Food & Drink

Ned Atwater Pursues His Passion for Cheesemaking

Using milk from local livestock, the Atwater's owner has become a full-fledged cheesemonger.
Clockwise from top; a gorgeous Camembert-style cheese that pairs well with preserves; a Gouda-style cheese with slightly caramel-like flavor and nutty notes; a bleu cheese that is on the milder side; a cheddar-style wedge perfect for cheese boards or sliced sandwiches. —Photography by Kate Grewal, animation by Jon Timian

Ever since he apprenticed at The King’s Contrivance in Howard County in 1976, Ned Atwater has had a dream of becoming a cheesemaker. Now that dream has finally come true.

“The King’s Contrivance was an old classical French kitchen,” says Atwater, while sitting outside his eponymous cafe in Belvedere Square. “The restaurant was in the countryside in an old house with a classical French chef, Michel Beaupin, and everything was done in the strict Escoffier way. The chef, who was from Grenoble, was buying cheese from European suppliers, so I was introduced to cheesemaking at a young age.”

Through the years, Atwater has made his mentor proud by continuing his education with classes in the science—and art—of cheesemaking at famed dairy hotspots in Vermont and Wisconsin. Taking what he’s learned, he recently became a full-fledged cheesemonger, making, on average, 250 pounds of five varieties a week, including a Camembert-style, a Gouda-style, and a cow’s milk feta.

“Cheesemaking is such a magical thing where you turn milk into cheese,” he says. “It’s a transformation.”

Ever committed to local sourcing and supporting area farmers, Atwater buys his milk from Hagerstown’s Palmyra Farm.

“We wanted to identify a farm that raised Ayrshire cows,” he says. “The farmer at Palmyra Farm, Mary Creek-Shank, has won prizes for her ability to get that breed of cow to have a milk that’s high in protein and high in fat, which is good for cheesemaking—she’s well known nationwide for the breeding of those cows.”

From the Patapsco Blue (the blue cheese named for his commercial kitchen’s proximity to the river) to National Pike (the cheddar variety named for the road he travels to Palmyra Farm), the restaurateur feels that cheese should be an essential part of one’s daily diet.

“I really believe in the foundational foods,” says Atwater, who sells his artisanal cheese at all five Atwater’s locations. “If you get the right ingredients, follow the hundreds-of-years-old techniques, and preserve the nutrition in the food, that’s enough. With a good loaf of bread and a good piece of cheese, and some preserves or fresh vegetables, that’s all the nutrition you need.”