Meadow Creek Dairy Interview

Cheese By Hand LogoHow fortuitous that we would hit this farm in our audio chain a couple weeks after their landmark cheese, GRAYSON, was announced runner up for Best in Show and First Place in the Farmstead Cow’s Milk category at the 2008 American Cheese Society Competition in Chicago. This may sound like a podunky thing but there were over 1,100 cheeses entered in this competition- such high ranks are a big statement.

Helen and Rick Feete have an amazing farm in Southwestern Virginia and they are so engaging and interesting that we seriously considered posting the entire two hour interview but then thought better of it (we wanted to edit out as much of ourselves as possible). I will leave it to them to tell you about their herd of Jersey and Jersey crosses and their philosophy on farming.

Meadow Creek Dairy Interview

Read our other posts about Meadow Creek Dairy here.

Up next: Goat Lady Dairy
Again, if you want to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes, just search for Cheese by Hand in the iTunes store and click “Subscribe.”

Add comment August 8th, 2008

Cato Corner Farm Interview

Cheese By Hand LogoCato Corner Farm was the final stop on our 4 month trip but being part of the Northeast we decided (like 3 Corner Field Farm) to include it now to stick to regionalism! Cato Corner is run by Elizabeth McAllister and son Mark Gillman. They have created a serious following for the breadth of cheeses they make from the milk of their small herd. In our new Pacific Northwest location (we moved about three months ago), I hear more people lament the absence of Hooligan- a pudgy and pungent Cato favorite- than just about any other east coast cheese. As we discovered during our visit to their farm, Mark and Elizabeth are firmly committed to their region and are unlikely to consider shipping cheese cross-country seeing that they currently sell out completely between regional farmers’ markets and a handful of specialty cheese stores along the eastern corridor.
Cato Corner Interview

Read our other posts about Cato Corner Farm here.

Up next: Meadow Creek Dairy.
Again, if you want to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes, just search for Cheese by Hand in the iTunes store and click “Subscribe.”Or just click here!

Add comment July 20th, 2008

Protecting raw milk cheese in the U.S.

Most cheese enthusiasts in the U.S. are familiar with the impassioned debates about raw milk and raw milk cheese. Considering the massive amount of press time spent covering food safety issues I am doubtful that this issue will be resolved in the near future. Basically the laws within the U.S. prevent the production or importing of any cheeses made from raw (unpasteurized) milk that are not aged for 60 days or more. So all fresh cheeses and the majority of soft, gooey ones are made from pasteurized milk. Most cheesemakers have accepted this and developed cheeses accordingly- some masterful enough to create bloomy rind and pudgy washed rind cheeses that can clear the 60 day mark and still showcase flavors other than amonia. This is a real triumph considering that most cheesemakers here are learning affinage from scratch- not learning from their predecessors like producers can in Europe.

But there is still a lurking risk that at some point the FDA will decide that cheeses aged beyond 60 days should also be made from pasteurized milk. Thankfully we have a band of producers who are proactively working, with the FDA I might add, to prevent this from happening. A small, producer-run organization called the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association has formed quietly and is working to support raw milk producers in developing their cheeses and also to develop plans called HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points). HACCP plans focus on examining the production process and creating many checkpoints and safeguards throughout production rather than relying on post-production inspection for food safety so that if/when the day comes that the FDA moves to strike raw milk cheese completely, the producers can present a united, organized front and show what they do make their products safely.

I spoke with Helen Feete of Meadow Creek Dairy recently about the development of the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association (RMCA) and also the Slow Food Raw Milk Cheese Presidium. She has been involved with both efforts extensively as she believes strongly in protecting raw milk cheese production here in the U.S.

Before you listen to the first bit it is important to understand a bit about Slow Food and how the RMCA relates to it. Slow Food International and Slow Food USA both have been instrumental in fostering the development of this group. It all began with the formation of what Slow Food calls a “presidium” for American raw milk cheeses. As Slow Food puts it,

Slow Food Presidia work in different ways, but the goals remain constant: to promote artisan products; to stabilize production techniques; to establish stringent production standards and, above all, to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods.”

In the case of raw milk cheeses, Slow Food wanted a group of producers to work towards protecting the right to make cheese from raw milk- the most obvious approach being to methodically prove that these products can be produced safely. The American Raw Milk Cheese Presidium has developed protocols or rules that define specifically how raw milk cheese must be produced if they want to be part of the presidia- similar to production requirements of AOC or DOP products. The cheeses included in the Presidium are also representing American raw milk cheese at events home and abroad. Out of the work done by the presidium came the development of a related group called the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association. This group is intended to be more of a working resource for raw milk cheesemakers to help them develop their products and practices.

One final important point: Membership in the Presidium happens only when a cheese is evaluated and accepted because it meets a set standard of taste and quality. The guidelines or protocols set by the Presidium for raw milk cheese production can be met over time but the producer must show a commitment to the protocols. Membership to the Raw Milk Cheesemakers Association is open to all- and that group exists to offer education and support to cheese producers in the U.S.
Here is Helen talking about getting the RMCA started:

RMCA purpose and development

Next Helen talks about the FDA focus on raw milk cheeses. She mentions Cathy Donnelly, a food safety expert at the University of Vermont who has been instrumental in creating a bridge between raw milk producers and the FDA.

Scrutiny of raw milk cheese in US

Helen on partnering with the FDA rather than fighting against them… Partnering with FDA

There have been some complaints about the protocols or guidelines set by the Presidium- some cheesemakers feel that the requirements are so stringent that they are unattainable for most small producers. Here is what Helen had to say about this:

Debate over protocols

Here are two other clips from my conversation with Helen that I find interesting:

Do producers agree about why raw milk cheese is important?

What can consumers do to support these groups?

Add comment July 14th, 2008

The Storque is Talking about us…

UnFancy Food Show 2008Etsy (the Storque’s mothership) is a business that is all about helping people who are making things by hand get their products to people who want them. Very cool and very much in line with our project all about cheesemakers who craft cheeses by hand. They put up a post about the project today and also gave a nod to an upcoming event here in NYC that I’m organizing with my former colleague Tom Mylan (aka Grocery Guy). It is called the UnFancy Food Show and features local producers and their wares. This year we’ve got double the vendors we had last year and of course there will also be beer. Check it out!

What: An opportunity to meet the people who make your food, maybe even have a beer with them and then take home some tasty eats.
When: June 29th, 12-6pm
Where: East River Bar, South 6th Street between Bedford & Berry in Williamsburg
How much: Suggested $5 Donation

And we have a modest website where you can check out the producers that will be there.

Add comment June 26th, 2008

3 Corner Field Farm Interview

Cheese By Hand LogoWe actually visited 3 Corner on our way back into NYC at the end of our trip but felt that they ought to be included in the Northeast push because there are some common themes we find interesting. Stewardship, values, integrity- these are all things that Karen and Paul use as their guiding principles in their day to day operations. Every time they spoke we learned something- we hope you do too.

Karen in the field

3 Corner Field Farm Interview
Read our other posts about 3 Corner Field Farm here.

Up next: Cato Corner Farm

Again, if you want to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes, just search for Cheese by Hand in the iTunes store and click “Subscribe.”

Add comment June 17th, 2008

Westfield Farm Interview

Cheese By Hand LogoBob and Debbie at Westfield Farm are a rare find. They slipped into the artisan cheese business more serendipitously than many. After spending hours talking to them we felt lucky that Bob had followed his instincts right on out to Hubbardston, Massachusettes. Their frankness and candor get right at the heart of what it is to make a product with your own hands and then educate the public about it.

Westfield Farm Interview

Check out our other posts about Westfield Farm here.

Next up: 3 Corner Field Farm

Again, if you want to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes, just search for Cheese by Hand in the iTunes store and click “Subscribe.”

Add comment June 2nd, 2008

Appleton Creamery Interview

Cheese By Hand LogoAfter leaving Vermont, we headed to Maine to visit Caitlin Hunter at Appleton Creamery. Appleton is nestled among a number of popular vacation spots near the coast of Maine. The operation is aptly called a creamery as Caitlin makes cheese with milk from her own goats, a neighboring sheep dairy, and also milk from a cow dairy nearby. Their cheeses are available within the borders of Maine so be sure to look for them if your travels take you there.
Appleton Creamery Interview

You can read other Cheese by Hand posts about Appleton Creamery here.

Next Up: Westfield Farm.

Again, if you want to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes, just search for Cheese by Hand in the iTunes store and click “Subscribe.”

Add comment May 12th, 2008

Willow Hill Farm Interview

Cheese By Hand LogoOur next visit is with Willow Smart & Dave Phinney at Willow Hill Farm. They manage a herd of approximately 85 sheep. Willow and Dave produce a number of cheeses (including Autumn Oak, Fernwood and La Fleurie) but also yogurt, lamb and wool. When we visited them, they were in the middle of construction on their new cheesemaking facility. Now that new space is operational.

Willow Hill Farm Interview
Chewing ewe in the solar barn

You can read other Cheese by Hand posts about Willow Hill Farm here.

Next Up: Appleton Creamery.

Again, if you want to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes, just search for Cheese by Hand in the iTunes store and click “Subscribe.”

Add comment March 11th, 2008

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