Color-shift in Gowanus Couronne rinds over 11 days. On the left is a couronne from the 08/20 Batch, and on the right is a wheel from the 08/09 batch. Naturally occurring B.Linens (ie I’m not adding them as part of the culture blend during the make, but rather they are ambient in the aging space) seem to be responsible for the rosy glow which they develop over time. This was a cow’s milk, thermalized version.
(thermalized means the raw milk is briefly heated at below-pasteurization temps, to knock down the native cultures a bit but without wiping them out, allowing for more control.)
The FDA has released an official statement on the status of imported cheeses that had Holds placed on them, including Roquefort, which had caused quite a stir in the cheese world:
September 8, 2014
Recent media reports have incorrectly indicated that the FDA is banning Roquefort and other cheeses.
Earlier in 2014, nine producers of Roquefort, Tomme de Sovie, Morbier, and other cheeses tested above threshold levels set in 2010 for a particular type of bacteria called non-toxigenic E. coli. While these bacteria don’t cause illness, their presence suggests that the cheese was produced in unsanitary conditions.
The FDA has been working with the American Cheese Society (ACS) to learn more about artisanal cheeses and measures that cheesemakers take to ensure their products are safe. After hearing ACS’ concerns about the test results, the FDA adjusted its criteria for taking regulatory action based on them. As a result, 95 percent of the cheese sampled tested below the level at which FDA would take regulatory action, and six of the nine cheese producers placed on Import Alert 12-10 for exceeding bacterial counts have been removed from that list and can resume sales and distribution in the U.S.
The FDA remains dedicated to ensuring a safe and wholesome food supply using the latest science to protect human health, and promoting dialogue with industry, consumers and other interested parties. The FDA is committed to working and sharing an open dialogue with the artisanal cheesemaking community. Of course, we welcome input from the public at any time and we continue to meet and share information with the artisanal cheesemaking community on this and other topics.
For more information:
(Via American Cheese Society).
A Visit to Crown Finish Caves
A few evenings ago I had the chance to visit Crown Finish Caves, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, as they were receiving their bi-weekly shipment from their cheesemaking partners up north, Parish Hill Creamery. This was especially interesting for me as the last time I visited the facilities, with Jos Vulto of Vulto Creamery, was right after they’d completed construction, but before there was actually any cheese on the shelves! (you can see that post, and the gleaming, empty tunnels, here).
By now, of course, the story has developed considerably: Crown Finish is receiving regular shipments of both aged cheese — affinaged in Peter Dixon’s own facilities up in Westminster West, VT — and “green” cheese, which Crown Finish is then affinaging themselves in consultation with Peter and his team. Their state of the art caves are outfitted with the best temperature, airflow and humidity control systems on the market, from french company Clauger, and that system is now being put to full use. A key goal of this process is to identify the differences in aroma, flavor, texture, rind development, microbial activity and other key variables which may exhibit differences from one location to the other — in a word, the “terroir” of Brooklyn’s underground tunnels, vs those of an aging facility dug into a hillside in vermont.
Driving the shipment down was Sam Frank (@samfrankcisco on Instagram), a cheesemaker at Parish Hill; at the caves, two assistants, August and Michelle Villasenor, helped in the unpacking as Benton and Susan directed traffic and stacked the wheels on the scales. As the wheels of cheese were unpacked from their crates, Sam and Benton inspected the wheels, noting features and variations both positive and negative; some wheels of blue exhibited curds that had knit exceptionally well, while a few Suffolk Punches had slight pockets of air under the rind on which Sam and Benton debated how best to deal with. After being inspected and weighed,the shipments were moved in to the caves to find their new homes on the wooden shelves. This shipment included West-West Blue, Parish Hill’s two-day blue cheese; Suffolk Punch and Kashar, their pasta filata cheeses, the Suffolk Punch having the distinctive, gourd-like Caciocavallo shape; Humble Herdsman, a semi-soft tomme-style cheese; and Reverie, a larger-format Tomma-style cheese.
Once in the caves, we also got to see some exciting developments under way; Crown Finish has a few experiments going, including a couple of cheeses being aged for Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. (although I can’t say more than that). Particularly interesting for any beer and cheese lovers out there, Crown Finish has partnered with Josh Bernstein, renowned NYC beer expert, on a beer-washed experiment involving wheels of Humble Herdsman and a selection from brewers such as Finback, Transmitter, Other Half, Single Cut, Three’s Brewing and more. The differences in the rind development among the cheeses was immediately apparent, with both color and aroma varying considerably, some turning dark brown from the ales being applied, while others were barely changed in color.
The big news, though, is that Crown Finish will be hosting an event in November at which these cheeses will be available in an evening of tastings and pairings! Tickets not available yet; stay tuned as I’ll be posting details as soon as I have them.
The Suffolk punches are particularly dramatic in appearance in the caves; when you get them at the cheese counter they’ll be polished smooth and a gleaming golden-yellow color, but during aging they become covered with a thick, fuzzy layer of greenish-gray mold, almost like layers of spider webs built up over the months. This is perfectly normal, and aids in both the development of flavor and the protection of the interior paste.
Seeing the caves actually running at full steam, with wheels aging on the shelves from one end to the other, is a beautiful sight. Benton cored one of the wheels of Herdsman (the “#3”), and we gave it a taste; a very milky cheese (“like drinking a glass of milk” as Benton described it), tangy with a subtle grassy-herby finish.Brooklyn’s first full-scale cheese aging facilities are off to a promising start, and the cheeses which have actually been aged on-site will be hitting the city’s cheese counters soon.
Note: the caves aren’t open to the public, but if you visit Berg’n, Crown Heights’ newest beer and food hall, you can enjoy your brews and ramen burgers knowing that directly next door to the east, deep under the street, affineurs are hard at work, and wheels of cheese, destined for your favorite cheese shop, are maturing to their full glory.
LifeAndThyme.com has a wonderful blog post about Italian affineur Luigi Guffanti that’s well worth a read:
It’s not only the requirement of total dedication to the animals, the quality and the techniques required for daily cheese making but the lack of guarantee that makes this profession so trying. With no promises that they will ever make money selling their cheeses there is little incentive for people to continue producing such incredible creations. In Italy, they have a saturated cheese market. This means that there is little incentive to pay more for a certain cheese, because there is so much cheese everywhere. It’s not all high quality but a lot of times the price beats the palate.
Small producers rarely produce enough volume to gain access to the international markets that will pay them livable wages. This is where affineurs such as Luigi Guffanti come in. Guffanti acts as a middleman and will buy the entire production for a season and age it until they believe it is ready to be released. This ensures the rancher can focus solely on the making of the cheeses, the health of his cattle, and making sure that they are able to buy the new tools and supplies that they might need the next year, without waiting to see if their cheese will sell or not.
Check out the full post.
(Photos ©2014 LifeAndThyme.com)
Most of the recent attention has been focused on challenges facing American cheesemakers due to regulatory pressures, but all is not well in what is arguably the world capital of artisan cheese: France. Newsweek reports on the losses that France’s cheese heritage is currently experiencing (this story touches on many of the same themes and issues as the documentary The War of the Stinky Cheese):
President Charles de Gaulle famously remarked on the impossibility of governing a country that produced so many cheeses. But that was in 1962. Today it might be just as hard to govern the country, but it has nothing to do with cheese – because 90% of the producers have either gone to the wall or are in the hands of the dairy giants. This is thanks to a mixture of draconian health measures in Brussels, designed to come down hard on raw milk products, and hostile buyouts by those who want to corner the market.
Unpasteurised milk, which gives a unique earth-and-fruit flavour, has been gradually marginalised on false public health pretexts after intense lobbying by the food processing industry, to the detriment of the consumer but the incalculable advantage of those producing cheese made with pasteurised milk. The latter will last up to a month on the supermarket shelf, while many made with raw milk – such as fresh goat’s cheese – are unlikely to be edible after more than 10 days.
France produces more than 1,000 different types of cheese and is the second biggest consumer in Europe, after Greece. But products made with lait cru, or unpasteurised milk, now make up only 10% of the market, compared with 100% 70 years ago. The cheese war is particularly savage in Camembert, an area where there are now only five authentic local producers left. It has fallen victim to a culture that favours a production line that can churn out 250,000 Camembert cheeses a day.
“The big industrial producers will not tolerate the existence of other modes of production. They are determined to impose a bland homogeneity upon the consumer – cheese shaped objects with a mediocre taste and of poor quality because the pasteurisation process kills the product,” says Véronique Richez-Lerouge, founder of France’s Unpasteurised Cheese Association, which lobbies to protect traditional raw-milk varieties.
“The multinationals don’t care a fig and with the complete cooperation of the powers-that-be have swept aside 2,000 years of know-how, and now the great cheeses of France are on the road to extinction,” says Richez-Lerouge, who recently published France: Your Cheese is Going Down the Drain. “The small guys just get crushed underfoot by companies like Lactalis with its €15bn turnover and Bongrain (€4.4bn). French cultural heritage and freedom of choice for the consumer are at stake here.”
Love this poster from the Cellars at Jasper Hill, exploring the anatomy of the dairy cow and its role in cheesemaking. Also available as a t-shirt (I scored one at the Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival):
Are you as fascinated as we are by the beautiful alchemy of making milk? Do you daydream about fermentation in the rumen, protein synthesis and the biochemical cascade to flavor? You’re not alone.
We’re happy to unveil another poster by talented artist Natalya Zahn, skillfully illustrating the anatomy of a dairy cow and highlighting those processes that contribute to milk production. You might recognize the cow in question as Jenny, one of our most senior and beloved animals in the herd.
Poster available at the Cellars site.
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):
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.
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.)
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!
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:
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)