CHEESE NOTES

RTS.ch: Two Women and One Vacherin (Video)

The cheese world was saddened by the recent announcement, from Andy Hatch, that Rush Creek Reserve, the wonderful Vacherin-style cheese from Uplands Cheese, will be taken out of production due to the uncertain regulatory environment created by recent FDA decisions (you can read more here). But in France and Switzerland at least, production season has begun on the bark-wrapped cheeses by which the Rush Creek was inspired. RTS.ch has a wonderful video from 2012, exploring the making of Vacherin Mont d’Or from the perspective of two women involved in the  fabrication of this amazing cheese (in French, but worth it even if you don’t speak the language for the inside look at the cheesemaking process): 

Two Women and One Vacherin

One is in milk, the other is in the woods. Daniele makes the cheese and Marianne the sangles, the thin strips of Spruce that give flavor and soul to this cheese of winter. Two artisans that perpetuate traditions in the heart of the Vallée de Joux, crucible of Vacherin Mont-d’Or. 

High-res Vermont fans of Mac & Cheese won’t want to miss this event, hosted by the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co. (you can see my review of their Lille cheese here) and  Castleton Crackers, with beer provided by Harpoon Brewery: 

2nd ANNUAL VT MAC & CHEESE CHALLENGE!!
Hosted by:Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co. and Castleton Crackers

Come join us at the 2nd celebration of the Great VT Mac & Cheese Challenge. Sample Mac & Cheese dishes from top chefs and restaurants from around the region. Just $12 ($15 if purchased at the door) for the event where you can sample 20-25 different Mac & Cheese dishes and cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award! Harpoon Draft Beer available for purchase, Live Music, Calf Petting Zoo, T-shirts for sale, Kids under 6 get in free…

Rain or Shine! Don’t miss it. 

All proceeds will go to benefit Vermont Foodbank and Sustainable Woodstock. 
Vermont fans of Mac & Cheese won’t want to miss this event, hosted by the Vermont Farmstead Cheese Co. (you can see my review of their Lille cheese here) and  Castleton Crackers, with beer provided by Harpoon Brewery
Come join us at the 2nd celebration of the Great VT Mac & Cheese Challenge. Sample Mac & Cheese dishes from top chefs and restaurants from around the region. Just $12 ($15 if purchased at the door) for the event where you can sample 20-25 different Mac & Cheese dishes and cast your vote for the People’s Choice Award! Harpoon Draft Beer available for purchase, Live Music, Calf Petting Zoo, T-shirts for sale, Kids under 6 get in free…
Rain or Shine! Don’t miss it. 
All proceeds will go to benefit Vermont Foodbank and Sustainable Woodstock. 
High-res Modern Farmer (modfarm on Tumblr) reports on the return of Lard to home pantries and chef’s kitchens. My personal favorite is Lardo, a type of salume made by curing fatback with rosemary and other spices; cut into paper-thin slices like prosciutto, it practically melts to glorious liquid heaven as soon as hits your tongue. And as with butter, we are now discovering that much of the apocalyptic talk concerning its health effects were just plain wrong. Via Modern Farmer:
 Artisanal Lard: Fat Gets Fancy
Starting from the time that humans have raised and slaughtered pigs for food, they have been cooking with and eating lard, the rendered fat of the animal. Once the home cook’s default fat for deep-frying, sautéing and baking, lard’s ubiquity in the United States came to an end just over 100 years ago, with the advent of vegetable shortening, developed to make use of the surplus vegetable oils that manufacturers like Procter & Gamble had once converted into candles and lamp oil.
Bolstered by doctors’ warnings about the supposed dangers of saturated animal fats, hydrogenated vegetable shortening dominated the market, while the very word “lard” became an insult, synonymous with gluttony, excess body fat and heart attacks.
Fortunately, data from an exhaustive scientific study, published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine, has effectively uncoupled the link between saturated fat consumption and poor cardiac health. Trans fats, created by the hydrogenation process, are the actual bad guys; the pork pendulum has begun its slow return to the side of delicious reason; and consumers are coming back around to understand the value of lard.

Read the full post. 
(Photo ©2014 Modern Farmer)

Modern Farmer (modfarm on Tumblr) reports on the return of Lard to home pantries and chef’s kitchens. My personal favorite is Lardo, a type of salume made by curing fatback with rosemary and other spices; cut into paper-thin slices like prosciutto, it practically melts to glorious liquid heaven as soon as hits your tongue. And as with butter, we are now discovering that much of the apocalyptic talk concerning its health effects were just plain wrong. Via Modern Farmer:

 Artisanal Lard: Fat Gets Fancy

Starting from the time that humans have raised and slaughtered pigs for food, they have been cooking with and eating lard, the rendered fat of the animal. Once the home cook’s default fat for deep-frying, sautéing and baking, lard’s ubiquity in the United States came to an end just over 100 years ago, with the advent of vegetable shortening, developed to make use of the surplus vegetable oils that manufacturers like Procter & Gamble had once converted into candles and lamp oil.

Bolstered by doctors’ warnings about the supposed dangers of saturated animal fats, hydrogenated vegetable shortening dominated the market, while the very word “lard” became an insult, synonymous with gluttony, excess body fat and heart attacks.

Fortunately, data from an exhaustive scientific study, published recently in Annals of Internal Medicine, has effectively uncoupled the link between saturated fat consumption and poor cardiac health. Trans fats, created by the hydrogenation process, are the actual bad guys; the pork pendulum has begun its slow return to the side of delicious reason; and consumers are coming back around to understand the value of lard.

Read the full post

(Photo ©2014 Modern Farmer)

High-res Uplands Cancels Production of Rush Creek Reserve Due To Regulatory Uncertainty
If you’ve been wondering what impact recent FDA actions might have on American artisan cheesemaking, this morning brings some news that illustrates it in stark, and unfortunate, terms. The following letter was sent to cheesemongers and distributors by Andy Hatch, co-owner and head cheesemaker at Uplands Cheese Co., announcing that they will be canceling this season’s production of their incredibly popular, and awarding winning, bark-wrapped, Vacherin-style cheese, Rush Creek Reserve: 

From: Uplands Cheese 
I’m writing to let you know that we will not be making any Rush Creek Reserve this year.  It’s disappointing news, I know, and we hope that it’s not permanent.  Food safety officials have been unpredictable, at best, in their recent treatment of soft, raw-milk cheeses, and until our industry is given clear and consistent guidance, we are forced to stop making these cheeses. 
I’m sorry if this throws a wrench into your plans for the holidays - it certainly does on our end.  It’s not a decision we came to easily.  Hopefully, our government officials will soon agree on how to treat traditional cheesemaking, and we can all return to the cheeses that are so important to us.

This will be a loss for mongers in the winter/holiday season, as the Rush Creek was always a cheese counter and wholesale favorite, but it also shows just what kind of impact the FDA’s often hostile — and perhaps worse, unclear and shifting — regulatory approach to cheesemakers can have. Uplands Cheese, while small compared to the big cheese companies, is nonetheless a well-established, award-winning, commercially successful operation, and yet they don’t feel they can keep making this particular cheese, in the present regulatory environment. Smaller and newer cheesemakers will have a hard time continuing their own cheeses that might fall afoul of the FDA’s latest enforcement focus. 
There will probably be other domestically-produced, Vacherin-style cheeses this winter (and hopefully imports of actual Vacherin and Mont d’Or won’t be impacted, although given recent FDA holds on imports from France and Italy, I wouldn’t assume it), but this is a big loss, and a potential sign of things to come. Stay tuned. 
Update 08/15: I emailed with Andy Hatch, and he confirmed that this decision had not come in response to any FDA visit or letter, and that they’d never had problems during routine inspections, but “was a decision made slowly as I’ve watched the regulatory climate get more unpredictable over the year or so, with soft, raw-milk, farmstead cheese as the FDA’s worst-case scenario.”
He also added some advice for fellow cheesemakers: “all of us selling cheese these days - raw or not - should be testing every batch and tightening up our environmental control and monitoring.  Each small problem just adds another arrow to the FDA’s quiver.”
(Emails quoted with permission from Uplands Cheese Co.)

Uplands Cancels Production of Rush Creek Reserve Due To Regulatory Uncertainty

If you’ve been wondering what impact recent FDA actions might have on American artisan cheesemaking, this morning brings some news that illustrates it in stark, and unfortunate, terms. The following letter was sent to cheesemongers and distributors by Andy Hatch, co-owner and head cheesemaker at Uplands Cheese Co., announcing that they will be canceling this season’s production of their incredibly popular, and awarding winning, bark-wrapped, Vacherin-style cheese, Rush Creek Reserve

From: Uplands Cheese 

I’m writing to let you know that we will not be making any Rush Creek Reserve this year.  It’s disappointing news, I know, and we hope that it’s not permanent.  Food safety officials have been unpredictable, at best, in their recent treatment of soft, raw-milk cheeses, and until our industry is given clear and consistent guidance, we are forced to stop making these cheeses. 

I’m sorry if this throws a wrench into your plans for the holidays - it certainly does on our end.  It’s not a decision we came to easily.  Hopefully, our government officials will soon agree on how to treat traditional cheesemaking, and we can all return to the cheeses that are so important to us.

This will be a loss for mongers in the winter/holiday season, as the Rush Creek was always a cheese counter and wholesale favorite, but it also shows just what kind of impact the FDA’s often hostile — and perhaps worse, unclear and shifting — regulatory approach to cheesemakers can have. Uplands Cheese, while small compared to the big cheese companies, is nonetheless a well-established, award-winning, commercially successful operation, and yet they don’t feel they can keep making this particular cheese, in the present regulatory environment. Smaller and newer cheesemakers will have a hard time continuing their own cheeses that might fall afoul of the FDA’s latest enforcement focus. 

There will probably be other domestically-produced, Vacherin-style cheeses this winter (and hopefully imports of actual Vacherin and Mont d’Or won’t be impacted, although given recent FDA holds on imports from France and Italy, I wouldn’t assume it), but this is a big loss, and a potential sign of things to come. Stay tuned. 

Update 08/15: I emailed with Andy Hatch, and he confirmed that this decision had not come in response to any FDA visit or letter, and that they’d never had problems during routine inspections, but “was a decision made slowly as I’ve watched the regulatory climate get more unpredictable over the year or so, with soft, raw-milk, farmstead cheese as the FDA’s worst-case scenario.”

He also added some advice for fellow cheesemakers: “all of us selling cheese these days - raw or not - should be testing every batch and tightening up our environmental control and monitoring.  Each small problem just adds another arrow to the FDA’s quiver.”

(Emails quoted with permission from Uplands Cheese Co.)

(from the top) Good Thunder, Bent River, Blue Earth. Bent River
Good Thunder
Blue Earth
Fromage Blanc
Cheese Mail!

One of the pleasures of attending the American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento this summer is that it afforded me the opportunity to finally meet, in person, some of the cheese-world people whose cheeses I had tasted and enjoyed over the years — but knew only from social media or their names on the little signs in the cheesemonger’s counter.

One such cheeseworld luminary was Keith Adams, the founder of Alemar Cheese Co. — as they describe themselves, “small batch makers of French-inspired soft-ripened and fresh cheeses” — located in Mankato, Minnesota, about 80 miles south of Minneapolis. Long-time readers of the blog might remember my quest a couple years ago to find their Bent River, a Camembert-style cheese that had been getting rave reviews almost as soon as it hit the market, but was difficult to find outside of its home territory of the Midwest (I finally located some at Lucy’s Whey! These days it’s easier to get your hands on, thankfully). 

Adams is an inspiration to anyone aspiring to make a career change to cheesemaking; A native of Northern California originally, before finding success in the world of curds he worked as a stockbroker in San Francisco and even ran a chain of bagel shops in Minnesota. The bagel business ran into financial hard times, and it was then, after the poppy seed-coated wheels had gone bust, that Adams decided to pursue his passion — and a different kind of wheel — through cheesemaking.

With some consulting help from the folks at Cowgirl Creamery and some family-and-friends investors, he built a small cheese plant, and found an organic dairy to supply him with milk from a mixed herd of Holstein, Normandy, Jersey, and Guernsey cows. Production began in the spring of 2009, and after many months of experiments, he had his flagship cheese, the Bent River, a Camembert-style wheel, named for the bend that the Minnesota River takes near their production facility.

Bent River was for a long time Alemar’s only cheese (other than a fresh fromage blanc that was sold locally), but after a couple of years of success and positive reception from customers, mongers (and even multiple ribbons over the years at the American Cheese Society competitions), Adams added a washed rind cheese to the lineup, the Good Thunder.

More recently, the Blue Earth has been added to the lineup as well; it’s not — despite the name — a blue cheese, but is a larger-format, soft-ripened bloomy-rind wheel inspired by traditional brie recipes, named for a river that runs through Minnesota.   

It was only a few days after I got back from ACS that I found a large box on my front stoop; seeing the Alemar name in the TO field, I quickly hustled it inside to get it out of the searing early-August heat. The cheese was quite soft and the ice packs surrounding it well past room temperature, but the wheels had survived the trip relatively unscathed. 

I tasted the Blue Earth first; It originally started as a larger format, but otherwise identical, version of the Bent River recipe, but over time evolved to use a different culture blend, and much longer ripening time due to the larger format, eventually becoming a deliberate effort to produce a Brie-style cheese. The Blue Earth has a milky and fungal aroma, a buttery paste, oozing and runny at the creamline, with a denser, fudgy core. Flavors are mild, earthy and buttermilky, with grassy and mushroomy notes. 

The Bent River paste is similar in texture, a little more velvety and luxuriant, also with a core that hadn’t quite ripened as much, but, as with a traditional Camembert vs a traditional Brie, the flavor profile is distinctly different and more complex, milky and buttery, more meaty and less earthy, with a damp hay pungency and floral and fungal notes.

The Good Thunder is another creature altogether; named for a small town ten miles down the road from the creamery — located between the Blue Earth and Maple Rivers — the pudgy squares are washed in Bender, an oatmeal brown ale from Surly Brewing Co. in Minneapolis. The orange taffy-colored rind is lightly geotrichum-wrinkled and tacky to the touch, with a white frosting of mold scattered across it. the paste is custardy and more lip-smacking, similar to a Taleggio, and the aroma is pungent and subtly fruity. Flavors are robust and brothy, with smoked meat and yeasty notes. I first tasted Good Thunder at a Food Matters Again event in Brooklyn in the summer of 2013; on this tasting I found that this cheese has evolved quite a bit in the interim; the squares I tasted back then were on the firmer side, but this newest batch was much transformed in both texture and flavor profile and definitely even better than the first tasting. 

Alemar, and Adams, are now entering a new phase; Adams, originally from Northern California, has decided to return to his home state, and will be starting a new cheesemaking business, focused on British-style cheddars. Adams will be headed to England shortly, to spend time working with celebrated cheesemaking operations such as Montgomery’s Cheddar, and will be attending the "Science of Artisan Cheese" symposium hosted by Neal’s Yard Dairy affineurs.

After that, it’s “Westward Ho”; Alemar’s original facilities will be left in the capable hands of head cheesemaker Craig Hageman, and Adams will retain ownership of Alemar and make periodic trips back to Minnesota, while he works on the new creamery. He hopes to have production up and running at the new facility by some time in 2015, so keep an eye out at the 2016 American Cheese Society conference for the latest ribbon contenders from this talented, and now multi-state, cheesemaker!

High-res Loving this Salami Microbiology poster that you can download from MicrobialFoods.org:

Ever wonder what makes your salami fuzzy, crusty, and tart? Our Visual Guide to Salami Microbiology provides an overview of everything you need to know about microbes in and on your favorite artisan salami. Print it out. Hang it up.  Marvel at the microbiological wonders growing on your salami! Download our Visual Guide to Salame Microbiology here.

Loving this Salami Microbiology poster that you can download from MicrobialFoods.org:

Ever wonder what makes your salami fuzzy, crusty, and tart? Our Visual Guide to Salami Microbiology provides an overview of everything you need to know about microbes in and on your favorite artisan salami. Print it out. Hang it up.  Marvel at the microbiological wonders growing on your salami! Download our Visual Guide to Salame Microbiology here.

High-res NPR’s The Salt blog explores the world of French raw milk cheese, and talks to Bronwen Percival of Neal’s Yard Dairy, the creator of the Kickstarter “Raw Milk Microbiology for Cheesemakers”. Via The Salt: 

Unlocking France’s Secrets To Safer Raw Milk Cheese
Anglophone cheesemakers say translating a French government cheese manual will help them make safer raw milk cheese.
In the English-speaking world, our approach to making cheese for most of the last 60 years has been like a Texas gunslinger’s: kill bacteria, ask questions later. If it’s not pasteurized, it’s dangerous, the thinking goes. But in France, raw milk cheese is a very big deal, long considered safe and revered for its flavor. The country cultivates its 350-plus cheeses — many of which are made with raw milk — like children, claiming that the bacteria in the raw milk impart unique characteristics – grassy, metallic, buttery and so on.
In recent years, America, England and Australia have discovered the pleasures of making their own farmhouse cheeses with raw milk, but it seems the French still have some secrets.
In fact, French scientists seem to have figured out the Holy Grail of raw milk cheese: how to make it safer. And a lot of how they do it comes down to how to use good bacteria to battle the bad ones.
Learning those French secrets could help cheesemakers in the Anglophone world make safer and more delicious cheese, says Bronwen Percival, a cheese buyer with Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. So she’s spearheading a Kickstarter effort to raise about $20,000 to translate a technical French government manual on cheese microbiology into English.
"Over the past five to ten years, we’ve been more interested in what makes cheese tick," says Percival. Like how it grows, how it changes — the technical stuff. But understanding cheese microbiology is "not the kind of thing you can just look up on the Internet," she says. Understanding the microbial communities of raw milk is only the beginning. Percival and others in the tight-knit Anglophone artisan cheese community want to learn to harness the good microbes to block the bad microbes, like listeria and E. coli, that make people sick.
"Instead of having a war of annihilation on microbes, we should be working with them," Percival says.

Check out the full post. 
(Photo ©2014 NPR.org)

NPR’s The Salt blog explores the world of French raw milk cheese, and talks to Bronwen Percival of Neal’s Yard Dairy, the creator of the Kickstarter “Raw Milk Microbiology for Cheesemakers”. Via The Salt

Unlocking France’s Secrets To Safer Raw Milk Cheese

Anglophone cheesemakers say translating a French government cheese manual will help them make safer raw milk cheese.

In the English-speaking world, our approach to making cheese for most of the last 60 years has been like a Texas gunslinger’s: kill bacteria, ask questions later. If it’s not pasteurized, it’s dangerous, the thinking goes. But in France, raw milk cheese is a very big deal, long considered safe and revered for its flavor. The country cultivates its 350-plus cheeses — many of which are made with raw milk — like children, claiming that the bacteria in the raw milk impart unique characteristics – grassy, metallic, buttery and so on.

In recent years, America, England and Australia have discovered the pleasures of making their own farmhouse cheeses with raw milk, but it seems the French still have some secrets.

In fact, French scientists seem to have figured out the Holy Grail of raw milk cheese: how to make it safer. And a lot of how they do it comes down to how to use good bacteria to battle the bad ones.

Learning those French secrets could help cheesemakers in the Anglophone world make safer and more delicious cheese, says Bronwen Percival, a cheese buyer with Neal’s Yard Dairy in London. So she’s spearheading a Kickstarter effort to raise about $20,000 to translate a technical French government manual on cheese microbiology into English.

"Over the past five to ten years, we’ve been more interested in what makes cheese tick," says Percival. Like how it grows, how it changes — the technical stuff. But understanding cheese microbiology is "not the kind of thing you can just look up on the Internet," she says. Understanding the microbial communities of raw milk is only the beginning. Percival and others in the tight-knit Anglophone artisan cheese community want to learn to harness the good microbes to block the bad microbes, like listeria and E. coli, that make people sick.

"Instead of having a war of annihilation on microbes, we should be working with them," Percival says.

Check out the full post

(Photo ©2014 NPR.org)

GCDC: Master Class with Carlos Yescas

GCDC Grilled Cheese Bar, in Washington, DC, announces a new series of Master Classes. First up is an evening with friend-of-the-blog Carlos Yescas, Mexican Cheese Expert (you can see my Q&A with him here, at the time of the grand opening of his Queso Store in Mexico City). Email Sophie Slesinger at sophie@grilledcheesedc.com to register. 

Ep 28: Cheese Rinds w/Dr Ben Wolfe - FermUp Podcast

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Ep 28: Cheese Rinds w/Dr Ben Wolfe

Artist:
FermUp Podcast

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Just discovered this great podcast, FermUp, which covers all things fermentation and microbiological in nature. Several of the episodes involve cheese, including this one, which features Dr Ben Wolfe discussing the microbiology of cheese rinds. If you view the episodes on the site, at the end of the post they include related links as well. 

Episode 28: MICROBIOLOGIST BENJAMIN WOLFE TALKS CHEESE RINDS

This week’s guest is Harvard microbiologist Benjamin Wolfe. Our conversation enters the world of cheese rinds and the fascinating dynamics at play.