Graze on Artisanal Cheeses in the Finger Lakes

1. Where to Stay

One of the rooms at The Inns of Aurora on Cayuga Lake.Photo: Courtesy of The Inns of Aurora

Feel like you’ve escaped to Tuscany or Provence at Mirbeau Inn & Spa (from $229), where the 34 rooms feature country-estate décor including ochre walls, jaunty blue and yellow duvets, plus fireplaces and terraces with wrought-iron furniture. The massive spa, which is the resort’s main attraction and central hub, offers a fifteen-person Jacuzzi, epicurean treatments like the 50-minute Maple Facial ($150) or the vinotherapy hand treatment ($70 for 50 minutes), and free daily classes like Vinyasa yoga.

Relive the upstate New York’s heyday at the Inns of Aurora (from $150), two 1830s lakeside Federal mansions that once acted as a rest stop along the bustling Erie Canal. Skip the rooms decked out with botanical prints in the Aurora Inn for one of the seven suites in the E.B. Morgan House, outfitted with marble bathrooms and private porches, including one overlooking Cayuga Lake in room 7.

Surround yourself with neo-Gothic touches like beamed cathedral ceilings, elaborate stained-glass windows, and suits of armor inside Belhurst Castle (from $110), a hotel on the grounds of an award-winning winery on popular Seneca Lake. The 1880s stone structure houses fourteen rooms, most unique of which is the Tower Suite located in the castle’s turret, and there’s a complimentary wine spigot in the lobby for guests to fill their glass at any time.

2. Where to Eat

Pumpkin Hill Bistro serves rib-sticking dishes in a cozy farmhouse.Photo: Courtesy of Pumpkin Hill Bistro & Vineyard

Tuck into bistro-style dishes like mussels spiked with spicy red curry and ginger ($9.50) or roasted beet salad piled with local goat cheese ($8.50) at Moro’s Table in Auburn. Chef Ed Moro made his name as the head chef at Mirbeau Inn & Spa, but he opened this informal, convivial space two years ago with a globe-spanning menu that also includes shrimp and grits and sushi, along with a wine list featuring a rotating selection from Finger Lakes vineyards.

Book an early table for sunset apertifs on the veranda at Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine, James Beard–honored chef Suzanne Stack’s homey restaurant dedicated to all things local. Depending on the season, the menu might include asparagus soup with Lively Run goat cheese ($8) or seared New York State free-range duck breast ($27), as well as pours from rising-star wineries like Fox Run, King’s Garden, and Shalestone. For a great deal, consider ordering the five-course tasting menu ($49, additional $25 for wine pairing).

Settle into the folksy farmhouse atmosphere — wooden rafters hung with dried herbs, wide plank floors, bouquets in flowerpots — at Pumpkin Hill Bistro & Vineyard (closed Sundays; open through mid-October), set in a classic whitewashed Greek Revival home behind a white picket fence. Feast on hearty comfort foods like chicken potpie and burgers loaded with local cheddar, portobello mushrooms, and caramelized onions (from $8.95), then take a glass of Cayuga Lake Reisling out to the manicured lawn and watch the stars from your Adirondack chair.

3. What to Do

The six-year-old New York Wine and Culinary Center offers classes for wine and cheese lovers.Photo: Courtesy of the New York Wine and Culinary Center

Bypass the fall harvest crowds jostling for tastings at the wineries, and instead embark on a cheese-focused tour through the region’s best artisanal dairies. Fans of cow’s-milk cheddar should start out at Shtayburne Farm (open year-round) in Rock Stream, where nine varieties are produced in addition to cheese curds and Monterey Jack. In Waterloo, you’ll find a selection of raw-milk cheeses including fuller-bodied, British-style cheddars at Muranda Cheese Company (open year-round), which has been producing artisanal cheeses for over five years.

Try goat’s-milk cheeses like chèvre made in the traditional French style and Mediterranean-style feta at Lively Run, near Interlaken. Afterward, make your way to 25-year-old Side Hill Acres Goat Dairy in Candor to learn how to milk a goat by hand. As part of the tour, you’ll also taste kefir, yogurt, and cheddar before meeting the 138 animals that make up the dairy’s herd. For souvenirs that aren’t cheese, you can pick up handmade goat’s-milk soaps and homemade fudge in the store on the way out.

Learn how to pair your new favorite Finger Lakes cheeses with locally produced wines in a class ($25) at the sleek New York Wine and Culinary Center, where local chefs and wine professionals lead a wide variety of courses focusing on everything from bread-baking to fall desserts. After class, head to the airy, wood-paneled tasting room for flights of craft beers, wines, and spirits ($5-$8) from local producers.

4. Insider’s Tip

Lively Run's one-of-a-kind Cayuga Blue is sold for less at the source.Photo: Courtesy of Lively Run Goat Dairy

Most Finger Lakes cheeses are nearly impossible to find in the city, so be sure to stock up while you’re at the source. Lively Run’s delicious Cayuga Blue, a rare blue cheese made with goat milk, sells for $20 a pound at the dairy [$15 per pound for larger quantities]. All dairies can arrange shipping, but you’ll have to pay extra, so bring a cooler to store your purchases if you’re driving.

5. Oddball Day

The region's lakes, rivers, and canals are easy to explore by kayak or canoe; Bee Attitudes Honey is home to three acres of lavender fields. Photo: Courtesy of Fuzzy Guppies (L); courtesy of Bee Attitudes Honey (R)

Make the most of the crisp fall weather by exploring the Finger Lakes on the water. Fuel up for the day with fair-trade lattes at Ithaca Coffee Company in downtown Ithaca before picking up boxed lunches ($12.95 each) from Red Newt Cellars on the southeast side of Seneca Lake. Drive north along the lake to the mouth of the Seneca River, where you can have a canoe dropped off by Fuzzy Guppies ($75 for a full day). Hit the water and explore the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, created in the 1820s to provide locals with a navigable water route from Seneca and Cayuga Lakes to the then-new Erie Canal. Stop to admire landmarks along the way like the postcard-ready Trinity Church near Seneca Falls, the canal’s many historic locks, and the section near the town of Montezuma that cuts through the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, a former swamp that’s now an important breeding ground and refuge for migratory birds. When you’re ready, stop for a picnic lunch in a scenic spot like the bucolic town of Tyre, which has a boat launch at Barge Canal. When you’re ready to paddle again, make your way to Seneca Lake and admire the yachts in the harbor and the surrounding vine-etched hillsides before dropping off the canoe at the dock. Back on dry land, try local produce of a different stripe at Bee Attitudes Honey, near Skaneateles Lake, where you can pick up honey biscotti and raw honey packaged in cute apothecary-style jars. As cocktail hour approaches, head to the heated rooftop Owego Beer Garden at Tioga Trails Café for pints of hoppy Cazacazilla draft beer from Ithaca ($3.50). Finally, celebrate the neighborly spirit of the Lakes at the James Beard award-winning Moosewood Restaurant, started in 1973 by a collective that pioneered the local natural and organic food movement, for dishes like autumn vegetable stew served with polenta triangles and pecorino ($15).

6. Links

Serious curd nerds can make all the stops along the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail, a cooperative of fifteen family farms.

Take advantage of prix fixe specials, exclusive wine tastings, and other events showcasing the region’s bounty during Finger Lakes Restaurant Week, October 22 to 29.

Edible Finger Lakes highlights the culinary abundance of the region.

Stay abreast of happenings in the Finger Lakes year-round via the region’s frequently updated blog.

Graze on Artisanal Cheeses in the Finger Lakes