A long-lost variety of local pumpkin, the Cutchogue flat cheese, has made its way back to the North Fork, and a plan is in the works to reestablish this moschata squash as a staple of Long Island’s fall harvest.
Cheese pumpkins are said to get their name because they resemble a wheel of cheese. A prevalent variety, the Long Island cheese, is renowned both for its aesthetics—it is wide and ribbed—and as a superb pie ingredient, dense in flavor and high in sugar content. Cutchogue flat cheese is similar, but distinct.
“The Cutchogue flat cheese is like a flying saucer—it’s really flat; not a lot of ribbing,” explains Steph Gaylor of Invincible Summer Farms and Salt of the Earth Seed Co. in Southold.
Some time ago, the variety all but disappeared.
“It was no longer being planted on Long Island and, as far as I know, it was not really being planted anywhere,” Gaylor says. Decade-old seed catalogues advertised Cutchogue flat cheese, but seed vendors no longer carry it today.
Before this planting season, she tracked down some seeds from two different seed savers—individuals who collect and swap heirloom seeds—in the Midwest. Now what are possibly the first Cutchogue flat cheese pumpkins to be grown on Long Island in decades are ripening.
“It was almost lost,” Gaylor says. “It’s kind of like the dodo—once it’s gone, its gone.”
She learned about Cutchogue flat cheese when she went looking for obscure local vegetables—regional varieties that thrive in the conditions on Long Island and can’t be found elsewhere. Her goal is to bring back the crops that were grown on the East End 50 or 60 years ago—crops that make Long Island unique as a food region.
“We talk about a farm-to-table movement, but we should really be talking about a seed-to-table movement,” Gaylor says. “How do we really have something that’s truly local from start to finish, from cradle to grave?”
This season, Gaylor is not planning on selling any Cutchogue flat cheese pumpkins, or the seeds. First, she must produce more seeds that she can plant next year, so she will eventually have enough seeds for distribution.
In order to preserve the strain, she must plant the seeds in isolation. If they were planted too close to other moschata squash—such as butternut squash or Long Island cheese—the flowers would cross pollinate and the resulting seeds would produce a hybrid rather than more Cutchogue flat cheese pumpkins.
With another season or so of careful planting and selection, Cutchogue flat cheese seeds and pumpkins may be readily available on Long Island once again.
Gaylor is a member of the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium, which will hold it’s annual seed swap on Saturday, February 13, 2016, at the Suffolk Community College in Riverhead. Gardeners, farmers and seed savers are welcome. Admission is free and it is not necessary to have seeds to attend.