Archive for May, 2006
This trip to Maine was a first for both Sasha and myself… and we wanted to highlight a few things we loved.
1. Maine - Wow! What a beautiful place! When we first entered the state and saw that it was called “Vacationland” we laughed - but we get it now. I can only imagine how intense it is in the winter but in warmer weather the scenery is breathtaking. And with the abbreviation of ME. it creates many hours of word play fun…
2. Grape Nut Ice Cream - look at that photo!! That is true love! Sasha doesn’t even like Grape Nuts (something about how it feels like eating gravel) but when she saw it she couldn’t resist. And for me, a Grape Nut fan, it is amazing! Vanilla ice cream and Grape Nuts at 11am… Which brings us to:
3. Doorman’s Dairy Dream - Outside Rockland, ME. We were driving out of town and saw this oasis and knew we had to stop… Being a Dairy Dream it is all in white with just a window for service. A single scoop cone and a milk shake cost the extraordiary price of $3.75. WTF?!
4. D.A.R.E. - Anyone our age remembers D.A.R.E. coming to the school telling us of the horrors of drugs… Now if they had come in this smokin’ van perhaps we would have actually listened!! When I saw this I actually said “There are so many things right about this- where do I begin…”
May 16th, 2006
Below are three audio clips from our interview with Michael Lee at Twig Farm. We spoke with Michael on a number of topics and wanted to share his thoughts in his oun voice. These clips (hopefully) don’t require much context. Each clip is around a minute.
Twig Farm Dream
Twig Farm Costs
Twig Farm Motivation
Our next audio snippets will be from Vermont Butter & Cheese.
May 16th, 2006
Name: Appleton Creamery
Owners: Caitlin, Brad and Fiona Hunter
Location: Appleton, Maine
Animals: 32 American Alpine goats. She also buys sheep (Dorset Freisian cross/Freisian) and cow’s (Jersey/Holstein cross) milk from neighbors
Cheeses/Products: Chevre, Feta, Chevre in olive oil (YUM), Crofter’s Cheese, Sheep Milk Yogurt, Caprino di Vino, St. George Blue, Brebrie, George’s Highland… really you just need to catch her at the farmer’s market because she changes it up often. We hear a new Camdenbert is on the horizon.
More Info: www.appletoncreamery.com
Farmers’ Markets where you can find Appleton’s cheeses:
Orono, Belfast, Camden, Rockland, Damariscotta, Bath (check the Maine Organic Farmers and Grower’s Association- MOFGA- for days and hours of each market)
We pulled into Appleton Creamery around 4pm and cheesemaker Caitlin Hunter’s husband Brad greeted us. He walked down from his sail-making workshop (New England is almost irritatingly rife with craftspeople), which occupies the structure next to their home. Brad walked us through their 5 acres which are aesthetically pleasing and, more importantly, laden with incredible projects. As we headed down the stone path, flanked on either side by a thriving flower garden, toward the barn Brad pointed out the micro-vineyard behind the house, now in its fifth year of growth. There is a lot of cheese being made on the farm and he feels obligated to develop a variety of washes for them so he is grafting some rare cider apple species onto older root stock on one end of their land and growing hops up the side of his workshop for home brewed beer later this season. They are preparing to seed their fruit and vegetable garden and we will do our best to get back for the harvest as they focus on heirloom varieties.
After seeing the spread of active projects happening on their farm we should have expected to discover a cheesemaker producing a crazy variety of goods but based on the size of the cheesemaking room we thought otherwise… Brad described it accurately when he said, “it is like making cheese on a boat”. The cheesemaking room is one section of the barn (which was built by Brad for Caitlin’s five goats years ago), making up about 20% of the overall space. The room is a long rectangle, maybe 6 feet wide and 20 feet long. Everything has its place and Caitlin moves around fluidly in this space, she has been making cheese her for over a decade.
When we wandered over to the barn, Caitlin was finishing up cheesemaking with her first apprentice of the season. Now- let me just say that if I worked in a “cozy” make room and was at the end of my day and already deep in the throes of teaching one person, I am not sure that I would have invited two people inside to hover over me for a couple hours. Lucky for us, this is precisely what Caitlin did. Once we began talking to her about how she became a cheesemaker this magnanimous behavior made sense and also made us some of her biggest fans.
Caitlin is a back-to-lander who became interested in goats and cheesemaking in the late 70’s. She is largely self-taught as there wasn’t anyone to learn from in cheesemaking or goat rearing. As a result of going it on her own and growing her business slowly, she keeps her equipment low-tech, “if I can’t fix it myself, I don’t really want to use it”. Another interesting outcome of her own path of development is her commitment to new cheesemakers having access to better information than she had. She has learned so much in her years of cheesemaking and has a lot of knowledge to share and every year she does just that by bringing on not one but often two apprentices. I know from experience at both Murray’s and Artisanal (in NYC) that having interns is both an enormous help and also a big commitment of time and energy. Teaching in the cheesemaking room requires a special kind of patience and Caitlin has endless amounts of it.
It is clear that the goats were her entry into the cheese world; making cheese was a way to keep the goats around. After years of larger and smaller herds, she has settled on a number that is manageable for her to care for (also keep in mind their land base of only 5 acres) and leave enough time for all the cheese she needs to make and sell at farmer’s markets. She has the great fortune of being surrounded by neighbors who were looking for outlets for their own milk. One neighbor sells her cows milk and another who wanted to be a shepherd but wasn’t quite ready to get into cheesemaking herself so she found Caitlin as an outlet for her sheep’s milk. This is a cheesemaker’s dream- you get to have a herd size you can manage and you have great sources for additional milk so you can produce a more reasonable volume of cheese (not to mention the fun of working with a variety of milk types).
If you are wondering why you have not seen many Maine cheeses in your local cheese shop that is because there is something unique happening in the state of Maine right now: cheesemakers are selling out locally. After tasting Caitlin’s cheeses this makes me feel both bummed (selfish me who wants to eat Maine cheeses wherever I am) and psyched that the products are consumed where they are made. Appleton Creamery is ideally situated to serve four farmer’s markets in the mid-coast region which is chock full of tourists at the height of milking season. Caitlin is the president of the Maine Cheese Guild (I know- we can’t believe it either- and she still has an off-farm job twenty hours each week in the local school system) and explained that as a group, the cheesemakers are focusing their attention on training more cheesemakers in the state rather than marketing their cheeses nationally. We appreciate this because every time we look at the beautiful Maine Cheese Guild poster our mouths water and our tummies grumble for all those cheeses we have to venture to Vacationland to get!
(If you are looking for some good cheese décor I highly recommend the posters- they are for sale on the Maine Cheese Guild website)
May 15th, 2006
Name: Willow Hill Farm
Owners: David Phinney and Willow Smart
Location: Milton, Vermont
Animals: 80-90 sheep (plus 80+ lambs) East Friesian and Icelandic Friesian crosses, 6 cows Dutch Belted and Brown Swiss
Cheeses/Products: Sheep milk yogurt, Alderbrook, Autumn Oak, Blue Moon, Cobble Hill, Fernwood, La Fleurie, Mountain Tomme, Summertomme, Vermont Brebis, whole grass-fed lamb, wool blankets
More Info: www.sheepcheese.com
David and Willow have truly rolled with the changes since they purchased their land in the early 90’s. Beginning as an in-ground fruits and vegetable crop operation, they now have their feet firmly planted in the shepherding and cheesemaking business. A few vestiges of their old life remain- the single rectangular plot of Christmas trees now serving as a windbreak for pastures, the last of the beef cattle that will go this year, and even a couple retired chicken coops remain near the barn. Some pieces of these earlier businesses have been consistent: they have a booming, seasonal business with their organic blueberries and currants which they open up each summer for people to pick on their own and also sell at local farmer’s markets.
The big thing happening these days at Willow Hill Farm is the final construction on their new production facility. David and Willow took us on a tour of the new facility as well as the old to give us a sense of the main goal for the new building: increased efficiency. They will absolutely achieve this and they will continue to work their tails off. David will be milking a minimum of 80 sheep and at least 5 cows while Willow will crank out over 15,000 pounds of cheese (she supplements her sheep’s milk with milk from Bonnieview Farm). Oh, and let’s not forget that David is also producing the delectable sheep’s milk yogurt and that Willow has to age, package, and take her cheeses and their organic blueberries and currants to market each week. Think about this for twenty seconds and you can understand why these two would strive for efficiency.
We were fortunate to visit post-lambing yet pre-milking (unlike cows and goats, sheep aren’t weaned from their mother’s milk for 30 days or so). The milking and cheesemaking will begin later than usual this year because of the new production facility construction. The production facility is built on tiered levels, like steps, to allow the milk to be brought into the make room using gravity feed rather than pumps. Along the side of the make room are large windows to allow visitors to see the process and after the cheese is made, aging and brining rooms are the final stop before shipping. To get some relaxed moments with a shepherd or cheesemaker is a rare privilege- our visit with Willow and David was like a goldmine. After arriving and taking a tour of the new make room being constructed, we hovered over them as they did chores around the solar ban used for lambing season. The next morning we followed them around for chores again, watching as David tagged some lambs born only days ago. Then we went to see the old cheese production facility and meet the cows in the original barn.
One thing that stuck with us after spending two days with them was the level of commitment to their farm’s philosophy- it is truly inspiring. Regardless of the additional work (and sometimes cost) associated with the tenets they believe in, they do things the way they believe they should be done. David and Willow are believers in the true roots of the organic movement- meaning sustainable land management. They follow organic practices in their pastures and continue to feed their animals organic grain even though they recently de-certified their cheeses because they are supplementing their cow milk with milk from a neighboring dairy that is not organic. They could have asked their neighbor to convert to organic, or they could have searched for an organic milk source outside of their local area. It was too much, in their minds, to ask another farmer to convert to their philosophy and yet, remaining true to their own beliefs they continue with organic practices on their farm.
Animal comfort is also a high priority on the farm. When David explains why he doesn’t dock tails on his sheep, you can see that he considers the experience of the animal, the tail is the only defense that the animals have against biting black and horse flies that are around all summer long while they are on pasture. He didn’t have any assistants until recent years and when he mentions that he didn’t have a day off from milking for 8 years there is no bitterness in the statement, in his mind I think he just sees it as what has to be done for the animals and their operation.
Proper care for the animals and the land results in clean milk with wonderful nuances in flavor and this makes beautiful cheese. Willow will continue to produce both pasteurized, soft-ripened cheeses that are aged for only a couple weeks and also raw milk cheeses held for 60 days or more. She is cautious about her excitement for working in the new facility, as she knows, from years of experience, that any small change can impact the finished product.
We have total confidence that she will rock these changes as she and David have all the ones that have come before.
If last season’s Fernwood (raw cow’s milk, washed rind) is any indication of what is to come we are SO looking forward to late June when the farm’s first cheeses will be available.
May 11th, 2006
So here are a few things we found and loved in Vermont:
1. Fiddleheads. They are in season up here and wow are they amazing. First of all they are cool as hell to look at. And they have a stunning taste - both crunchy and leafy, bitter and sweet. And up in Vermont they are all over!
2. Overheard in Vermont
“So your entree comes with a side vegatable”
“So do you want peas or fiddleheads?”
WHAT? In the same grouping of the ubiquitous mushy pea is fiddlehead?! If we were back in NY we would only see these bad boys on the menu at the “fine” restaurants. But to see it at a diner was extra special. Which leads me to number three.
3. Wayside Diner in Montpelier, VT. It has been written up by the Stern’s in Road Food so we decided to swing by and it did not dissapoint. Nothing has been changed on the inside and the food was quite yummy.
4. One place we stumbled upon was Angelina’s outside of Cambridge, VT on Rt. 15. Along the road, facing a beautiful field of grazing cows, sits the unassuming Angelina’s. Known for their Italian food, they have a respectable list of pizza and calzones and buried at the bottom of the menu is “burger - $2.50″ and what a burger!! For those from the mid-west it was like a Steak ‘n Shake Steakburger. Chopped onions & pickles, little mustard and a grilled bun. I cried a little.
May 8th, 2006
Name: Vermont Butter & Cheese
Owners: Allison Hooper and Bob Reese
Location: Websterville, Vermont
Animals: VBC gets milk for their cheeses from approximately 25 farms. Many are in Vermont, and they are working to help these farms grow, and some are in surrounding areas- New York and Quebec. All are within a 200-mile radius.
Cheeses/Products: Chevre, Creamy Goat Cheese, Crème Fraiche, Quark, Fromage Blanc, Mascarpone, Cultured Butter, Bonne-Bouche, Bijou, and Coupole
More info: www.vtbutterandcheeseco.com
When we grow up we want to be like Allison Hooper. A pioneer in artisan cheesemaking, she is a humble, straight shooter with palpable passion for what she does. She and Bob Reese, the co-founder and owner of Vermont Butter & Cheese (VBC), have grown with the industry and are now expanding it with their new production facility. In a sense Allison is returning to her cheesemaking roots - the new cheeses VBC is producing (Bijou, Bonne-Bouche, and Coupole) are the kinds of cheeses that drew her into the profession over 20 years ago when she spent time on farms in Brittany, France.
When we arrived at VBC we went right to the new facility and watched as Allison and Adeline Folley, the operations manager who moved to Vermont from France to work with Allison on the new production facility, carefully drained and flipped each rack of Bonne-Bouche (during the first 24 hrs there is much hands on care needed). After this we walked through each aging room to see how the equipment works, see how the cheeses look, and smell the variety of aromas that come from the cheeses at each stage in their development.
Allison cleared her afternoon (this is no small feat) and took us out to one of the goat farms that supplies VBC with milk. Oak Knoll Dairy is in Windsor, VT about an hour and fifteen-minute drive from VBC. Karen Lindbo and George Redick have approximately 600 goats on their land. Their goats are not pastured because they don’t have the land required to sustain this, especially given that goats are not grazers (grass eaters), they are browsers. The plants they like to eat take even longer to re-grow than grasses, which makes pasturing goats a big challenge with any size herd. Oak Knoll grows their own feed for the goats so that they know exactly what they are getting.
Oak Knoll Dairy Farm
Karen, George, and their most trusted herding dog Moss gave us the full tour from the big, beautiful old barn, which houses the kid pen and maternity ward, to the pens of young goats and the main barn, milking parlor and milk bottling/yogurt making room. They treated us with bottles of chocolate goats milk- YUM- that has an incredibly thick and rich texture.
We spent the evening with Allison and her family just steps away from where the dream began- in the old barn across from their house. Day two we were out the door at 6:30 to start un-molding Bonne-Bouche with Adeline. After removing the cheeses from their molds, we sat down with Allison and Adeline to taste Bijou, Bonne-Bouche, and Coupole from various batches over the past month. They are doing some revolutionary things with these cheeses- defining the specifics of the flavor profile of each cheese and tasting to those profiles and designing special packaging that provides a mini-cave for each piece/package so that it can make it through the distribution channels and taste how they want it to at each stage in its development. And the results are terrific even while they continue to test and nail down the profiles of each cheese.
Adeline gave us the full tour of the old and new facility. She knows the place inside and out; we saw how all the cultured (crème fraiche, fromage blanc, quark, feta, chevre, creamy goat cheese and butter) and fresh (mascarpone) products are made and packaged. Of course we also saw all the behind-the-scenes aspects of the new plant- the compressor room will make your brain hurt with all of the wires and switches and pipes overhead. Adeline knows what every single pipe feeds and what every switch and valve controls. It is apparent that the design, construction and operation of this new facility have all been meticulously planned.
The new make room is a big risk for Vermont Butter & Cheese. It is a large capital investment for them, but it is a bold move that is summed up best by Allison when she said it is better to be bold and lie awake at night worried about things working out than to be timid and lie awake thinking about missed opportunities. We couldn’t agree more.
We interviewed Allison and then she sent us off with some crates of Bijou and Coupole to share with cheesemakers down the road- we told you…she is a class act!
Next stop: Willow Hill Farm
May 7th, 2006
Name: Twig Farm
Owners: Michael and Emily Lee (let’s not forget 8-month old Carter)
Location: West Cornwall, VT
Herd Size: 17 does, 14 kids
Cheeses: Twig Farm Cow’s Milk Tomme, Twig Farm Goat’s Milk Tomme, Twig Farm Wheel
More info: www.twigfarm.com
When someone says “Vermont farmstead cheese” I think people imagine a place like Twig Farm. Michael and Emily Lee milked 17 goats and in their first cheese-producing year and made 3,000 lbs of cheese. That is a little less than 60 lbs per week. In Vermont lingo they are “flat-landers” meaning they live down in Addison county where the landscape is somewhat conducive to farming. Their barn and home blend seamlessly into the surrounding land that is thick with spindly trees and brush. Their land is ideal for goats to work as goats are technically not grazers- they will eat grass but their preference is what is called browse. Basically this is anything you would not want to walk through if you were out for a stroll in shorts and sandals; the thickety bushes with tiny leaves and brambles. These inconvenient plants are the very things that can create such stunning flavors in Twig Farm’s cheeses. Michael commented that he wished he had an entire field of honeysuckle to put the goats in… we do too, but for the time being we will settle for the garden variety of plants that nature provides.
Michael is up at 4:45 AM for chores and to prepare the milking parlor. When weather permits he walks the goats out to small paddocks after their morning milking. They browse for the day and return to the barn around 4pm for the second milking. Sounds like lots of downtime in the middle of the day right? But there are many other things to be done even on a farm this size. Milk is collected from neighboring farms for cheesemaking (17 goats don’t produce enough milk for cheesemaking multiple times a week), chores in the barn, setting up fences around new paddocks, brining, washing and turning cheese in the cellar and then boxing up orders.
Although we slept through morning milking on our first day- we woke up to watch the goats doing their springtime pecking order exercises which consist of rearing up on their hind legs and coming down head to head with one another. We got to walk the goats out out to one of the paddocks with Michael, then I did a bit of cheese turning and patting in the cellar while he packed up some cheese for Saxelby Cheesemongers. He took a couple hours out of his day to sit down for an interview with us (we’ll be posting some clips soon). This brought us right up to the afternoon milking. We “helped” Michael a bit in the barn and then washed some fiddlehead ferns for the big cheesemaker feast…
Addison County is loaded with cheesemakers. On our second night at Twig Farm Michael and Emily offered to have some over for dinner so we could meet them and taste their cheeses. The meal was superb- both the company and the food. Along with Michael cooking a pork shoulder that slow cooked in some of his amazing goat’s milk, Carleton Yoder and his wife Moira from Champlain Valley Creamery brought two cheeses, mozzarella and a new soft-ripened, triple creme, and CHEESECAKE made with their ridiculously real cream cheese. Hannah Sessions from Blue Ledge Farm had two of the farm’s goat’s milk cheeses with her- the elegant Lake’s Edge and a new washed-rind that her husband Greg has been experimenting with. The new folks on the scene were the Crawfords (siblings Jim and Sherry) and their cheesemaker Maria Trumpler with their raw cow’s milk cheese Vermont Ayr. Of course Michael cracked open a wheel of Twig’s Soft Cheese for the occassion as well.
The opportunity to meet these cheesemakers was excellent and also made us just a tiny bit sad to know that while we are visiting many farms, for every one that we do see there are probably 5 more that we’re not seeing. Poor baby, I know- we don’t expect any sympathy from you- its just an observation!
Next stop: Vermont Butter and Cheese
May 6th, 2006
We could not have pulled out of New York so confidently without the help of our friend, and fellow cheese enthusiast, Anne Saxelby. She has taken our cat Chubbs in for the next four months. Although Chubbs does not eat cheese he definitely enjoys the company of people who are crazy about cheese so Anne’s Brooklyn apartment seemed like the ideal summer home for him.
Anne’s cat care offer is particularly magnanimous given that she is opening a cheese shop of her own called SAXELBY CHEESEMONGERS in NEW YORK CITY this coming SATURDAY MAY 6th at the ESSEX STREET MARKET on the Lower East Side. Anne’s shop will focus on American cheeses. Comfortable behind the counter, in the barn, and up to her elbows in curd, we think Anne will make the most exceptional proprietor.
We are sad that we will miss the opening day but we want to encourage anyone who is in New York this weekend to head down to the Essex Street Market for her grand opening on Saturday.
May 2nd, 2006