Check out the fantastic video of 3 Corner Field Farm from a newspaper reporter local to them in Glens Falls, NY.
This is so great for Karen and Paul, the owners of the farm. You can even get a sneak peek at the cellar that they completed construction on just this spring! Look for her new, smoked, aged sheep milk tomme at the Union Square Greenmarket in NY or go online and buy directly from the farm.
July 18th, 2007
First and foremost- anyone who did not know about the UFFS a week ago Sunday please accept our most heartfelt apologies. It was a raucous success with nine food producers from the Northeast sampling and selling their wares to a crowd of a couple hundred people on a scorching Sunday afternoon at the East River Bar in Brooklyn. Thanks to Nancy Nowacek for our stellar flyer and UFFS logo- displayed here on a lampost in Brooklyn.
Why were Tom Mylan (Grocery Guy), buyer for the Marlow & Sons shop, and myself driven to create this event that brought 9 regional producers and a couple hundred people to a bar in Williamsburg to eat food and drink beer together? We have been to the Fancy Food Show and while we understand that it serves a great purpose for the business end of speciality food (i.e. producers can come to this show once or twice a year and see all of their biggest clients) it lacks the things that brought us to food in the first place: eating and drinking great food with friends and direct contact with the people making the stuff.
Our goal was to strip away the business arm altogether and create more of a farmer’s market vibe with one important addition- BEER. The entire gig was much more Ramona Quimby than Martha Stewart- no brochures or big fancy booths- just basic tables with butcher paper and great food. On Sunday afternoon, as waves of people kept coming, we determined that we are not alone in our desire to talk directly to food producers over cold brews.
The show had serious HEART. Thank you to the 8 producers who came and sweated it out for the people.Bob McClure of McClure’s Pickles, Darlene and Carol from Gorilla Coffee, Sebastian of In Pursuit of Tea, Jon from Wheelhouse Pickles, Chris from Consider Bardwell Farm, Mateo of Jasper Hill Farm, Jessica from Fleisher’s Meats, Roger Repohl of Bronx honey, Taza Stone Ground Chocolate, and Anna was there representing the Diner Journal (get a subscription!).
Hope we see you at UFFS in ‘08.
July 16th, 2007
I go to the farmer’s market here in New York City’s Union Square a couple times a week. Wednesdays are the best because it isn’t as crowded as Saturday and some of my favorite vendors are there: Tamarack Hollow Farm (selling pigs and chickens) and Three Corner Field Farm (selling all things sheep- mutton, lamb, yogurt, cheese and milk). Not only are their products excellent but I almost always walk away from their stands having learned something about farming or about their experiences.
It is one thing to think about farming conceptually- farmers work the land, care for the animals, then they bring them to a central location and we pay them for their work- and quite another to consider what the farmer’s day is actually like. I know that since returning from our tour, and watching the temperature drop (finally) over the last couple weeks, when I walk out my front door and that first gust of wind blows through my jacket into my bones I often think about the farmer who got up earlier than I did and went to work outside. They aren’t the only ones who do this… cops, construction workers, garbage men, landscapers- all of them are up and outside too it’s just that I’ve had farming on my mind.
A couple weeks ago, on a particularly frigid Wednesday, I stopped by to see Karen Weinberg (owner of 3 Corner Field Farm) and shortly after I arrived she got a phone call that she absolutley had to take. I hung around her stand to field questions from customers while she paced in the patch of sunshine between her stand and the neighboring apple booth. As soon as she was on hold she explained that she had been waiting for this call for months- it was from the USDA.
The basics of the situation Karen was discussing with the USDA are this: Months ago there had been a problem at one of the slaughterhouses Karen uses for her lambs. Meat from another farmer had been tagged as potentially contaminated and the USDA had done an investigation. No conclusive evidence of actual contamination was found but the USDA put an indefinite hold on the any meat that was in the slaughterhouse during the time that the allegedly contaminated meat was there. Indefinite holds and perishable products don’t go together so well.
Karen had taken fifteen lambs to the slaughterhouse, watched them go in the front door and then never saw any trace of them after that.
The slaughterhouse wants her to take it up with the USDA because they had imposed this unending hold on the products and the USDA wants her to hold the slaughterhouse accountable because they had been in possession of the product at the time it disappeard.
Karen broke down what losing these lambs meant for her in financial terms- which is not insignificant. Retail pricing on the various cuts of lamb that she sells range from $9-15.50/lb. I looked at her and immediately thought of the emotional value of the animals. I remembered what she said to me this summer (we visited her this summer on the tour) when I asked her about the first time she took animals to slaughter. She said that the first time had been so chaotic- she was so worried about them escaping or something that she had not been able to be completely present to what was going on… and then she said that over time, as she felt more confident about how to transport them, taking the animals to slaughter had actually gotten harder.
And then I thought about all the time and care she had put into those lambs to then have to think that they were slaughtered and wasted. Not sold, cooked, eaten, and celebrated but wasted.
Here is the thing about this entire situation- most of us, even meat eaters, don’t like the idea of animals going to slaughter. And yet the reality of cheese is that one of its byproducts is young animals that are born for the purpose of kicking off the cycle of lactation in their mothers. Dairy farmers cannot afford to keep all of these young animals and let them live out their years on the farm. If they do keep them around, like Karen does, many of them have to be raised for meat because only a handful of the females are needed each season as replacements for milking ewes that are being retired.
Just for a minute lets put all the feelings we have about this situation aside and look at the slaughterhouse situation for non-industrial dairy farmers. If a dairy farmer wants to be able to sell meat from their animals in cuts (not as whole animals- the rules are different for this) then they have to have them slaughtered at a USDA regulated facility. Doesn’t sound so bad except that these facilities are more expensive and not necessarily the closest facilities to a given farm. The end result can be that the farmer pays more, might have to transport their animals farther (which creates more stress for the animals), and can have a difficult time finding such a facility that is willing to take a small volume of animals at a time.
Karen is left wondering why she paid more for this facility when the USDA doesn’t seem to be offering an incredible level of service to either the slaughterhouse or its customers.
Small slaughterhouses are going out of business all over the country because they cannot afford to build new facilities or upgrade existing ones to meet federal standards that have been developed with industrial animal processing plants in mind. This is a major problem for farmstead artisan cheesemakers or any other small dairy farms. Part of maintaining a network of sustainable agriculture and cheese production is ensuring the existence of regional slaughterhouses to support it. We absolutely want the animals from these farms to have the best possible experience throughout their lives- even at the end.
If you care about preserving small farms, the existence of these slaughterhouses (with acceptable sanitation and animal treatment practices) is mandatory. If you enjoy cheese, milk, butter and yogurt from these farms- even if you never eat the meat- this is still an issue you that needs your involvement. I don’t know how to fix this problem but I bet that a great next stop would be to talk to the farmers that provide you with great animal products (this includes dairy) and ask them if they need your support.
January 31st, 2007
Unfortunately we are not on the road again. Just back on the proverbial cheese trail. Given the upcoming debate of the 2007 Farm Bill I’ve been reading a lot in various papers about the state of agriculture- something I have been thinking about often since we returned from our trip.
If you are interested in learning more I would recommend the “Harvesting Cash” series in the Washington Post that has run over the last few months- many interesting pieces there, a number involving the dairy industry.
And, of course, I also recommend that you take a look at Dan Barber’s Op-Ed piece that ran in the New York Times last week. I’ve seen references to his piece on many a food blog- just in case you didn’t see it- here is a link to make sure you do. “Amber Fields of Bland“
January 20th, 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