How Stefanie Angstadt, 29, reclaimed a
historic milk house and followed her dream
Written & Photographed by Tenaya Darlington
Until a few years ago, Stefanie Angstadt wore a suit every day and worked for a powerful Manhattan bank. Today, she dons an industrial yellow apron and tucks her hair under a kerchief to spend her day making cheese.
“Basically, I had a quarter-life crisis,” she laughs, turning away from a row of steamy windows in her milk house to finger curds forming in a 100-gallon vat. Once she ladles them into forms, they will become her signature triple crème, a luxurious round she calls Thistle.
At 29, Angstadt is the solo owner of Valley Milkhouse, a startup creamery in the town of Oley in Pennsylvania’s Berks County, a venture she launched last summer after discovering a derelict milk house near farmland that once belonged to her German ancestors. One hundred and twenty miles from her former New York office, her change of scenery includes a driveway full of chickens and a covered bridge at the end of the road.
Angstadt’s move from corporate sales rep to rural entrepreneur seeded itself in a Brooklyn homebrew shop, where she discovered a cheesemaking kit one afternoon in 2009. She had just graduated from Brown University with a degree in political science, and her career leap into banking felt like a misstep. She yearned for something more romantic. Images of ripe market cheeses had been floating in her imagination since the semester she studied abroad in France during her junior year. By the time she quit her day job three years later, she was making Brie in her apartment kitchen.
In search of a mentor, Angstadt made her way to Colorado to apprentice with award-winning cheesemaker Wendy Mitchell of Avalanche Cheese Company. “I basically emailed Wendy and offered to wash her dishes,” Angstadt remembers. She picked up a waitressing job in Basalt to cover her expenses, and spent six months learning to run a creamery. When the season ended, she traveled—using the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) network— to volunteer on dairies around Europe and Southeast Asia.
“It was kind of like following a cheese trail,” Angstadt says, “although I didn’t really have a plan.”
A fortuitous connection at the Union Square Greenmarket upon her return in the spring of 2012 brought Angstadt’s cheese vagabonding to a stop. In search of farm work, she introduced herself to Tim Stark, a well-known heirloom tomato grower.
“His jaw dropped when I told him my name,” she recalls. He explained, “The farm where I grow my tomatoes is the historic Angstadt Farm.”
When Stark invited her to help him launch a vegetable CSA, she leapt at the chance to revisit Berks County—she remembered the area from family reunions, but she had never visited the original homestead, which dates back to 1743. Out in the field, she found a stone marker that referenced George Angstadt, the original settler. And not far from it: a shuttered milk house containing the skeleton of a former creamery.
That was the moment Angstadt says she had an inkling about her future.
Today, Angstadt works seven days a week—hauling milk, making cheese, running deliveries, setting up at markets, maintaining her business’s website, and developing new products for her line of French-style cheeses.
“The community here has been so encouraging,” she says, recalling Mennonite neighbors who helped her rehab the milk house and a pair of grass-based dairy farmers who now sell her milk from their sheep and cows. A microloan enabled her to purchase a secondhand vat and set up a refrigeration system where she ages her cheeses. Most are ready for market after just a few weeks, including her Brie-like Thistle and an ash-coated pyramid called Witchgrass.
Aimee Olexy, who carries Valley Milkhouse cheese and yogurt at her restaurants Talula’s Daily and Talula’s Garden in Center City, calls Angstadt a new gem. Local cheesemaker Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm has also been quick to praise Angstadt’s work, encouraging her to connect with local restaurateurs and to enter Philadelphia’s farmers’ market scene—including the ones in Chestnut Hill and West Philly.
“It’s been a fateful journey,” Angstadt says, shaking her head over a sip of hard cider paired with a bite of fresh cheese. “And yet I feel that I’m right where I am supposed to be.”
Valley Milkhouse cheeses are available at stores and farm stands around Philadelphia, including Talula’s Daily, Di Bruno Bros., Greensgrow Farm Stand, Weavers Way Co-op, and the Fair Food Farmstand. Angstadt also maintains a small farm store at her creamery in Oley, Pennsylvania. For details, visit valleymilkhouse.com.
A GUIDE TO VALLEY MILKHOUSE
CHEESES (AND BUTTER)
1. VALLEY MILKHOUSE CULTURED BUTTER
Sweet Jersey cream is cultured overnight, then churned. This Old World technique creates a supple butter with deep flavor, perfect for slathering on a baguette with or without jam.
Similar to chèvre, but made with cow’s milk, this fresh cheese is hand-rolled in herbes de Provence to impart the taste of the French countryside. Take it on a picnic with bread and honey, along with a bottle of Champagne or wheat beer.
Like Brie, this cheese turns soft and oozy over time. At six weeks, it has the texture of cheesecake—perfect for serving with berries and bubbly. At eight weeks, it turns custardy and takes on mushroom notes—a terrific match for funky hard cider (like that of Frecon Farms in Berks County), sliced apples and walnuts.
Created in the style of French Valençay, an iconic cheese shaped like a flattened pyramid, Witchgrass is dusted with vegetable ash to encourage a silvery rind to form. As it ripens, a beautiful cream line forms just below the surface, while the center remains fresh and clayey in texture. Pair it with honey or jam, and a wild saison.
5. IVORY BELL
A raw-milk blue with very little veining, Ivory Bell is sometimes referred to as a “blonde blue.” Subtle and sweet, it’s a blue you can serve for breakfast, preferably with a side of blueberries and a drizzle of honey.
92 Covered Bridge Road, Oley