Another Colorado cheese, for American Cheese Month: This bandaged wedge is the Goat Cheddar from Avalanche Cheese Company, in Basalt, CO. A classic British-style cheddar, wrapped in cheesecloth and rubbed down with lard, but with a twist, being made with goat’s milk.
The Avalanche farm is in Paonia, Colorado (about 230 miles west of Denver), with cheesemaking production happening in Basalt. The name comes from the steep — and avalanche-prone — hill on which on which the Mitchell’s live, a common risk in this mountainous region. (Don’t worry, precautions have been taken).
Wendy Mitchell, the owner and head cheesemaker, spent two decades in the restaurant business in Texas, before deciding to try her hand at cheesemaking in 2006. After a year spent living in Edinburgh, Scotland and traveling around the UK working with cheesemakers, Wendy and her husband moved to Colorado and purchased the small farm in Paonia. Cheese production began in 2008. The farm is not yet organic certified but is utilizing organic and sustainable practices while they await approval.
The Goat Cheddar is pale ivory in color, dense, smooth and a bit crumbly, with a little tyrosine crunch. Flavors are milky, tangy and fruity, with subtle goaty and briny notes and a hint of cheddary sharpness. This cheese took home ribbons from the American Cheese Society competitions in 2012 and 2013 (including a blue First Place in ‘13).
When I’m not working on my own blog, I’m often reading the many other great cheese blogs that are out there. One of the best parts of the cheese world is the sense of community and sharing that I’ve found there, so in that spirit I thought I’d introduce my readers to a few of my fellow cheese scribes. First up is a Q&A exchange with Miss Cheesemonger (she posted an interview with me as well!)
Meet Vero Kherian, AKA Miss Cheesemonger, a lawyer-turned-cheese-evangelist, who combines an enthusiastic love of the curd with gorgeous photography to produce a must-read blog exploring the many facets of the cheese world. I crossed paths with Vero briefly at ACS 2014 in Sacramento, although as one of the ACS “Cheese Guard” volunteers she was in constant motion, transporting and prepping wheels and making sure the events ran like clockwork (not to mention taking part in cheese flash mobs), so we only got to chat briefly! I was able to talk to her in depth more recently, and had a few questions:
How did you get started in cheese? Do you remember the first cheese or cheese experience that ignited the passion?
I had always loved cheese and milk. When I was little, my school lunch consisted exclusively of cheese sandwiches (of the American cheese slice variety). Macaroni and cheese was the first dish I ever learned to prepare. It was a bit of an anomaly in my Vietnamese family, since most of them rarely ate dairy products. When I was in college, I majored in French, and studied in Aix-en-Provence, one of the best regions in the world for goat cheeses. There, I expanded my palate beyond supermarket “brie” just a little bit by eating fistfuls of faisselle, fresh chèvre, crottins, and unnamed local cheeses from the famed Aix-en-Provence farmers market, all washed down with local bread, produce, and navettes, or traditional boat-shaped cookies. After college, I spent a year teaching English to elementary school children in Normandy, France, dairy capital of the country. There, I really dug into the French country living. I could walk around the medieval moat that circled the town in about 20 minutes. Whenever I left the house, I even if it was to go jogging among the town’s expansive produce fields, someone would always recognize me. The weekly farmers market, which was almost like the town’s version of holding court, let everyone snag the latest gossip and local produce. And then, thanks to my now-mother-in-law’s Breton/Normand cuisine, I was immersed in the region’s famed butter and cream-laden cuisine.
Cheese didn’t enter my life seriously until after I graduated from law school in 2009. Back then, I fully intended to become a practicing attorney. I had taken the CA Bar exam, and was looking for entry-level legal work. It was a poor job market, though, and nothing turned up. After a few months of searching and growing increasingly frustrated from sitting around at home, I acted on an impulse to apply to work at a local cheese shop. I had always liked cheese, and was looking for a new creative and intellectual challenge. They hired me, and I started almost right away. It was like discovering Wonderland! I learned about so many cheeses, especially American ones. Before working at the shop, even after living in France, I didn’t fully understand the depth, complexity, and pleasure of food. That year was spent tasting as much cheese as possible, tasting as many wines and new recipes as possible (the cheese shop was also a wine bar and restaurant), and diving headfirst into the realm of pairings (part of my job was to create cheese plates for diners).
There was no turning back after that! Cheese had me in its talons. When I moved to San Francisco, I realized that I lived so close to many of the cheesemakers that I only knew through their cheeses. There was Bellwether Farms, Redwood Hill Farm, Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, and so much more. I knew I wanted to get involved with the community, so I joined the California Artisan Cheese Guild. I continued to blog about during my time working with the French-American business community and with my law practice. After a few years of that, though, the beckoning call of artisan cheese was pretty strong. I wanted to devote more time to cheese and food, and so I closed up the law practice to do that.
The blog started on a whim. The night before I started at my first cheese job, my husband and I set it up. I thought the blog would be a great way for me to document everything I knew I would learn, and to serve as a writing sample for any future jobs I held (I was still thinking “legal” at this point). But now, 5 years later, it has taken on a whole life of its own. I have been able to meet so many fascinating, friendly people and share their stories, thanks to Miss Cheesemonger, and can’t wait to see how the blog will keep evolving.
Shooting in the low light of restaurants is always a challenge, but these beautiful cheese plates from Casellula, one of my favorite cheese-focused restaurants in NYC, look pretty delectable even under candlelight.
Casellula is featuring a well-curated list of domestically-produced cheeses throughout October, for American Cheese Month, and as always the emphasis is on creative and unusual pairings (not to mention the plating).
On the plate on the left, we have: Smokey Ricotta, from Salvatore Brooklyn; Bloomin’ Goat, from Spoonwood Cabin; Rippleton, from Meadowood Farms; Dante, from Wisconsin Sheep Co-op; and Cascadilla Bleu from Lakin’s Gorge Cheese.
On the plate on the right, front to back, we have Cuvette, from Spoonwood Cabin; Bon Pere, from Boston Post Dairy; and Brutal Blue, from Rogue Creamery.
Via Green Renaissance on Facebook:
“Donkey Nanny, Lombardy, Italy.”
“In the early spring shepherds drive huge flocks of livestock, here sheep, mules, donkeys, and goats from the Pre-Alpine hills to the plains of Lombardy, for grazing. The newborn lambs are carried in a custom made side saddle by the donkeys, and returned to their mothers at rest time.”
(hat-tip to ArtisanGeek for sharing the link)
Outside Magazine has a good breakdown of the ongoing FDA non-toxigenic E. coli issue, and the new regulatory environment in which cheese makers and mongers find themselves:
The FDA Is Coming for Your Cheese
To understand the problem, we have to go back to 2010. At the urging of the American Dairy Products Institute (the dairy lobby group, which did not respond to my interview request), the raw-milk cheese standard was eliminated. This meant all cheese—regardless of its pasteurization status—has to meet the same “health” benchmark. Where raw-milk cheeses could once have up to 100 mpn of nontoxigenic E. coli, now it could have only 10 mpn per gram.
The biggest problem with the rule is that nontoxigenic E. coli are exactly that—not toxic. Of all the things that could kill you in this world, nontoxigenic E. coli is not on the list. It’s not even on the list of the things that could make you barf. But the FDA uses nontoxigenic E. coli as an indicator organism. It assumes that if these microorganisms are there, then more sinister pathogens are also lurking within the food.
In 2013, the FDA began sampling 1,600 varieties of raw-milk cheese. The FDA said this random sampling was simply the agency’s effort to comply with the law. But to cheese producers, it felt personal. Considering there had been no widespread foodborne illnesses related to cheese in the past year (unlike melons and nut butters), many wondered why the FDA was singling out a relatively small industry.
The sampling isn’t completed yet, but the effects are already being felt. With the more stringent standards for nontoxigenic E. coli, many cheesemakers and cheese importers are worried that the risks of having their products deemed “unsafe” outweigh the benefits of producing raw-milk cheeses.
Read the full post.
(Photo ©2014 outsidemagazine)
This wrinkled blossom is the ColoRouge, from the MouCo Cheese Company, which advertises itself as producing ”salaciously addictive soft ripened cheese in Northern Colorado.” Birgit Halbreiter and Robert Poland, the owners and cheesemakers, met while working on a different kind of microbially active product, beer, at New Belgium Brewing in Ft Collins.
Longtime home cheesemakers, they took the plunge and turned their hobby into a professional creamery. Birgit grew up in Memmingen, Germany, a small town in Bavaria where she worked for one of the largest cheese companies in Germany, Käserei Champignon, and worked with Birgit’s dad, a cheesemaker in still living in Germany, who periodically travels to Colorado to consult with them on product development.
Like the Brebirousse d’Argental of the Lyons region of France, the vivid red hue comes not just from the Brevibacterium Linens of a washed rind cheese, but from a dusting of Annatto, the natural coloring used to give cheeses like Red Leicester or Cheddars their distinctive oranges and reds. The ColoRouge is lightly washed as well, so the final rind, with its pale oranges, ambers and bright reds, is a combination of the coloring and the natural cultures expressing themselves.
The paste is creamy, glossy and smooth, and the flavors are mild, buttery and milky, with subtle grassy and floral notes. This was a young wheel: as it ages, the paste softens, flavors develop more complexity and aromas become more pleasantly pungent.
Painted Goat Farm’s Cinderella, via @bedfordcheeseshop #amcheesemonth
Via BonAppetit.com, some cheese board do’s and don’t’s from Bon Appetit’s Carey Polis (@careypolis) and Veronica Pedraza, head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms (you can see my previous reviews of her wonderful cheeses here):
Build the Cheese Plate of Your Dreams by Avoiding These 6 Common Mistakes
It’s always the right time for a cheese plate, but with the holiday and entertaining season close upon us, we’ve got fromage even more on our mind than usual. And pulling a cheese plate together is easy: All you have to do is chunk up some cheddar into cubes and a unwrap a brick of blue, toss it on a cutting board and scatter Triscuits around everything. Wrong. Don’t do that. From the wrong knives to overly fussy pairings, there are a lot of ways to screw up a cheese plate. Here’s how not to.
Read the full post.
Academie Opus Caseus, the one-of-a-kind educational facility in France created by MonS Fromager-Affineur (read my previous posts about AOC here), has teamed up with Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co, in California, to create a unique educational opportunity:
THE ACADEMIE OPUS CASEUS ANNOUNCES CALIFORNIA COURSE AT POINT REYES FARMSTEAD CHEESE COMPANY
March 9-13, 2015
In a unique international partnership, the Academie Opus Caseus, the professional development subsidiary of Mons Fromager-Affineur, is offering its first West Coast course at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co in Marin County, CA.
The course, open to cheese professionals, will cover the life of Cheese from Pasture to Plate: students will have an intimate overview of how cheese is made, aged, prepared for market, and what consumers can do with cheese once they bring it home. Academie instructors Laurent Mons and Susan Sturman and the Giacomini family and staff will provide instruction, observation opportunities and hands-on experience in all phases of the curriculum. We will visit nearby Cowgirl Creamery to observe lactic-set cheese making and to discuss cheese merchandising with guest speakers, Peggy Smith and Sue Conley.