varieties of classic Tuscan pecorino. It’s available in various stages of aging, which profoundly affects its flavor and texture. Stagionato, for example, is aged for three months, and gives the cheese a mouth-filling loamy essence that pairs well with chestnut honey. You’ll want to cut off the rind before eating it, but Jody cautions you to save those rinds to shave onto your pasta.
You’ll find the cheese at their farmer’s market stand, but it’s had a difficult time getting into local stores. “The problem is that everybody says our cheese is too expensive,” says Luisa. “They see that ours is similar to some of the imported Italian cheeses that are cheaper, and they think they’re getting the same thing. They don’t see that ours is artisanally made, and from a local product.”
Although it’s early afternoon when we speak, dinner preparations already are underway.
“Today we’re making canneloni,” she says. “Our family makes them with Tuscan-style crepes instead of pasta.”
“It’s the original, where crepes were invented. Then a queen took them back to France, and the people really liked them there.”
You can check out coming events and reserve seats at Dancing Ewe’s website.
Dancing Ewe, 181 County Road 12, Granville, 528-5933, dancingewe.com. Dinner events are held throughout the summer; check the website for current info.