Archive for November, 2006

Cheese by Hand Thanksgiving cheese board…

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.

Packing curd into Aspenhurst form inside the vat Filled Aspenhurst mold waiting to be moved to the press

Aspenhurst being placed in the press

Add comment November 26th, 2006

America, America, our great nation of artisan cheeses

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.

Jersey cow before milking at meadow Creek Dairy Twig Farm goat with milk mustache One of Jasper Hill's finest Ayershires- Maggie

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Add comment November 22nd, 2006

Farmstay at Meadow Creek Dairy

Judith and Debbie during morning milkingI 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.

Cows gathered around the hay ring after morning milking

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.

Early on in curd cutting- Grayson make Later on in the curd cutting- Grayson

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.

Debbie removes a plate for pressing under the whey

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.

Furry ears show you the build up on the Jersey coat for winter coldThe 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.

Puff pastry encrusted Grayson

Add comment November 17th, 2006

Via dei formaggi

Via dei formaggi
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).


Display of cheeses at Salone del GustoAt 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.

Robiola Castagna- goat milk disk wrapped in chestnut leaves

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 Morlacco cheese made near the Alp called Monte Grappa of Italythat 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.

New_Italian

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.

Add comment November 1st, 2006


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