Posts filed under 'Photos'
When I started working at the Artisanal Cheese Center nearly four years ago, Ross Gagnon was the production manager. Ross had left his job as head cheesemaker at Shelburne Farms in Vermont, and moved to NYC to join the team at Artisanal. He was, and probably still is, a character. While listening to him critique cheeses was fascinating it was also completely frustrating because I had no idea what he was talking about. His technical knowledge of flavor and texture development in cheddars, the hallmark cheese of Shelburne Farms, was phenomenal. He had little patience for my newbie enthusiasm and lack of understanding of the cheesemaking process.
I was equally turned off by what I thought was snobbery on his part. One morning he was looking at a big wheel of cheddar and whining about how much he missed making cheese so I suggested that he make some cheese at home… He shook his head quietly and muttered something about not having access to milk. Being a pragmatist, I confidently informed him that there was plenty of milk- that he should just go buy some at the supermarket. My optimistic suggestion was met with silence.
Clearly I have made progress- I now understand that what he missed was a vat filled with pristine, high quality milk from Shelburne’s herd of 125 pure-bred registered Brown Swiss cows. Even with the stories that Ross and many others told about Shelburne- it never hit my radar as a place I urgently needed to visit. Seems strange now considering how many people have told me over the years that it is by far the most beautiful and one of the most impressive farms they’ve ever visited. During my week in Burlington- I made up for lost time and visited Shelburne twice.
The opening reception on the first night of hte ACS conference was held in the breeding barn at the farm- sounds rustic right? Think again- this is Shelburne Farms the former summer residence of Dr. William Seward and Victoria Vanderbilt Wells. In its heyday the farm was considered a center for agricultural innovation. The breeding barn was actually used for horses- specifically to create a sort of super-breed of workhorses for farmers. This fell apart with the invention of the internal combustion engine that lead to the use of tractors. The building is as long as a New York city block and is absolutely gorgeous inside and out. Turns out it was designed by Robert H. Robertson in the late 1800’s- he was considered one of the best of his time. The land is not privately owned any longer- it is now an environmental education non-profit. Check the Shelburne website for more history.
When we arrived most, if not all of Vermont’s cheesemakers were set up inside, sampling their cheeses at tables around the perimeter. Between the cheese and ice cold beer I didn’t stray too far from the barn and thus decided I would need to figure out a way to come back and check out the rest of the grounds before returning to NY.
Luckily I had met Shelburne’s current cheesemaker, Jaime Yturriondobeitia, at the Terra Madre conference put on by Slow Food last October. She is incredible- one because she is a female cheddar maker (there aren’t many) and two because she has a background in microbiology so her understanding of cheesemaking and aging is thorough and impressive. I bumped into her at breakfast on Friday morning and she told me that I was welcome to come out and spend some time with her on Saturday when she made cheese. Michael, Alyce Birchenough (the legendary cheesemaker from Sweet Home Farm in Alabama) and I played hooky from the conference on Saturday morning and drove out to the farm.
We found Jaime in the cheese room preparing to add rennet to the vat. Immediately I am impressed- I looked at the vat of milk like it was the biggest pot of dinner I could imagine making and thought about how nervous I would be to make a mistake with that volume of milk- Jaime moved so confidently around the make room. As it should be, she has been making cheese there for three years.
After the rennet has been added, the agitator (those metal poles that stir and go back and forth in the vat) is turned off so the curd can begin to set. Jaime talked to us a bit about her formula for timing the cut of the curd- and she taught us about something called floculation- which is the very beginning of the formation of solids. To look for this early indicator she dipped a long knife into the milk gently and let a thin film of it rest on the blade in the light- so that she could examine it for small particles that were visible to the eye (early, tiny solids).
We hung around for the initial cutting of the curd- totally cool to see two women work a cheddar vat! Jaime took a little break to take us on a short tour of the buildings surrounding the dairy- talked to us about the educational programs- and then insisted that we take a drive around the grounds before heading back to the conference. So we swung by the bakery- just a hop skip away from the creamery to get a snack and then drove round to all the points Jaime had laid out on the map. A perfect excursion that unfortunately did not come close to sating my desire to spend time at Shelburne Farms- hoping to head back in September…
p.s. There is a great step-by-step visual of the cheddar process on Shelburne’s site right here (that’s Ross in the photos).
August 12th, 2007
One of the Mozzarella Company’s head cheesemakers, Octavia, has recently opened a restaurant in West Dallas where she is serving up fresh, authentic Mexican food in a cozy, converted old diner. Paula took us to eat at Paraiso Restaurant Taqueria tonight. It was such a treat to see Octavia there- normally her daughter runs the show at the restaurant- but the highlight was definitely the food. Still in its early stages, the restaurant opened about six weeks ago and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Paraiso is located in Cockrell Hill section of West Dallas on West Jefferson.
We went with a troop of friends and colleagues from the cheese factory and based on Paula’s recommendation we started with a round of Gorditas for the table. Soft corn tortillas made on premisis (see below) filled with various meats or vegetables, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and topped with some crumbles of queso fresco. They were accompanied by a hot chili sauce- I could put about a pinprick’s worth on mine before my tongue was on fire. Tasty.
You can see from the lineup of our main entrees that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs but also that we got a variety of dishes. Some of us had grilled chicken with various sauces like mole, our vegetarian representative had flautas- divine, many had tacos, and Paula swung out to try something called a Sopas. Sopas are like individual tarts made from corn tortilla dough and filled with meat, pico de gallo, sour cream and toppped with queso fresco. I realized that none of this is particularly revolutionary food but this is exactly what is refreshing about it- it is just the simple, authentic mexican dishes done very well. A satisfying meal for both your belly and your pocketbook. Just make sure you bring beer if you need to have it as they aren’t selling it in house yet.I watched this woman make tortillas until our food came. I’d never seen a press like the one she was using.
December 10th, 2006
Sorry to fall off the face of the earth but I am down here in arctic Texas; it was colder in Dallas than New York when I arrived last Saturday. I am here to help cheesemaker Paula Lambert, owner of the Mozzarella Company, with her holiday gift baskets. Of course I’ve also been dabbling in the cheesemaking room and today I helped make one of the most special cheeses at the Mozzarella Co.- Christmas Cheese.
There are conflicting rumors about how Christmas Cheese was born…something about a misguided batch of Queso Fresco but one decade later the recipe is definitely set (to read the official story check out the Mozz Co newsletter here). One of Paula’s most valuable cheesemakers is a spry, kind woman named Octavia. She brought me into the make room today and got me to roll up my sleeves to mix all the Christmas Cheese fixings into this tub (2ft x 1ft x 1ft) filled with crumbles of Queso Fresco curd. When I saw the orange disks I assumed they were using annatto- the standard orange coloring used for cheddars and things- and I was wrong. The creamy white curds take their color from ancho chili paste which adds nice, rich flavor.
An important detail about this cheese is that all of the ingredients are mixed throughout the curds by hand. It is like giving a tub of cheese a seriously deep tissue massage. It was incredibly satisfying to watch this mass of crumbles turn from white to a light orange color. There are also fresh jalepenos mixed in and they create wonderful variation in texture.
Once all of the ingredients were distributed throughout the curd we took it in sections about the size of a tennis ball and packed them into shallow, round forms that are like cookie cutters- open on both sides. We smoothed off the tops and then popped the disks out onto a tray so that Elena (another cheesemaker here) could adorn their tops with slivers of fresh jalapeno in a little star pattern.
When I first saw the Christmas Cheese I had my reservations as I’ve gone the slightly cheese snobbish, looking sideways at colored cheeses, but this one put my snobbery to shame. Forget about lemon chocolate stilton, sage derby, or mango ginger cheddar and dig in for a Southwestern treat that makes sense. Queso Fresco has always gone with chilis this is simply an unconventional, if not more convenient, format for the pairing.
My favorite tasting of Christmas Cheese so far, other than having chunks of it while I take my breaks from gift basketing, was on a warm roast beef sandwich created by Paula’s husband Jim. We didn’t even speak while we ate them, we just mmm’d and aaah’d. I enjoyed it so much that I had a second one for lunch this morning.
Now for any of you who are out there saying, ‘Well, that is nice for someone else but I don’t like spicey things…’ this cheese is not dangerously hot rather it is well balanced with tang and a nice dose of seasoning. This time around on the Christmas Cheese make I was up to my elbows in curd but I promise I’ll get some photos of the next round on Monday.
And I’ll be sure to capture the ladies stretching out thin rope like strips of Oaxaca which might be heaven in the form of cheese when they lop a warm slice off for you that is still warm and lightly salted with a squeeze of lime on it. As my dear friend Nancy would say- “It is so good it makes you want to hit something.” I am prone to pounding a fist on the table but I don’t recommend this at holiday parties- too many pieces of fancy china and half-filled drinks lying around.
More from me next week. Enjoy your holiday parties.
December 10th, 2006
Tuesday afternoon I sauntered down to Saxelby Cheesemongers and picked up a couple cheeses for our Thanksgiving dinner:
First, a little ditty from one of my favorite creative forces in cheese, Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm. It is called Trillium and as Anne Saxelby described it, “It is a feat of both cheese ingenuity and engineering.” A small, mold-ripened, column with one layer of goat cheese running between two layers of cows’ milk cheese.
Second I nabbed a chunk of Grayson from Meadow Creek- not much of a stretch for me given that I ate a ton of it while I was on their farm not long ago but it was looking so voluptuous in the case that I couldn’t resist.
Third…La piece de resistance of my cheese board was the generous wedge of Jasper Hill Farm’s Aspenhurst. For those of you not familiar with Aspenhurst it is similar to a cheddar in that it has a bit of tang to it and is clothbound but technically it is not a cheddar because it is not “cheddared”. The curd is not stacked and re-stacked over a period of hours (cheddaring)- a process that allows acidity to build- but it is milled, pressed, larded, wrapped with cloth and aged for a minimum of 12 months making it similar in form and even in texture to clothbound cheddars. Aspenhurst is not widely available and I was lucky enough to get a wedge from the cheesemaker himself as a thank you for having assisted with one of the batches.
We visited Japser Hill in late June 2005 when we made Aspenhurst with Mateo. He enjoyed taunting us (Michael, our friend Tyler, and myself) about the Aspenhurst make all day. We laughed it off and then once Mateo started milling and we began “fluffing” (gently and repeatedly lifting up the milled curds to prevent them from matting) the curd we switched from giggling to sweating. These photos are from the end of the make and the beginning of the press.
November 26th, 2006
Now I’m not particularly patriotic but I get really into the all-American cheese board for Thanksgiving. I guess I feel like all the smaller scale dairy farmers and cheesemakers in the states represent the entrepreneurial and pioneering spirit that makes me feel inspired about our country. I do understand that lines at the specialty cheese shop swell during the holidays but I’ll admit that my two favorite days to volunteer to emerge from my post in the basement and sling cheese behind the counter at Murray’s were the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
I loved these shifts because:
a. Most customers shopping on those days were willing to invest time in the line and tolerate the hectic scene because of their commitment to having cheese as part of their big holiday meals. That alone warmed the cockles of my heart.
b. Many of these shoppers reminded me of my father when he shops during the holidays: relatively good humored even in their bouts of impatience, interested in spirited banter with the “experts” on the other side of the counter, and often not incredibly tactful (this makes for better storytelling later).
c. People were under duress; they wanted their holiday meals to be excellent and were often more willing to swing out and taste new things for possibility of discovering an unknown, out of the park, home run.
d. I didn’t usually have to work until closing- just to be totally honest- this is the perk of being a volunteer and a tribute to the generosity of the managers of the store who valiantly sent us home as early as they could.
So many of the things on my list meant that I could get customer to try American cheeses and many of them were pleasantly surprised. I LOVED this… both because I am incredibly excited about artisan cheese in this country AND because I love surprising people and being right (again- brutal truth).
Enjoy your Thanksgiving holiday, whether there is cheese on the table or not (gasp!), and check back with Cheese by Hand for a review of our T-day cheese board.
Hot listed cheese of late for me are:
Twig Farm: Anything. Everything. Seriously. Michael Lee is making sweet dreams for us while living out his dream as a cheesemaker and goat farmer. Square Wheel, Goat Tomme, Twig Wheel… get what you can.
Meadow Creek: Grayson that is pudgy should not be left behind. Buy extra because if you have leftovers you can make a smashing panini with this cheese, a little bit of jam (I used fig), and some lightly sauteed shallots.
Jasper Hill: Bartlett Blue. Do not overlook this cheese in favor of Stilton. In fact, being who I am I would bring it home and tell people I had the best Stilton they’ve ever tasted… and then when their eyes roll back upon tasting I’d break the news that Stilton’s days at the top of the holiday blue list are numbered.
November 22nd, 2006
I know I promised more about cheese people from my trip to Italy but four days after I got home I was on a plane again (I’m not looking for sympathy), this time headed to Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax, VA. We visited them early on during the Cheese by Hand tour so it was great to see their farm in another season and also to get a more hands on experience at their facility. What a treat it was. Not only are the cows and the farm absolutely beautiful but cheese production is also in full swing. They’ve got a great crew of milkers and cheese workers, and Helen and Rick are incredible hosts (with mad cooking skills).
The new cheesemaking room is almost finished and they will be in there before they wrap up milking for the season in about six weeks. The new, in-ground cellar that they built directly beneath the cheese house is complete (minus all of its official shelving) and has cheese maturing in it on metal racks- thank goodness because Helen and her crew have been cranking out cheese. Without the space in the new cellar they would have overflowed the upstairs aging rooms many times over. They are now making 4-5 times a week.
Grayson, the Taleggio-inspired, stout and square cheese is made with the milk from one milking and is usually made twice each week. Helen explained to me that the quantity of milk she is getting from the cows is steadily decreasing but the ratio of solids in the milk (the stuff you want for cheesemaking- fats and proteins, etc) is increasing thus the actual yield she gets from a vat of Grayson curd is not dropping too much. This also means that it is pugdy and luscious and something you should get your hands on as often as you can between now and March of next year before it takes a mini-vacation and we have the Grayson of Spring 2007.
Mountaineer is made with milk from two milkings and was an interesting make for me to observe as it involves pressing under the whey. My understanding about this kind of pressing is that it helps create that smooth, creamy texture found in firm cheeses like Gouda and an American favorite Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Just 30 minutes after the cheeses are hooped and pressed they are removed and flipped inside the hoops to continue pressing. Amazingly, after only 30 mintues in their forms, they already have the smooth exterior and sturdy shape that they maintain through their aging.
Even with all the cheese washing, wrapping and packaging that went on during the week, Helen managed to get me out into the fields a bit with Rick to talk about pasture management. The pastures look different than they did in May and it takes them longer to grow back so Rick has to ration the grass carefully to make sure the cows get enough dry matter each day and that the land will last for the next six weeks. He is supplementing with dry hay at this point, because there isn’t enough in the fields at this time of year.
The Jersey coats change considerably as the weather cools down. Rick explained to me that Jerseys don’t have a thick layer of fat under their skin like some other breeds do, so their coat really bulks up to keep them warm through the winter. This was visible on the the young calves I met in May who are now out on pasture together and about 9 months old. Helen and I took a walk out to see the them on a non-cheesemaking afternoon. Along the way were signs of Rick’s preparations for the winter, non-milking months; hay storage in two areas that will allow them to feed the cows in various pastures without having to haul hay from their main storage area next to the milking parlor on a daily basis. Continuing to move the cows around on the pastures is important so that you don’t get manure build-up in one area rather you get an even spread of fertilizer on the land.
One of the pillars at Meadow Creek is Dixie. He has worked with Helen for years and is her right hand in the cheese room. If you order from Meadow Creek then you have definitely talked to Dixie. It was nice to work along side him through the week and hear his familiar drawl, “Meadow Creek Dairy, this is Dixie…” as he took calls from customers. On Saturday morning, after we loaded up and sent out the biggest order ever at the dairy, Dixie presented me with this gorgeous, baked Grayson. Homemade puff pastry of course, with decorative leaves and a golden “S”. If you want to please and surprise your guests during the holidays- ditch the brie and make some melty, gooey Grayson. Don’t be shy about slathering a layer of your favorite Grayson companion jam- fig, apple or even honey on top of the cheese before enrobing it in pastry and baking. This was an excellent way to round out my week at the dairy. Can’t wait to go back in the spring.
November 17th, 2006
This is where we cheese lovers belong.
I spent a lot of time here over the last few days while I was participating in two SlowFood events in Torrino, Italy this past week: Terra Madre and Salone del Gusto. Food Olympics… Gustatory Tour de Force… neither of these come close to explaining these simultaneous events. Terra Madre is a conference designed to bring food producers, chefs, academics, food documentarians and press together to discuss large issues like food freedom and biodiversity, food safety, and food communities. The lineup of speakers is amazing and includes not only food visionaries (Carlo Petrini- founding father of SlowFood, Vandana Shiva- , and Michael Pollan- author of Omnivore’s Dilemma) but also many individual producers and food community organizers from around the world.
By the second or third day of Terra Madre, you are so entrenched that you aren’t even fully present to the miracle that is the entire event. You wander from a session about Honey where you hear producers from Russia, Italy, and Africa talk about their challenges and production methods to the session on GMO’s where you hear from Polish, Spanish, Central American and Italian experts. And all the while you are sporting a headset that magically translates every one of these speakers into English (or any of the 7 other languages avaialble on the dial).
At some point you take a break and meander across the walkway to Salone del Gusto. This is a serious food show with smaller scale producers from around the world offering their products for tasting and purchasing. It is totally overstimulating and forced me to really focus on just a few things rather than trying to see the entire show. It isn’t even overeating that slowed me down rather it was the throngs of people whose elbows seemed to get sharper as the days progressed.
The cheese aisles are incredible- yes there are multiple via dei formaggi. It was insanely pleasing to see such a broad range of Italian cheeses as this is one country whose cheeses I think are not done justice in the American market. We’re used to the basics- Gorgonzola, Parmiggiano, Mozzarella, Taleggio- and we miss out on the range of Robiolas (discs wrapped in all kinds of leaves), and the incredible mountain cheeses like Bitto and Bagoss, not to mention the three layered cheese called Montebore.
My favorite part of Salone (after cheese) was actually the SlowFood Presidia section. Presidia are small groups of artisan producers who come together to help restore food traditions and protect food production that is at risk. There were presidia from around the world sharing their wares. It was incredibly enjoyable because each booth had educational materials about their product from how it is made to who is making it. A number of booths focused on cured meats made from breeds of pig that were near extinction and are now being raised in traditional ways- out on pasture and not slaughtered until 14 months (pigs that make industrial prosciutto are slaughtered at 6 months). There were also black beans from Basque country, producers of wines made from rare grape varietals in France and Italy, and vanilla and red rice from Madagascar. In the cheese department there was no shortage of variety beginning with mixed milk (cow and sheep) cheese that is aged in a sack made from sheep skin in southern Bosnia, traditional cheddar producers from the Somerset region of England, thistle renneted Serpa cheeses from Portugal, Morlacco del Grappa- a cow milk cheese made during summer months in the mountainous areas and is one of the most divine things I’ve ever tasted… the list goes on.
I’m going to do another post later in the week about the American farmers and cheesemakers I met while I was there- some of them old friends and some new faces. Stay tuned.
November 1st, 2006
Now I know that animated gifs are not the “hottest” thing on the web (unless it is 1996 again?) but after taking so many photos - we decided to build a few flip books:
(click on the image to load the animated gif)
This is the extruder at Vermont Butter & Cheese - it pushes the goat cheese curd into a plastic mold to form the cheese they call Coupole. His knee controls the extruder, once the Coupole form is filled with curd he salts the bottom and pops it out onto the rack.
At the Mozzarella Company the entire staff helps make the mozzarella. Here they are forming the stretched curd into balls of various sizes and dropping them into cold water to help the cheese maintain its new shape.
At Rogue Creamery the team fills the metal forms with curd and then transfers them to draining racks, flipping the newly formed cheeses them as they go.
At Crave Brothers they use a mozzarella maker that stretches the curd and forces it into the proper size and shape. The stream of water is used to encourage the newly formed cheeses to plop out onto the table to be collected up and packaged.
At Oakvale Farm Dale scoops curd out of the vat and packs the forms before placing them on the hydraulic press.
Mariano at Fiscalini Cheese takes slabs of recently cheddared cheese and runs it through a mill leaving a pile of neat rectangle-shaped pieces of curd that will be salted and eventually scooped into large forms.
At Haystack Mountain Peter flips and wraps the freshly formed cheese in cheese cloth.
At Goat Lady Dairy they wrap each and every cheese by hand.
Here are the sheep at Shepherd’s Way at dusk.
Finally at the end of our trip we stopped just south of the Fingerlakes of NY and took a walk into the gorge at Watkins Glen…
October 10th, 2006