CHEESE NOTES

High-res Cracking open a Gowanus Couronne, during my trip west (I’m in Nevada visiting family currently, then on to the American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento). 
This was the mixed-milk, cow and goat’s milk version. The milk was raw when I got it, but I thermalized it (basically a lower-temp pasteurization, helpful for dialing down the natural cultures a bit without wiping them out; thermalization is recognized in Europe but in the US this would be considered a raw milk cheese, legally speaking). The inside is super-creamy but stable (eg not running out), and flavors, are milky, mushroomy and a little grassy. Pretty happy with the salt balance on this wheel. I’ve also been working on getting the rinds thinner, and this was a step in the right direction, although it’s still a bit tougher than I’d like (my goal is the pillowy, velvety rind that one gets on a good robiola). 

Cracking open a Gowanus Couronne, during my trip west (I’m in Nevada visiting family currently, then on to the American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento). 

This was the mixed-milk, cow and goat’s milk version. The milk was raw when I got it, but I thermalized it (basically a lower-temp pasteurization, helpful for dialing down the natural cultures a bit without wiping them out; thermalization is recognized in Europe but in the US this would be considered a raw milk cheese, legally speaking). The inside is super-creamy but stable (eg not running out), and flavors, are milky, mushroomy and a little grassy. Pretty happy with the salt balance on this wheel. I’ve also been working on getting the rinds thinner, and this was a step in the right direction, although it’s still a bit tougher than I’d like (my goal is the pillowy, velvety rind that one gets on a good robiola). 

High-res Friend-of-the-blog Jessica Sennett (my co-conspirator on the original Cheese Speakeasy) will be presenting a four-course meal at 61 Local in Brooklyn: 

Cheese in the City Supper, Part Deux
Come join us for a four-course meal featuring summer produce and fresh HOUSEmade cheeses at their most flavorful.  The meal will consist of an amuse bouche, three savory cheese-centric courses, dessert, and three regional wine pairings, all prepared by seasoned cheese-maker and chef, Jessica Sennett
On Friday, August 1st. 7:00pm 30 diners will gather at a large communal table for a night of great food, engaging cheese-y conversation, and general imbibement. 
61local61 Bergen Street at Smith StreetCobble Hill, Brooklyn, NY
Tickets are 65$ per person and will be sold on a first come/first served basis. Space is limited to 30, so get ‘yer tickets while they’re hot. 
Featured HOUSEmade dairy: 
ricotta salatacreamy mozzarellaburratamascarponewheyjalapeno butter
The ticket price includes wine. Email jrennet@gmail.com for inquiries. We look forward to having you!

Get your tickets: cheesesupper.brownpapertickets.com/

Friend-of-the-blog Jessica Sennett (my co-conspirator on the original Cheese Speakeasy) will be presenting a four-course meal at 61 Local in Brooklyn: 

Cheese in the City Supper, Part Deux

Come join us for a four-course meal featuring summer produce and fresh HOUSEmade cheeses at their most flavorful.  The meal will consist of an amuse bouche, three savory cheese-centric courses, dessert, and three regional wine pairings, all prepared by seasoned cheese-maker and chef, Jessica Sennett

On Friday, August 1st. 7:00pm 30 diners will gather at a large communal table for a night of great food, engaging cheese-y conversation, and general imbibement. 

61local
61 Bergen Street at Smith Street
Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, NY

Tickets are 65$ per person and will be sold on a first come/first served basis. Space is limited to 30, so get ‘yer tickets while they’re hot. 

Featured HOUSEmade dairy: 

ricotta salata
creamy mozzarella
burrata
mascarpone
whey
jalapeno butter

The ticket price includes wine. Email jrennet@gmail.com for inquiries. We look forward to having you!

Get your tickets: cheesesupper.brownpapertickets.com/

Sactown Magazine: Big cheese coming to Sacramento

It’s here! The American Cheese Society conference begins this Tuesday, in Sacramento, CA. I’ll be blogging from the seminars and events, so stay tuned. And don’t forget that two events, the Festival of Cheese ($60) and the public cheese sale (free), are open to the public. The picture above is from Festival of Cheese at the last ACS conference I attended, in 2012, in Raleigh, NC (that was just one table of about 30, all equally weighed down with cheese). Via Sactown Magazine:


Big cheese coming to Sacramento for 2014 American Cheese Society Conference

More than 1,600 cheese varieties will be on hand in Sacramento at the 2014 Festival of Cheese.

America’s farm-to-fork capital is set to say—and see and taste—cheese next week as the 31st annual American Cheese Society Conference descends upon downtown from July 29 to Aug. 2.

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Kickstarter: Raw Milk Microbiology for Cheesemakers

Check out this great Kickstarter, to translate a groundbreaking study on raw milk microbiology from the Conseil National des Appellations d’Origine Laitières. Bronwen Percival (@BronwenPercival on Twitter), from Neal’s Yard Dairy, is the project coordinator: 

The next frontier for cheese: harnessing natural microbes to make cheeses that are not only safe, but exceptional and unique.

This groundbreaking practical guide to raw milk microbiology was written by a group of French scientists. Our aim is to publish an English translation.

Within its pages, the authors show how protecting the natural diversity of carefully produced raw milk is not only crucial for maintaining the identity and flavour of cheese, but also promotes a barrier effect that can help to protect against the growth of pathogens. Rather than subverting modern food safety targets, this approach may actually help cheese producers to achieve them.

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HeavyTable.com reports on a new cheese from Minnesota’s Alemar Cheese Company, makers of the monger favorite Bent River (reviewed here). The new cheese is named Blue Earth, and comes out just as Alemar founder Keith Adams gets ready to move to Northern California to pursue new ventures. Via Heavy Table:

Blue Earth from Alemar Cheese Company

Fans of Alemar Cheese Company’s Bent River and Good Thunder have a new reason to stalk the cheese case. Founder and cheesemaker Keith Adams (below) isn’t leaving Minnesota without introducing Blue Earth, a Brie-style cheese that’s just starting to appear in Minnesota cheese shops, co-ops, and grocery stores. Named for Blue Earth County, where Alemar Cheese is located, this new cheese offers a new format and flavors to fans of Adams’ Camembert-style Bent River.

“We always made some larger-format pieces of Bent River when we had extra curd. The thing that was cool about it was that it tasted different because it was bigger and took longer to ripen. As time went on, I thought I would tinker with the cultures and do a larger piece and call it a Brie, or an ‘American brie,’” Adams says. “Sometimes I’m at the market or I’m demo-ing, and people are hell-bent on a piece of Brie. I try to steer them to Bent River and they’re like, “No, I want a Brie.” Part of making [Blue Earth] was to solve that problem, but it was also going to be its own cheese.”

“There are five cultures or starters that go into both of the cheeses, but we’ve pulled back on one and bumped up the other. A lot of people get vegetal notes in Bent River, but we wanted to dial that back on the Brie to make it a little more accessible to the average palate as a starting point,” Adams says.

Despite his new venture into a Brie-like cheese, Adams still is moving ahead with his plans to relocate to northern California after spending several weeks in England next month. Leaving Alemar Cheese in the capable hands of Craig Hageman, the new head cheesemaker, Adams will travel to several well-known British dairies, such as Westcombe Dairy and Montgomery’s Cheddar, and attend an artisan cheesemaking seminar by affineur and distributor Neal’s Yard Dairy. He’s even leaving a few days free at the end of his trip to hop across the English Channel to the Camembert region of France “to pay [his] respects.”

Read the full post.

(Photo ©2014 HeavyTable.com)

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 Oma were in fine form (Oma won the “Best of the Fest” people’s choice award!). 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. Sage Farm Goat Dairy brought two delicate little wheels of lactic goat’s milk cheese, Sterling and Madonna. 

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.

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