Exploring Cheese & Microbes at ACS 2014
One of the most interesting sessions of last week’s #CheeseSociety14: Cheese, Salame & Microbes—Parallels and Discoveries, with Paul Bertolli of Fra’Mani Handcrafted Foods, Dr. Ben Wolfe of Harvard University (soon to be at Tufts University, and the other half of the groundbreaking cheese microbiome detective team with Dr. Rachel Dutton), and Mateo Kehler of The Cellars at Jasper Hill. Bertolli brought the salami, Kehler brought the cheese, and Wolfe brought the deep knowledge of microbial communities — in both wheels and sausages — to explore the parallels, and differences, between cheesemaking and the fabrication of salumi.
In many ways the processes are quite similar: both rely on the removal of moisture, the raising and lowering of pH during aging, the feeding of lactobacilli on sugars (naturally occurring Lactose in the case of milk, adjunct Dextrose in the case of many Salames), and the encouragement of a host of natural and added bacteria, yeasts and molds to do their work and transform a starting product, whether milk or meat, into a vast spectrum of flavor and aroma profiles.
Bertolli had brought 6 different salami’s, each innoculated with a different blend of starter or surface cultures. Kehler had brought 4 different wheels of the soft-ripened, bloomy rind Moses Sleeper, each made with slightly different cultures, or different target moisture levels, sometimes from the same batch but with different ripening processes, producing starkly different results and variations in texture, flavor, and rind appearance. There was also a wheel of the Winnimere — last year’s ACS Best in Show winner — a good example of microbial management at its best.
Many of the bacterias, yeasts and molds used between the two processes are of the same species’, often identical or slightly different strains. If you’ve ever had a link of salami that had a white fuzz on the outside, it’s not a coincidence that it resembles a bloomy rind cheese like Camembert. A sausage with a sticky color and no white indicates that yeasts rather than molds have dominated the ripening process, and one can see a similar difference in cheeses, where yeasty cheeses tend to have a more pillowy, fragile rind that can be on the moist side.
Dr Wolfe provided a rich overview of the microbial processes at work in salume and cheese. As he told us, microbial biodiversity can be lower in salume than cheeses, although they’re still not sure why, and the sausage casing can bring its own cultures to the mix. Every bite of cheese or salume is loaded with live cultures (ten to the tenth roughly, in fact). He even brought petri dishes so that we could observe the different cultures in their isolated states.
Kehler finished the session with an introduction to the new labs that the Cellars at Jasper Hill have recently created, to explore the microbial universe of cheese and create a resource for cheesemakers to identify, isolate and eventually reuse the natural cultures occurring in their milks; or as Mateo put it: “Farmer Brown’s milk sequenced, isolated and given back for them to use”.
The Cellars have recently hired a full-time microbiologist to work on site, someone who had previously worked at White Labs, one of the top resources for the craft beer industry — beer being another key environment in the emerging awareness of microbial foods.
Dr Wolfe has now partnered with Bronwen Percival of Neil’s Yard Dairy on a website, MicrobialFoods.org, which is well worth a read if the subject interests you.
ACS Festival Of Cheese 2014
Some scenes from the Festival of Cheese, the blowout cheese bacchanalia at the end of the American Cheese Society 2014 conference — that took place this year in Sacramento, CA. 248 producers submitted 1,685 entries, and a good portion of those end up at the Festival for consumption by conference attendees (some cheesemakers submit just enough product for the judging but not the Festival). Also at the event are craft beers, wines, ciders and a wide variety of specialty foods from festival sponsors.
It’s well worth attending if you can; while the insane quantities of cheese are of course a blast to get to dive into, it’s also a truly unique opportunity to get a panoramic snapshot of the state of the American cheese industry from year to year. You can get a pretty good idea of where, say, domestically produced blue cheeses, are going when you’ve got 30 different varieties on a single table for the sampling. Methods and styles that might be on the rise — whether it be unusual washes, mixed-milk cheeses or emulations of European styles that weren’t previously being produced on this side of the pond — also become more obvious when they’re sharing space on the multi-level tables stacked with wheels.
While the conference is open to registered attendees only, the Festival of Cheese is actually a ticketed event, open to the public. If you’re near Providence, RI in 2015, you’ll have an opportunity to attend the Festival, as that’s where the next conference will be held!
Some scenes from the American Cheese Society Meet The Cheesemaker event Thursday evening. Cheesemakers have the opportunity to present their wares to an audience of cheese-world professionals from all across America, a unique opportunity for networking with a highly knowledgable crowd, and finding new venues for their wheels.
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).
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.
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.
Over at Cheese Underground, Jeanne Carpenter reports on the rise of small cheesemakers. Her focus is on Wisconsin, but the trend is evident from coast to coast in the US:
Specialty Food News today reports that while the overall U.S. cheesemaking industry is on the rise, interestingly enough, the number of small cheesemaking establishments is far outpacing the growth of larger operations in America.
According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Economic Census, between 2007 and 2012, the total number of cheesemaking establishments in the U.S. rose by 13 percent to 542, while growth in small establishments, (defined as employing up to 19 people), rose more than double that rate, by 28 percent, to 250.
The report reveals that in 2012, small cheesemaking facilities accounted for 46 percent of all cheesemaking establishments, compared with 41 percent in 2007. As for employment statistics, 44,432 people in the U.S. were employed in cheesemaking in 2012, 7 percent more than five years earlier.
Just as with dairy farming, there is room - especially in Wisconsin - for cheese plants of all sizes - big, small and in-between. While the mammoth plants churn out the state’s cash crop of pizza mozzarella, smaller plants help put Wisconsin on the map for high quality artisan cheese. The past two U.S. Champion cheesemakers are both from Wisconsin, and are both small operations: Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann of LaClare Farms and Marieke Penterman of Holland’s Family Cheese.
The pair are part of a growing trend. The USDA reported in May that of Wisconsin’s 126 cheese plants, last year, 93 manufactured at least one type of specialty cheese, up from 80 plants in 2007.
Read the full story.
(Photo ©2014 Cheese Underground)
Funnily enough being blue means something totally different German than in English, and that is being drunk (although that could of course induce the blues the day after…). Neither applies to the happy, cheerful woman Ute Rohrbeck is, or her cheeses, which certainly aren’t drunk. Her Blauer Künstler, blue artist, is a very serious and yet friendly masterpiece. The small round soft goats’ milk cheese is intervened with blue mould and coated with it, and the result tastes not a bit too strong or salty, but gentle and quiet and complex and it smells of fresh button mushrooms, intensifying to a whole pan full of wild mushrooms with some age.
Read the full post.
(Photo ©2014 Ursula Heinzelmann)
At Neal’s Yard in London, washing, waiting, and watching are just a few of the steps involved in finishing some of the world’s finest cheeses
This piece appears in Season 2, Episode 13 of FoodieTV, a free iOS app showcasing the best stories about food from all around the world. Get the app here: foodie.tv/install
Cheesemaker Visit: Arethusa Farm
Dairy farming and haute-couture may not intersect very often, but at Arethusa Farm, in Litchfield, CT, two executives from Manolo Blahnik — makers of shoes coveted by the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker — have transformed what was once a falling-down property and farm into a gleaming model of modern American dairying. Tony Yurgaitis and George Malkemus, partners in life as well as in business, had lived in the Litchfield, CT area for many years, when the farm across the street from their property — which was threatened with development into a golf course — piqued their curiosity. Yurgaitis and Malkemus purchased the century-old horse farm in 1999, reviving it as a dairy (Arethusa— a type of orchid native to the region — was once the name of the farm; they chose to bring back the name when they took it over); after a few years of trying to break even on the commodity milk market and being frustrated by the low prices, they decided to take the plunge into bottling their own milk and selling it directly, confident in the quality of the product. Finding success and an enthusiastic reception from consumers and chefs alike, they have branched out into value-added products like yogurt, fresh cheeses, sour cream and ice cream; in 2011 they added aged cheeses to the mix as well.
I recently had the opportunity to tour Arethusa, with Elena Santogade as my guide. Elena was formerly head cheesemonger at Campbell’s Cheese & Grocery and Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, and is now a sales and marketing representative for Arethusa, focusing on the NYC area. She is also working with them on the development of their new cheeses. (she’s also a former “urban cheesemaker” — you can read about her in this piece I wrote for Modern Farmer).
Our first stop was at the Arethusa store and creamery, in a renovated former firehouse in the middle of Bantam, next door to Al Tavolo, their wine bar/restaurant. Fresh milk, of the highest quality, is the linchpin of Arethusa; producing “Milk Like It Used To Taste”(their official motto) was their first mission, and everything else has sprung from that. The fresh milk is, in fact, delicious, with the lowfat milk having the richness of an average whole milk, and the whole milk thick, sweet, and sumptuous. This carries through into all of their products, from the yogurts to the sour cream to the ice creams and, of course, the cheeses, both fresh and aged. (This weekend I had their sour cream with wild blackberries, and it was something else, not at all like supermarket sour cream, much richer in flavor and velvety in consistency).
Arethusa’s ice cream parlor and dairy shop has quickly become a fixture in Bantam; it probably doesn’t hurt that their ice creams, served in a freshly rolled waffle cone, are delicious (I went for the Maple-Walnut scoop). Through the back window of the shop, one can see the gleaming tanks and pipes of the creamery where the fresh products like ice cream, yogurt, sour cream, farmer’s cheese and mozzarella are made. We watched as the the team stretched hot curds and formed them into balls of warm mozzarella before dunking them into an ice bath; better still, we got to taste the results. The slices of mozzarella, still warm and soft, were wonderfully milky and salty, with a bit of tang and even a hint of a grassy flavor, the natural character of the milk coming through. The texture is slightly more on the squeaky side than some mozzarellas, like fresh curds.
Upstairs from the main creamery are the cheesemaking facilities, where the 5000 Lb vat and the aging rooms are located. Chris Casiello, the head cheesemaker, was hard at work on a batch of the Arethusa Camembert when we arrived. Chris spent 11 years at New Pond Farm, in Redding, CT, and had completed the cheesemaker certification at VIAC, before being hired by Arethusa four years ago. We watched as they piped the milk, already pasteurized and cultured, from the vat into large tubs for the Camembert make. Cheesemaker Matt Benham (a recent hire after a few years as a cheesemaker at Beecher’s NYC) added the rennet and mixed it in carefully; eventually it would be cut and stirred, and then scooped into the waiting round moulds.
We next visited the aging space, where the hard cheeses, like Tapping Reeve, Bella Bantam and Crybaby were aging. Chris pulled out a cheese iron and cored a two-year Tapping Reeve for us to try: It was nutty, grassy and complex, similar to a clothbound cheddar but with a more alpine bent to it. (Tapping Reeve was a Connecticut Supreme Court judge in the 18th century, and founded a nearby law school which still bears his name).
New wheels of Arethusa blue filled one corner as well; Arethusa recently released a first batch of the Blue, and has been developing the cheese recipe and affinage further, building on the success of the first batch, and hope to have it at cheese counters soon. Because we had just been in the blue cheese room, we were unable to enter the bloomy rind room, to avoid cross-contamination, but we able to look through the foggy window and see the wheels of Arethusa Camembert on the racks.
Chris mentioned that the aging facilities are a little crowded for the volume of cheese they’re beginning to produce; Arethusa is actually in the process of building a state of the art aging facility just down the road, to open some time in 2015, with construction in full swing on the day we visited. They’re looking to expand and change up the line of cheeses as well, and the expanded space will be a great help in enabling that. For the aged cheeses they’re currently waxing about half of them, but moving towards more natural-rinded cheeses.
After our tour of the Creamery, we jumped in Elena’s car and drove to nearby Litchfield, CT, where the actual farm is located. the property is dotted with whitewashed, modern structures with crisp black lettering above the doors, nestled among vast lawns, rolling hills and bordering wetlands. As Elena noted, it’s not often that you visit a farm where such a high percentage of the buildings are recent construction, with fresh lumber and shining paint on all sides.
Upon entering the barn, two things struck me: the relative quiet, and the lack of smell. I don’t mind the smell of fresh manure, and one comes to expect it during any farm visit, but on the Arethusa property it is surprisingly subdued, even directly inside the cow barns, a testament to the cleanliness of space. Farm staff circulated, tending to animals and keeping the floors free of the product of the back end of the cows.
The cows were standing and lying in their stalls, munching on hay and a carefully blended feed mix, that includes specialty ingredients like flax and cotton seed (which looks kind of like a sunflower seed with cotton stuck to it; it’s not often found on farms this far north, but they feel it’s worth shipping it up for the benefits its provided). We were given the tour by Heather Lord, the Milking Barn Manager, who oversees some 350 head of Registered Holsteins, Jerseys and Brown Swiss, with around 80 milking on average. Heather showed us how the feed is doled out by a mechanized dispenser, which cruises on an overhead track from stall to stall, and can be programmed to give certain cows different feed blends based on nutritional needs.One of the challenges for Arethusa is that, because they are located in a fairly well-developed corner of Connecticut, opportunities for open-pastures are more limited; nonetheless, the cows go out on the pastures daily in Spring through Fall, with grass grazing combined with the feed mix providing a diet optimized for the cow’s health and the quality of the milk.
They have a rigorous cleaning schedule for the cows as well, with cleaning and brushing daily and full weekly body washes. This might seem indulgent, but it also ensures a low bacteria plate count, aka clean milk. Arethusa has won multiple awards for the quality of their milk, so the practices seem to be paying off.
Breeding and competition is a big part of the Arethusa mission, and on our way into the milking barns, we passed through rooms and hallways that seemed to be overflowing with ribbons, medals and banners, marking top honors for their cows at various competitions over the years. The farm has several repeat winning cows, including Veronica, Vista, Karlie and others — housed in a separate barn with giant individual stalls for each of the animals. Their winningest cow, Karlie, is the namesake for Karlie’s Gratitude, a Camembert-style cheese that they are now developing, which — unlike their main Camembert — is not a stabilized-paste bloomy; they’re aiming for it to develop more of the ooziness and complexity of flavor and aroma of a traditional Camembert-style cheese.
Once we were done touring the farm, it was time to go back to the Arethusa store, for a tasting of more of the cheeses. On the board were:
- The Arethusa Mozzarella
- Farmer’s Cheese, fresh, bright and creamy; these come in Plain, Lemon Zest, Basil Pine Nut and Maple Raisin.
- Arethusa Camembert, which won second place in the open category for soft farmstead cheeses at ACS last year. Thin-rinded, buttery and mushroomy.
- Europa, their washed-curd cheese, similar to a young gouda, with a burnt-orange color and caramel notes, but a bit cheddary as well in flavor and texture.
- Crybaby, a buttery and sweet Alpine-style with a smooth, elastic paste, similar to an Emmentaler with a scattering of large eyes.
- Arethusa Blue, a creamy Stilton-style blue (Previously reviewed, you can read my tasting notes for it here).
- Bella Bantam - a toma-style, open textured cheese. Mild, sweet and tangy, an easy-eating cheese, great for melting.
Arethusa’s milk, yogurts, sour creams and other fresh products are increasingly available at multiple locations in NYC, including Whole Foods, Brooklyn Larder and more. The cheeses are available at their farm store and locally, and they are now expanding their presence at cheese counters. I found the Arethusa Blue at Eataly, and it was available at Brooklyn Larder, Saxelby Cheesemongers, and other locations. So keep on the lookout for Arethusa products!