CHEESE NOTES

This Sunday was a big day for lovers of Vermont cheese: the 6th annual Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival took place on the banks of Lake Champlain, a few miles south of Burlington. The event is located on the idyllic Shelburne Farms property, just down the road from Burlington; with its endless rolling green meadows dotted with cow and sheep, and sprawling, slate-shingled barns and buildings of wood and brick, Shelburne Farms could be mistaken for a British estate that had dropped from the sky and landed on this perfect patch of New England soil. To the west, Lake Champlain lapped the shore, and in between tastings, many people chose to stroll by the water or swim at the small beach down the path a bit from the main event tent. The weather cooperated splendidly for the second year in a row, giving us a pleasantly warm, sunny day perfect for strolling through tents and fields. 

The festival itself was divided between a a couple of tents in front of the main building, and the Coach Barn — a rambling, red brick structure with arched ceilings originally built in 1902 to house the carriages and riding horses of the Webb Family. The tent and barn were packed from corner to corner with cheesemakers, brewers and food artisans of many stripes and varieties, with the central courtyard serving as the space for cheese-related educational demonstrations; seminars occurred in a a back space of the Coach Barn, and Shelburne Farms had cheesemaking demos going throughout the day. 

Close to 40 cheesemakers were represented at the Festival; here’s the list (I’d hate to leave anyone out): Big Picture FarmBlue Ledge FarmBlythedale FarmBonnieview FarmBoston Post DairyBoucher Family FarmBridport CreameryCabot Creamery CooperativeCellars at Jasper HillChamplain Valley CreameryCobb Hill FarmConsider Bardwell FarmCrooked Mile FarmCrowley Cheese CompanyFairy Tale FarmFranklin Foods Grafton Village Cheese CompanyHi-Land FarmMaplebrook FarmMountain Home FarmMt. Mansfield CreameryNeighborly FarmsParish Hill CreameryPlymouth Artisan CheeseSage Farm Goat DairyScholten Family FarmShadagee FarmShelburne FarmsSpoonwood Cabin CreamerySpring Brook FarmSweet Rowen FarmsteadTaylor FarmThistle Hill FarmThree Shepherds CheeseTwig FarmVermont CreameryVermont Farmstead CheeseVermont Shepherdvon Trapp FarmsteadWest River CreameryWillow Hill FarmWillow Moon FarmWoodcock Farm Cheese CompanyRogue Creamery (Guest Cheese maker- Oregon), Cherry Grove Farm (Guest Cheese maker- New Jersey), Cricket Creek Farm (Guest Cheese maker- Massachusetts)

In addition, a long list of artisan producers — bringing all the foods, beverages and spirits that goes so well with cheese — were in the house, with some great breweries , distillers , wineries, and more preserves, chocolates, baked goods, pickled everything, smoked and cured meats and ice creams than you could shake a stick at.

There are too many great cheeses (over 200 in fact) to  list them all, but just a few notes: For Parish Hill Creamery, this was their first time at this festival. At last year’s festival, Peter Dixon was manning the Vermont Cheese Council booth, and spoke to me about their creamery being in the works, and their explorations of the possibility of working with a brooklyn-based affineur to age the cheeses. Parish Hill cheeses are now on the market, and that Brooklyn affineur, Crown Finish Caves, is open for business and aging the cheeses as we speak! (you can read about my visit to Crown Finish here). Cricket Creek, fresh off their successful Kickstarter, was in attendance with their Maggies Round, Maggie’s Reserve and other cheeses. Woodcock Farm (where I’ve spent time as a cheesemaker in the past) was serving up the Summer Snow, True Blue and Timberdoodle at their booth, and Von Trapp Farmstead’s Savage and Mt Alice were in fine form. Twig Farm’s Crawford, a large, rustic goat’s milk tomme, was a new one for me, and Big Picture Farm, famous for their goat’s milk caramels, are now producing cheese as well, with the Sonnet, a goat’s milk tomme. 

Cult brewer The Alchemist was in attendance, sampling their brews, and that wasn’t the only place their much sought after Heady Topper showed up: Marsh Hollow, makers of artisan jelly and preserves, had beer jellies made from the Heady, as well as other craft brewers like Wolavers. Last year I discovered Caledonia Spirits' honey and juniper infused Gin, and this year they had a new product, the Barr Hill Reserve Tom Cat, an oak-barrel aged version of their original gin. Vermont Salumi is a new company with a delicious red wine and garlic Salumi. Switchel is a traditional Vermont “energy drink”, made with ginger, maple syrup and herbs, and VT Switchel now makes it in bottled and concentrate form (one ounce mixed with 8 ounces water makes a serving). There was a heavy Cider presence this year, with Shacksbury’s The Basque and Citizen Cider's Wit's Up standing out for me. 

The seminar I attended was a comparison of Vermont cheeses and the European cheeses that inspired them. leading the event were Peter Dixon, from Parish Hill Creamery, who brought his Caciocavallo-style Suffolk Punch, and tasted it alongside an Italian Caciocavallo; Jeremy Stephenson from Spring Brook Farm, presenting his Reading Raclette, alongside a French AOC Raclette; and  Mary from Grafton Village Cheese Co., who presented their Leyden with cumin seeds, which is based on a traditional Dutch cheese called Leidse Kaas. It was a great opportunity to experience the differences that terroir and milk-type can have on a cheese. We were able to observe the differences that the feed and the season can make on the color and flavor of the paste, and observe how cow breeds — Jersey’s, with their high-fat milk, being quite popular in the US but very rare in Europe — affected the texture, buttery character and aging of the wheels. 

There were other cheese-related shindigs occurring in conjunction with the festival as well. On Saturday evening, a special event was held at Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, in Randolph, VT, to celebrate Vermont Creamery's 30th Anniversary. As one of the groundbreaking goat dairies in Vermont (founded in 1984 as an 80-goat dairy at a time when Vermont was all about cows and cheesemakers were few and far between), Vermont Creamery has since grown into one of the leaders of the Vermont cheesemaking scene, particularly renowned for their mastery of the geotrichum-rinded French Loire Valley style cheeses, like Coupole and Bonne Bouche. Their “educational farm” at Ayers Brook, opened in the past year, is a key part of their strategy for the future; this state of the art goat farm and creamery is an “open book” operation, which means that anybody can come visit, view all the facilities and operations, and even pop open the books and accounting for the farm, to see how they make it work! Allison Hooper and Bob Reese, the founders and owners of Vermont Creamery, hope to expand the number of goat dairies in Vermont (with the idea that the milk will be used in their own cheese production; but that's not a requirement for participating in the open book process). The event included a BBQ, music, ample opportunities to taste Vermont Creamery's fine products, visit the goat barns and view the milking parlors in action. Cheesemakers, mongers, and neighbors alike showed up to help the Vermont Creamery team celebrate their considerable accomplishments, while baby goats in red neckerchiefs scampered underfoot.  

This is the second of the festival’s I’ve attended, and I will definitely be coming back, not just because of the cheese, but because the event is remarkably well-organized and smooth running for a festival of this size and variety. Food festivals can often be a nightmare of overpacked venues, people throwing elbows and supplies running out, but I’ve never experienced that here. This festival is fast becoming a cheese world annual don’t-miss event, and for good reason. 

One of the values of events like the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival is their ability to gather a region’s best producers under one roof, and introduce them to a public that might not be aware of them, especially of the smaller producers. Every year brings new producers, and new styles and experiments from established cheesemakers, so it’s always inspiring to see how the industry is evolving. It’s a wonderful way to get a snapshot of the state of Vermont cheese. 

Note: check out the Cutting The Curd podcast Episode 184, where Greg Blais talks to Lisa Battilana of the Woodstock Farmers Market, and Perry Soulos, of Arrowine, about their experiences at the Festival (this was also Soulos’ first time in New England!).

On The Bookshelf: Cheese and Microbes

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There is a universe of invisible players participating in the creation of every wheel of cheese; at the microbial level, an army of bacteria, molds and yeasts do the heavy lifting of transforming the white fluid that emerges from the udders into the rainbow of cheese varieties we know and love. Some of those microbes are present in the milk even before it leaves the animal; others are added by the cheesemakers — whether from lab-produced foil packs or carefully nurtured mother cultures — or are resident in the making and aging spaces through which the wheels pass.

Here to tell the story of this microbial world comes a new book: Cheese And Microbes, a compendium of current writing on the role of microbiology in cheesemaking, from ASM Press (the American Society of Microbiology). Dr Catherine Donnelly, the editor, as well as the author of the first chapter, is a professor of nutrition and food science, an international Listeria expert, and was one of the founders of the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese, at the University of Vermont, Burlington (which sadly had to close down its venerated educational program just a couple years ago). As such she is someone who really knows her Candidum’s from her Staph’s, and has been at the forefront of the explosion of new cheesemakers in the US in the last couple decades. (Note: I completed the VIAC Cheesemaker Certification program right before it closed, in 2013).

We might not be able to see these organisms at work, but we can certainly see the results, whether in the brainy wrinkles of a Loire Valley goat’s milk cheese, the pungent red smear of a washed rind or the vibrant indigo veins running through a blue cheese. Whether a cheese, at peak, oozes into a puddle as it warms or sags but holds firm; whether it smells faintly of mushrooms or strongly of barnyard, can come down to which microbes were dominant at crucial points in the aging process.

Read more

Is the secret to a perfect grilled cheese sandwich substituting the butter with…mayo? According to Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of Prune, it is. Via Food52.com

A grilled cheese sandwich is a perfect union of bread, butter, and melty cheese — so why would you ever want to turn your back on one of its key ingredients? Especially if that ingredient is butter? 

Lots of reasons, as I learned from Gabrielle Hamilton, chef and owner of Prune. Even diehard lovers of the buttery version (I am one) will find something new and valuable out of smearing their bread with mayo instead. As she says in this CHOW video, “This is the greatest cooking medium of all time for a grilled cheese sandwich.”

Mayo won’t burn as easily as butter does, which — just like that — solves the biggest challenge of grilled cheese: how to get the insides to heat through before the outside blackens.

But these are matters of convenience and reliability; what’s most important are the results, which are not like any grilled cheese that butter could make. The oil and egg in mayonnaise brown and crisp more evenly and lavishly than butter, creating a glossy crunch from edge to edge.

Get the full recipe

(photos ©2014 Food52.com)

High-res Over at Cheese Underground, Jeanne Carpenter reports on the rise of small cheesemakers. Her focus is on Wisconsin, but the trend is evident from coast to coast in the US:

Small Cheesemaking Operations Lead Growth in U.S. Cheese Industry
Specialty Food News today reports that while the overall U.S. cheesemaking industry is on the rise, interestingly enough, the number of small cheesemaking establishments is far outpacing the growth of larger operations in America. 
According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census, between 2007 and 2012, the total number of cheesemaking establishments in the U.S. rose by 13 percent to 542, while growth in small establishments, (defined as employing up to 19 people), rose more than double that rate, by 28 percent, to 250.
The report reveals that in 2012, small cheesemaking facilities accounted for 46 percent of all cheesemaking establishments, compared with 41 percent in 2007. As for employment statistics, 44,432 people in the U.S. were employed in cheesemaking in 2012, 7 percent more than five years earlier.
Just as with dairy farming, there is room - especially in Wisconsin - for cheese plants of all sizes - big, small and in-between. While the mammoth plants churn out the state’s cash crop of pizza mozzarella, smaller plants help put Wisconsin on the map for high quality artisan cheese. The past two U.S. Champion cheesemakers are both from Wisconsin, and are both small operations: Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms and Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese.
The pair are part of a growing trend. The USDA reported in May that of Wisconsin’s 126 cheese plants, last year, 93 manufactured at least one type of specialty cheese, up from 80 plants in 2007. 

Read the full story.
(Photo ©2014 Cheese Underground)

Over at Cheese Underground, Jeanne Carpenter reports on the rise of small cheesemakers. Her focus is on Wisconsin, but the trend is evident from coast to coast in the US:

Small Cheesemaking Operations Lead Growth in U.S. Cheese Industry

Specialty Food News today reports that while the overall U.S. cheesemaking industry is on the rise, interestingly enough, the number of small cheesemaking establishments is far outpacing the growth of larger operations in America. 

According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census, between 2007 and 2012, the total number of cheesemaking establishments in the U.S. rose by 13 percent to 542, while growth in small establishments, (defined as employing up to 19 people), rose more than double that rate, by 28 percent, to 250.

The report reveals that in 2012, small cheesemaking facilities accounted for 46 percent of all cheesemaking establishments, compared with 41 percent in 2007. As for employment statistics, 44,432 people in the U.S. were employed in cheesemaking in 2012, 7 percent more than five years earlier.

Just as with dairy farming, there is room - especially in Wisconsin - for cheese plants of all sizes - big, small and in-between. While the mammoth plants churn out the state’s cash crop of pizza mozzarella, smaller plants help put Wisconsin on the map for high quality artisan cheese. The past two U.S. Champion cheesemakers are both from Wisconsin, and are both small operations: Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms and Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese.

The pair are part of a growing trend. The USDA reported in May that of Wisconsin’s 126 cheese plants, last year, 93 manufactured at least one type of specialty cheese, up from 80 plants in 2007. 

Read the full story.

(Photo ©2014 Cheese Underground)

Northeast cheese lovers take note: coming this Sunday, June 20th, the 2014 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival will be returning to Shelburne Farms, just south of Burlington. If you want to taste the best cheeses (and wines, beers, liquors, chocolates, meats and much more) that Vermont has to offer, this event is not to be missed. As you can see from the list below, a large number of Vermont’s cheesemakers will be present, so this is a rare opportunity to meet the cheesemakers in person while tasting their product.  

Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Sunday, July 20, 2014 - 10Am-4Pm
Coach Barn, Shelburne Farms, VT

Vermont is the premium artisanal cheese state with the highest number of cheesemakers per capita: over 40 of them! We invite you to experience our passion for making fine cheeses, taste local and fresh foods and wines, and meet the artisans who make them. Spend a high summer day along the shores of Lake Champlain at the historic Shelburne Farms Coach Barn sampling, buying, learning, and networking. Come and celebrate the season.

CHEESEMAKERS

Big Picture FarmBlue Ledge FarmBlythedale FarmBonnieview FarmBoston Post DairyBoucher Family FarmBridport CreameryCabot Creamery CooperativeCellars at Jasper HillChamplain Valley CreameryCobb Hill FarmConsider Bardwell FarmCrooked Mile FarmCrowley Cheese CompanyFairy Tale FarmFranklin Foods Grafton Village Cheese CompanyHi-Land FarmMaplebrook FarmMountain Home FarmMt. Mansfield CreameryNeighborly FarmsParish Hill CreameryPlymouth Artisan CheeseSage Farm Goat DairyScholten Family FarmShadagee FarmShelburne FarmsSpoonwood Cabin CreamerySpring Brook FarmSweet Rowen FarmsteadTaylor FarmThistle Hill FarmThree Shepherds CheeseTwig FarmVermont CreameryVermont Farmstead CheeseVermont Shepherdvon Trapp FarmsteadWest River CreameryWillow Hill FarmWillow Moon FarmWoodcock Farm Cheese CompanyRogue Creamery (Guest Cheese maker- Oregon), Cherry Grove Farm (Guest Cheese maker- New Jersey), Cricket Creek Farm (Guest Cheese maker- Massachusetts)

Get your tickets here. This event tends to sell out, so don’t delay. 

High-res A post-beach weekend cheese board, via the Fairfield Cheese Co. in Fairfield, CT. Clockwise from bottom-left: Wabash Cannonball, a goat’s milk ash-coated ball from Capriole Goat Cheese in Greenville, Indiana; Tunworth, a cow’s milk, Camembert-style British cheese from Hampshire Cheeses; Ossau-Iraty, a Basque sheep’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Agour; and the Stichelton, from Stichelton Dairy.

A post-beach weekend cheese board, via the Fairfield Cheese Co. in Fairfield, CT. Clockwise from bottom-left: Wabash Cannonball, a goat’s milk ash-coated ball from Capriole Goat Cheese in Greenville, Indiana; Tunworth, a cow’s milk, Camembert-style British cheese from Hampshire Cheeses; Ossau-Iraty, a Basque sheep’s milk cheese from Fromagerie Agour; and the Stichelton, from Stichelton Dairy.

Now open in north Brooklyn, Greenpoint Cheese & Meats, at 192 Driggs Avenue (between Newell and Diamond St). I recently had the chance to pop in and check it out, and meet Jessica Mark — a chef by profession — and co-owner, with Ursula O’Hara, of the new shop. The space is cozy but well stocked, with a well-curated selection of American and locally produced cheeses, meats, and accompaniments, as well as housewares, cheese slates and gear, and more. The pair is working with Brooklyn distributors  Food Matters Again to source their cheeses and meats.  

When I was there, I picked up a wheel of the Meadowood Farms Juvindale (a gorgeous wheel, as it turned out: see my tasting notes here), as well as a wedge of the Vulto Creamery Ouleout and the Bellweather Farms San Andreas. Jessica told me that they were still working out the balance of what to stock in the case; interest in sheep’s milk cheeses had spurred them to expand that area, and the soft-ripened cheese case was selling out faster than expected each week, encouraging them to ramp up on those varieties as well. 

In addition, GP Cheese & Meats will be offering daily sandwich specials and even picnics-for-one: little cheese boards with a selection of cheeses and pairings perfect for picking up on the way to the park or beach. 

So if you’re in the neighborhood make sure to check them out and get your cheeses!