Even the Lad Mags have discovered cheese, judging from this feature in the April 2014 issue of Details:
The wedges, blocks, and wheels that are redefining American cheese.
For too long, cheese born in the USA was defined by those rubbery, wax-dipped bricks of schoolbus-orange Cheddar found in the refrigerated section of your local supermarket. But those days are over.
"The bar has definitely been raised since I started, in terms of the sheer number of farms producing cheese and the number producing really good cheese," says Anne Saxelby, who opened her eponymous New York City provisions shop in 2006.
That’s partly because American makers have started embracing terroir—a concept borrowed from vintners that suggests that geography and climate influence how something tastes—to create flavor-packed takes on European classics. It’s a difference you can taste in salty wedges seasoned by early-morning fog off the Pacific and pungent blocks ripened in a humid Virginia summer. “It starts with where the cheese is from,” says Jason Sobocinski, owner of New Haven’s Caseus.
Here’s how the New World’s cheeses stack up:
Rad the full post.
(photos ©2014 Details)
The Burlington Free Press reports on the rise of goat dairies in Vermont, and Vermont Creamery’s role in that expansion:
Newborn lambs and goat kids gamboling around farms are a sure sign of spring in Vermont. But at the new Ayers Brook Goat Dairy, adorable baby goats will be a year-round presence as part of Vermont Creamery’s efforts to build a successful model for goat dairy farming in the state.
Touring a visitor recently through the new barn at the company’s latest venture, Vermont Creamery co-owner Allison Hooper explained dairy goats need to be bred and milked throughout the year to provide the busy production facility in nearby Websterville with the raw ingredients needed to craft the fresh and ripened goat cheeses that are in demand across the country.
Although half of Vermont Creamery’s product line is now made with cows’ milk sourced from the St. Albans Co-op, it all started with goats back in 1984 when Hooper, now 54, was working as a dairy lab technician in Vermont after a stint as a cheese apprentice in France. Thirty years later, their award-winning specialty food company ships 3 million pounds of product annually and has played a significant role in building both the local and national artisanal cheese community.
Throughout the years, however, sourcing enough regionally produced, high-quality goats’ milk year-round to fill growing nationwide demand for Vermont Creamery products has been a challenge.
Over the years Hooper and Reese have tried numerous strategies to develop more goat dairy partners within the state. The new dairy is the latest, and most significant, tactic in this ongoing effort, and something that Hooper said she has been scheming about for years.
Simply put, she said, “We felt that in order to solicit farmers and advertise that this is a viable enterprise, we really had to do it ourselves…With this we can say, ‘We feel your pain. We understand the labor issues, the feed issues, the animal health issues. We can work through this together.’”
Read the full story.
(Photos ©2014 Burlington Free Press)
Named for the wild pennyroyal mint flowers that carpet the meadows of their farm, Pennyroyal Farmstead is a fairly new cheesemaking operation, locating in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino, California, about 2.5 hours north of San Francisco, on the sixty acres of Navarro Winery. Sustainability is a high priority for the farm, with electricity supplied by solar panels, waste reclaimed for agricultural applications and an army of miniature sheep keeping the lawns mowed. The goats, in their daily foraging, wend their way through the vines and help keep the weeds at bay.
They’ve been a sheep farm for over 25 years, but the goats only arrived five years ago, and the cheesemaking began in earnest after that, with the first cheeses making it to market only in the spring of 2012. The cheesemaking is still small-scale, with the daily makes happening in a 50-gallon vat, working primarily with goat’s milk but also doing mixed-milk sheep and goat’s milk cheeses as seasonality permits.
I first heard about their cheeses when Kirstin Jackson raved about their Boont Corners cheese on her It’s Not You, It’s Brie blog. I contacted them to inquire about availability on the East Coast; the bad news was that they are not currently available on this side of the country, but the good news (for me) was that they were happy to send me a sample box to try their cheeses! California readers should keep an eye out for them (and see the end of this post for details about their Farm To Table mail order program).
The first cheese I tried was Laychee, a fresh cheese that is made with goat and sheep while the sheep are still milking, but goes to pure goat later on. This is a mild, bright, milky cheese, in the vein of a queso fresco or fromage blanc, with a creamy, lightly grainy texture and a wonderful cottage-cheesey flavor to it. This would make a great breakfast cheese, with fresh fruit or in a crepe, or as a bruschetta topper with honey.
The next cheese was the Bollie’s Mollies, a lactic bloomy rind goat’s milk cheese. The rind is the dusty blue-gray color of a Selles-Sur-Cher, but the cheese itself is firmer, a soft but not runny creamline surrounding a firm, fudgy center. This is a mild, salty cheese with a smooth mouthfeel, a little bit musty in aroma, with subtle goaty and grassy notes.
After that was the Boont Corners, which came in three varieties: Two-Month Tomme, Vintage Tomme (aged four to six months) and the Reserve Tomme, which is aged over six months, and in this case was a mixed-milk raw sheep and goat’s milk cheese (although I’m not sure if it’s always mixed milk). All three were aged in a thin paper layer that covers the rind to protect the interior and control moisture loss.
The Two-month had a stony, textured tan rind, and an ivory, moist paste, moderately eyed. The flavor was mild, milky and salty, a little bit tangy, with gamey and herbaceous notes.
The Vintage tomme, although in theory just an older Boont, had a different rind from the Two-month, smoother, with less irregularity and texture. The paste as well was smoother, with fewer eyes and a creamy, denser, dryer texture. The flavory was more developed and multilayered, a bit saltier, the tanginess of the two-month aged out, with wonderful subtle smokey and meaty notes and a mellow finish.
The Reserve Tomme, with the addition of Sheep’s milk, resembled a good pecorino, with a rind similar to the Two-month Boont but a paste that was golden colored, moderately eyed, and with a harder, dryer, crumbly texture, with trademark hints of buttery oil from the sheep’s milk. The flavor was salty, rich and nutty, with caramel, lanolin and grassy notes.
All of the cheeses I tried from Boont were great, with the Vintage Tomme being the real standout. Unfortunately, as noted, they’re not available on the East Coast, but Pennyroyal has a “Farm To Table” mail order program that you can subscribe to, which entitles you to a shipment of three seasonal cheeses, five times a year. Learn more at www.pennyroyalfarm.com/table/.
Dr. Dennis D’Amico taught the Sanitation & Hygiene class when I was attending VIAC, and it was without a doubt one of the most informative (if occasionally stomach-turning) classes of the whole program. Dr. D’Amico is a strong supporter of artisan and raw milk cheesemakers, but believes that the only way we can continue growing the artisan cheese movement is if we commit absolutely to food safety, sanitation and hygiene, and the planning and documentation of those practices through HAACP and other processes. As the recent Listeria-related recall at Crave Brothers shows, even the most well-established, respected cheesemakers can fall victim to contamination.
VIAC is now closed, but Dr. D’Amico has recently announced a workshop to be offered at the University of Connecticut on June 6th. He’ll also be offering the same workshop at Cornell, on August 27th. If you’re in the area and haven’t taken a workshop like this previously, I highly recommend it.
Check out DairyEvents.com to learn more or register.
Check out this archival film of Camembert production, showing how this trademark cheese of Normandie was made in the 1920’s. French site Ina.fr has a number of such films, focusing on Beaufort, Cantal, Roquefort and many other French AOC cheeses. A wonderful glimpse into the past, and also a reminder that small-scale cheesemaking hasn’t changed that much, when you get down to it.
Found at the Tumblr of Sugar House Creamery, a small cheesemaker located in the Adirondacks, in Upper Jay, NY.
For their Green Cheese blog series, which focuses on the intersection of cheesemaking, environmental issues and sustainability, Culture Magazine talked to goat dairy Santa Gadea, located in San Cristóbal de Rioseco, Spain. Via Culture:
Touted as the first farm in Europe to be 100% sustainable and organic, they are also completely carbon negative—an impressive feat for dairy housing 1,300 French Alpine goats. Founded by Alfonso Pérez-Andújar and staffed by less than 15 people, the farm is located in San Cristóbal de Rioseco and focuses on both traditional and less conventional environmental strategies to reduce emissions. Though they’ve owned the property for 12 years, they’ve only been seriously producing cheese for the last two and a half years.
I spoke with Marta Milans, vice president of the dairy and daughter of Pérez-Andújar. “My dad’s passion for nature and trees is insane,” she says. This is good news, considering that their large property is very lush and green. Pérez-Andújar want to keep as much of the natural forest as possible, and began his reforestation efforts several years ago. Milans explains that “variety is important, because that way the fauna has many more options. You create a much healthier animal.” Over 120,000 trees have been planted to date, many of them pine or walnut. All of that extra greenery removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, to which Milans simply says, “It’s a beautiful thing to do, to give back to Earth that way.”
Along with reforestation, the farm features solar and wind farms, in addition to less traditional eco-friendly techniques. Pérez-Andújar is a big fan of effective micoorganism (EM) technology. Discovered by a Japanese scientist in the 1980’s, EM technology is a precise combination of three types of bacteria—phototrophic bacteria, lactic acid bacteria, and yeasts. Milans explains, “In a certain combination, it regenerates soil and earth in an incredible way.” When applied in the correct ratios to manure, bacteria will feed off gases, which reduces methane and carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent and speeds up the process of turning manure into usable compost.
By now you’re probably familiar with “barnyard” flavors and aromas in cheese, but they can be found in beer and wine as well, although whether that’s a good thing depends on who you’re talking to. Modern Farmer explores:
Some call the wild yeast strain Brettanomyces a friend, some call it a foe, and everyone agrees it has the aroma of a barnyard (though nobody can agree if that’s good or bad).
An aroma like “the Feet of God.” That’s how the French poet Leon-Paul Fargue described Camembert cheese, gesturing to the olfactory rapport between attraction and repulsion. But how would Fargue have summed up the flavor of farmhouse ales and wines, specifically those with Brettanomyces, a wild yeast strain whose taste is described politely as “barnyard?”
As the craft beer movement grows up alongside an ever-burgeoning wine industry, this flavor (described by critics as “horse blanket,” “phone booth,” or “merde“) has been the source of increasing discussion and degustation. Brewers and some beer drinkers have embraced the taste of barn, while wine drinkers, despite some efforts to gain acceptance for farmhouse flavors, have held fast to their old mores.
Read the full post.
Sometimes you get so focused on chasing the new and unusual cheeses, that you forget about the perennial classics. The Abbaye de Belloc is one such cheese, an old favorite of mine that I recently bought after seeing it in a cheese counter and realizing I hadn’t actually consumed it in quite some time.
The Belloc is made by the monks of the Abbey of Notre-Dame de Belloc in the Pyrenees mountains of the Basque region, in the Ariège department of southwestern France. The Abbaye is actually a relatively modern version of another excellent Basque brebis (sheep’s milk cheese), the Ossau Iraty. In the 1960’s the recipe was modified slightly and the cheese renamed; more recently they switched from raw milk to pasteurized.
The Abbaye de Belloc has been involved in agriculture and dairy for centuries, and when they’re not making cheese, the monks can also be found carefully penning the calligraphy and ornate borders onto illuminated manuscripts, in the traditional manner. Cheesemaking has always been a central component of their economic viability however, and throughout France, and Europe, monasteries have often served as repositories of cheesemaking knowledge.
The Belloc is made with pasteurized milk of the red-face Manech sheep, a regional breed. Aged a minimum of 4 months and usually closer to a year or more, the rind is rubbed with Paprika during aging, giving it a distinctive multi-colored appearance, with an undercoating of red, and gray, white and blue molds mingling on the surface. The amber-gold paste is firm, smooth and elastic, with no eyes. The flavor is rich, with toasted butter and lanolin up front, and notes of caramel, hay and roast hazelnuts.
Purchased at All Good Things.
Birdseye view of a new experimental cheese, washed with Finback Brewery Smoked Porter. This is about 1.5 weeks in, with light beer brine washes every other day. You can see the pinkish B.Linens cultures developing, as well as a thin layer of white mold, Penicilium Candidum, which gets mostly wiped off with each washing, but holds on in the nooks and low areas.
This cheese also has a good stink developing, not too strong, but most definitely present.