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Valley of local cheese

"What we do best is cows," says Alisa Fava-Fasnacht of Emerald Valley Farms (www.emeraldvalleyfarm.com), a 46-year-old cheesemaker from Scenery Hill, Washington County. "I've spent my whole life with my head under a cow."

She and her husband Alan Fasnacht, third-generation dairy people, making cheese only since 2005, have invested in a pedigreed herd of Jerseys and Holsteins. The show champions are pastured on the 344-acre farm purchased by Alisa's grandfather, Louis Fava, in 1953. The couple shares a three-story Victorian house with her parents, Joseph and Antoinette Fava. "We grow all our own grain and forage, too," Alisa says.

Though she has a degree in dairy science from Virginia Tech and a course under her belt from the prestigious Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont, she thinks the key is "putting the emphasis on the cow, making her as healthy as she can be, so that she gives superior milk."

Alisa makes a popular fromage blanc, French for white cheese, in eight flavors. This stirrable, meltable product is flavored with savory things like basil, roasted garlic and sun-dried tomato or blue cheese and can be used as a pasta sauce, dip or a hamburger topper. Also selling well is a raw milk aged mozzarella, a creamy Colby and a rich farmer's cheese. Look for the products at Whole Foods; McGinnis Sisters; the Washington, Monongahela and Mt. Lebanon (Saturday) farmers markets; and at the farm store. Alisa hopes to debut a Parmesan around Christmas, along with cheesecake and a ricotta tart.

-- Virginia Phillips