Wanna go to Oregon? Wanna win an opportunity to make cheese at one of the awesomeist creameries in the country? Of course you do! There's a great contest that's been announced here. As a cheesy wench, of course I will be trying to come up with a video that doesn't make me look like a total dweeb fat chance and sending it in within a week or so. What about you? Do it! Do it!
I can't even believe I forgot to mention a great cheese that I tasted at the ACS. There is was, a little plain, unassuming log of goat cheese. I stopped because it was from Utah, and I thought I'd give it a shot. So frickin' good. Goaty and acidic and salty and creamy and goooood. There's no way I'm going to see it out here, but if you happen upon Shepherds Dairy Products from Erda, Utah, please give them a try.
Farms for City Kids Foundations' Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise won 1st place for Open Category Cow's Milk Cheeses (aged 60 days or more) in the farmstead cheese category a few weeks ago at ACS. Please go to the website and read about the program that's helping kids get in touch with the land and their food. Learning lessons that can be taught in the classroom, but stay with you longer and mean more after "doing" instead of just reading.
So second place in the same category was Thistle Hill Farm Tarentaise. Both farms use the same breed of cow. They both use copper vats. The recipe is the same. Thistle Hill Farm licensed their recipe to Spring Brook Farm to use. They are located 20 miles away from one another. They should taste the same right? Bah! The two cheeses couldn't be more different in flavor. I'm going to start by saying that they're both good. They both have a nutty acidity which is modeled after Beaufort. For me however it's the Spring Brook Farm cheese. The Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise tastes wild. It's sharp and acidic and slightly bitter, a bit nutty and green like artichoke petals. I love it.
After touring the farm and cheeseworks Tom sent me off with a seriously generous piece of cheese. 14 months old it was absolutely glorious. I brought it home with me and we had it three ways. Straight up in the mouth, whittling pieces off to put in our gobs, cheese sandwiches and topped our burgers with it as well. Sooo good.
I seriously love Vermont.
Racks and racks and racks of Tarentaise.
Yup, it's a zebra. Nope, I'm not at a zoo. On our way to Spring Brook Farm we passed a still-in-construction plot of land with a barn and pen with a zebra in it. In a blatant act of trespassing we went over the private covered bridge and onto the land so we could take a look at the zebra. You just don't anticipate the Vermont zebra. Or the Spanish inquisition. Come on you were all thinking it.
Happy little goat at Fat Toad Farm yes, they have lovely cream cheese, but that's not why I went. They have goat milk caramel sauce. My folks are sending me the 3 jars I bought up there. I just didn't have room for all the cheese, caramel sauce and ice cider. CURSES! Now I really want caramel sauce. Badly.
One of the things I was most looking forward to was going to see the Water Buffalo people. Cool right? I mean they make mozzarella and yogurt and have water buffalo. I called them for weeks and kept getting different answers. Yes they would give me a tour, no they couldn't. They aren't making mozzarella anymore. They have no yogurt. I was frustrated but then I heard that they're moving. To Canada. CURSES! Well, that didn't deter me. I'd never seen a water buffalo before so we went. They're super cute. Almost cuter than cows.
Why look! It's Tom doling out samples of Tarentaise. Both cheeses were together at the stand so you got to do a side by side comparison. Awesome!
Oh look, it's my tasty friend Tarentaise. Along with other tasty treats. mmm...Vermont Shepherd. I bought one of the Sarrabande, and she made it to Chicago okay. I can't wait to eat her tomorrow!
I have no idea what the top cheese is, but the Vermont Ayr is delicious and I think I've mentioned my hardcore love for the Ascutney Mountain before.
Twig Farm makes ridiculously tasty cheese. One of my favorites is the Square. Unfortunately we don't get it out here in Chicago, so I only get it when I go back East.
Now, part of the festivals goal was to get cheesemaker's to meet their customers and for the customers to see the face behind the fromage. I really really really wanted to chat with the cheesemaker and ask him about the experimental cheese. Unfortunately it was too crowded.*
Shelburne Farms is sitting on some gorgeous land right alongside Lake Champlain.
Happy and hungry cows at Shelburne Farms.
Yesterday I spent a whole bunch of time at Jasper Hill Farm listening to Mateo talk about cheese, and show me cheese, and have me taste cheese and it was so frickin' rad. That post will probably be coming in the next few days.
*Update on 8/26 @8:57pm: Some of you may have noticed that I changed this post slightly. I never change the post. Usually after writing something I check for spelling errors and once it's posted I don't look at it again except for reference. This post, and my super cranky paragraph bothered me all day today. In the interest of being a happy wench instead of an angry prickly one, I have deleted the rant.
Why in the name of all that is lactic is Austin so dang blasted hot? I mean it was in the triple digits the entire time I was there. Awful. Just fricking awful. I recommend that if the ACS wants to have another conference in an area of the country that causes my eyelashes to sweat that they change the time of year. January sounds good.
So there's this cheese called BonneBouche. Have I mentioned it before? I have? Oh well, let me say it again. I love this cheese. Upon meeting Alison Hooper I said "OMG meeting you is like meeting Elvis. You're so awesome!" I then turned bright red, stammered and tried like hell to get out of the room before embarrassing myself any more. Alison seemed...stunned. I hope she knows that I meant she's a rock star and I love what she's done for the goats, cheese and Vermont and not that I think she's going to o.d. while on the toilet eating a ham sandwich. She seems like a smart woman. I'm sure she knew what I meant. I bought her new/1st book while at the conference but was too embarrassed to have her sign it. I am a dweeb.
I've wanted this book for many a moon. Now it is mine. My precious.
Now for the serious stuff.
People use the words artisan, farmstead and hand-crafted, but what do they really mean? Unfortunately or fortunately depending on which side of the issue you're on there is no legal definition for what those words mean.
I've spent about a week working on this post. Searching my own beliefs to find answers. The thing is, right now at this time in my cheese life each answer I get only leads me to another question. Since at some point all cheese is touched, what makes something truly hand-crafted? Does being a farmstead cheesemaker mean that you're automatically an artisan one? Can you be an artisan cheesemaker if you don't have your own animals? If you can, does where you get your milk determine if you're artisan? Does being an organic or raw producer have any bearing on you also being an artisan cheesemaker? Can you be a big company and still be artisan, or do only small producers get that title? If most of your cheese is commodity cheese, but you have a few artisan cheese are you an artisan cheesemaker? ARGH!
Farmstead seems to be the easiest one to define. A farmstead cheese means your animals are raised on the land that they're milked on, and that milk is turned into cheese on that same land.
Artisan is a bit harder to define. Wikipedia says:
"Artisan cheese is manufactured by hand using the traditional craftsmanship of skilled cheesemakers. As a result the cheeses are often more complex in taste and variety. Many are aged and ripened to achieve certain aesthetics. This contrasts with the more mild flavors of mass produced cheeses produced in large scale operations, often shipped and sold right away."
I agree with that. Kind of. A little bit. There are three big, well known, revered and respected (rightfully so) cheesemakers. One makes less than 20 or so different dairy products. The other makes over 100. The third makes one. They are all put under the umbrella of "artisan" cheese.
So which one of them is an artisan cheesemaker? The smallest of the three is also a farmstead cheese maker. Does that make them artisan? The company with less than 20 is not farmstead. Cheese is hand-ladled (a process that insures the curds aren't getting beat up). The other cheesemaker? They have numerous factories and over 100 different cheeses under their company umbrella. Is that an artisan cheesemaker? Are all of these cheesemakers artisan? In my opinion, no.
The word Artisan is like porn. Stay with me here. I don't know how to define it, but I know what it is when I see it (don't worry, the link is G rated.)Everyone has their own idea of what it means. To me being an artisan maker of cheese (or anything really) means that you are using traditional methods, skill and talent in hand-crafting your product. You are doing it for the love of your product. You are more concerned with putting out quality product as opposed to quantity. Being a larger company is absolutely not a valid reason to be kicked out of the artisan club. I and everyone in the cheese world want cheesemakers to have success. How you produce your product as a large company is much more important.
Artisan and hand-crafted seem to be an intertwined issue. What does hand-crafted mean? While in Austin I purchased a hand-crafted necklace. The woman had done the sketch, made the ceramic, combined her different colored glazes, painted it, and picked the cord for it to be put on. Although there were many that were similar, my particular necklace was unique and had slight imperfections. That is a hand-crafted product.
The little wheels of Constant Bliss are hand-ladled. Sometimes you get one that's perfectly flat on top and bottom. Sometimes you don't. Hand-crafted to me has an imperfection. Not like the "irregulars" bin at Filene's, but a slight imperfection because human hands have a margin of error.
To me, an irregularity in a product is acceptable, and on some level desired. Real fruit is not uniform. It is lumpy, misshapen, asymmetrical, and has a non-uniformity to it that pleases me. Every time I get something from a farmstand or farmer's market it is going to be different than the week before. If it always tasted and looked the same I would begin to think they were selling industrial produce which is not what I want when I purchase from their stand.
It's the same with cheese. I want those differences. I want to be able to taste the Grayson in the spring and compare it to the Grayson I get in fall. Is that variation because it's an artisan cheese, or because it's a farmstead cheese or because it's a seasonal cheese? The answer is yes. That is why the word artisan is so hard to define.
This issue is not just for those of us in the cheese world. My pa is a member of the bread baker's guild and they are having very heated discussions about the word artisan. What's an artisan bread? This issue is also in the beer world. What is a microbrew? What is a hand-crafted beer? This issue is everywhere in the food world.
The problem is that if the government doesn't have a definition and thank Gouda they don't and the cheese community doesn't have a definition, do words like artisan and hand-crafted mean anything to you the consumer? My fear is that they won't, and cheesemakers who truly are doing artisan cheeses won't be recognized and applauded for their efforts.
This is a sticky issue. Much like the issue of what can have the raw milk cheese label. There are those people out there who know in their hearts that they are artisan cheesemakers, and there are some who want to capitalize on the word. Who knew cheese had so much drama?
This is a long post. Go get a glass of something tasty, a hunk of bread and some cheese.
I've decided to start the ACS posts with what some people say is the best part of the ACS conference. The Festival of Cheese. This is held on the last day of the conference when every cheese, butter, yogurt and spread that was entered into competition is put out for people to sample. This year that meant over 1300 cheeses. This year the set up in the ballroom was confusing. A cheese labyrinth where the tables were organized in a way that not even a mensa member could decipher.
One of the Cheddar tables at the Festival of Cheese.
One of my favorite finds this year was the domestic goat milk Robiola from Reichert's Dairy Air in Iowa. I love this cheese. It was creamy and sharp, tangy, salty and goaty. So good. I also appreciate anyone who puts a pun in the name of their business.
This is Van Goat from Haley Farms Goat Dairy. Lovely acidic little fresh goat cheese round decorated in edible flowers. Yum.
Unknown blue cheese photo. It is pretty though isn't it?
I have no words. Different company, but same review.
There were only two when I got there. When I left there was one.
I was talking to a friend the other day who asked me "why don't they put bacon in cheese? I told him that I'm sure there's someone out there who does. I was right. I didn't try this one because I didn't want my palate smothered by bacon and garlic.
There's not enough real traditional, stinky, washed rind, pliable, buttery, slightly sweet, fruity and beefy Limburger in this country.
The tables were organized in a random haphazard way that had me trying to recruit people to find the BonneBouche. I had given up and was about to walk out the door when I saw her. My pressure went down, I smiled took a piece and went on my way.
I didn't actually try this one. I just took the photo for someone special. You know who you are ;)
So, the day after the festival of cheese is the cheese sale. Any big pieces, or whole wheels are sold to the public. Last year my best friend and I went and got enough Cheddar than her son was sitting pretty on grilled cheese sandwiches and macaroni and cheese for quite some time. the thing about the cheese sale is that not everything is labeled, so there's a lot of mystery cheese purchases. It becomes an experience for your mouth, but at only $5/lb totally worth it.
This year was a bit trickier getting the cheese home since I was trying to get from Texas to Chicago via New York. I know this sound like a roundabout way of doing things, but it was a free flight so I took it. I had all the cheese in a box which was inside an insulated tote which was inside a duffle bag. My connecting flight was delayed so I went to the food court and got more ice. It was delayed again. Back to the food court. And once more it was delayed. The food court people were rather testy about giving me more ice. I told them that there was 17# of cheese in the bag and I wasn't going to lose any of it just because my plane was stuck in Virginia. They looked at me like I was a crazy person, but they gave me more ice.
I got home 14 1/2 hours after buying the cheese, and everything was still good and cold. Hurray! I am going to identify the cheeses I can, the others my girlfriend and I just named creatively.
Starting at the top is Grafton 3 yr Cheddar from VT. Working clockwise, the russet rind cheese is Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company a raw milk cheese that won Best in Show the first year it was entered in the competition, and if I'm not mistaken is the only cheese to win it twice. The orange speckled thing is Hook's Cheese Company tomato and basil Cheddar. It's more basil-y than tomato, but it makes a mighty fine addition to a roasted turkey sandwich. The little blue-grey round is Hubbarston Blue at Westfield Farm in MA. Blue on the outside, creamy, mushroomy, goat greatness on the inside.
The big short white round is Blythedale Camembert from VT. Hand-ladeled cheese from VT. Mushroomy, creamy with a little grass and a smidge of bitterness. The speckled cheese laying down is maybe the Tuscan Rubbed Cabot Cheddar. I dunno. The small white round is the Boucheret? from Redwood Hill Farm and Creamery. I will definitely be talking more about this cheese in another post. Easily the favorite of the table. The one standing up is what we call "Southwestern spiced Cheddary thing". The triangle flecked with black is the Marco Polo from Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle. Another favorite. It is sitting on top of the 2yr aged Cheddar from Shelburne Farms in VT.
Have I mentioned the Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival yet today? On August 23rd the first ever VT Cheesemaker's Festival will be taking place at Shelburne Farms. Mmmm Vermont cheese. I finally bought my plane ticket last night after procrastinating for way too long.
And finally, the last cheese standing the orange block with red flecks in it we have named "Chipotle spicy Cheddar that is also a bit smoky and would be good in tacos". It's a bit wordy, but we're a wordy people. Now, I have to confess something to you. There was an entire 1/2 wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve when I got back to Chicago. I'm a nice gal though, and shared with some people at work. So this isn't really 17# of cheese. It's more like 15.
When I got home there was a mutant in my kitchen. I've been nurturing a tomato plant all summer long. In the time that I was gone the thing grew at least one foot, and I found a little baby tomato. That means that unless something goes wrong the almost 4ft. tomato plant will yield me at least one tomato this year. I couldn't be happier. I think I may pickle it.
The first part of the day's post is finishing up a post I started before the wacky hectic schedule that was the ACS conference. So in this post I was talking about the Neal's Yard Dairy cheese tasting that I went to. We're going to finish up with the blue cheeses.
The blue positioned at about 7 o'clock is Strathdon Blue from Scotland. It was my first time every having a Scottish blue and I wish I could say it was fantastic. The flavors were good, salty, milky, moldy, grassy, buttery, but the texture. I couldn't get over it. David, our educator said that this particular wheel was a bit wet and he was right. It tasted to me as if a block of tofu, and a wedge of Stilton got together and had a baby. Not a pleasant texture for a cheese. Great texture for a fermented bean curd.
The next two cheeses (going clockwise) are the same, but different. Stilton. The first one we found out after tasting is done with a vegetarian rennet, the second one with a traditional rennet. I preferred the second one. I preferred it for the same reason I prefer raw milk cheeses, it had more flavor. Now, if I'd just tried the vegetarian cheese by itself I would have found it a pleasing cheese. Side by side with the traditional rennet cheese, I found it to be...meh.
Rounding out the cheese plate is Stichelton. Lovely, wild, untamed, grassy, ballsy Stichelton. I did a post about this cheese last spring, and in the interest of not repeating myself I'll just tell you to go here to read it.
Finally, I would like to send a big ol' shout out to Junglefrog for the lovely treats she sent. We joked that the first package she sent must have been eaten by the folks at customs, and after getting the goody bag, I'm sure they were. The Drop Donders are little licorice candies in the shapes of cars and a muffler that looks a bit like Emmenthal. The adults enjoyed them. Next up is the box of jimmies. Chocolate, rainbow and chocolate shavings. Soo good. I sprinkled them on ice cream and made the nephew and I very very happy.
And then there are the stroopwafels. Imagine a wafer sandwich filled with caramel. Now image going to the coffee shop not S***bucks, never S***bucks and getting your coffee and dunking this in there. Or break it into little bits and mix it into ice cream. Either way is good. Thank you so much for the treats, J.F.
Next post: What does 17# of cheese look like and why would I attempt to bring it back from Austin?
Yesterday I got to the airport in Texas at 11:30 am. I got home to Chicago at 1:40am. Then I went to work today. I was going to give you part one of the ACS conference but find that I have no energy for cognitive thought. Brain bad. Brain hurty. Here are a few teaser highlights from the conference.
If you would like to see a list of the winners, go here and click.
At the Meet the Cheesemaker part of the day I started at Beehive and ended up at Zingerman's. I didn't go near VT Butter & Cheese because I knew I would be a BonneBouche hog. Not a lot of pictures from this session. I spent a lot of time eating cheese, or asking cheesemaker's questions. Since I make it a point to not post any pictures of people, unless they are at their best, I have no pictures of Judy to show you. All you need to know is that she makes great cheese, and that the picture I have of her looks like I was shaking and using Barbara Streisand lighting.* I was not going to post a crappy photo just to say "hey look, it's Judy".
Julianna from Capriole.
Sofia and Piper's Pyramid from Capriole.
One of my favorite new cheeses. This is SeaHive from the Beehive Cheese Company. Milky, and sweet, flowery, grassy salty and gooood.
Topics coming this week (probably starting Wednesday since that's my day off):
Why is it so damn hot in Austin when it's 9:30pm?
Artisan, Farmstead, Organic, what do those words really mean?
Cheese Spreads and cheeses like Lancaster Duet, should they both be in the competition together?
Seriously, why is it so hot?
You're the most ribbonedcheesemaker in America, what does that mean, and are you still an artisan cheesemaker? Based on the amounts of cheese you produce are you tipping the scale in your favor as far as competition is concerned?
Is there such a thing as too big when it comes to a cheesemakers production?
Why is VT Butter & Cheese Co. still artisan, but other big companies aren't?
These are just some of the topics that I'm going to be mouthing off about. Of course there will be talk about cheese as well. Especially some of the cheeses I met at the Festival of Cheese. Now I have got to go to bed. My pillow is calling me.
*Barbara Streisand lighting (known as Barbara Walters lighting in some circles) is when the the subject looks fluffy soft like cotton balls. It is supposed to make the subject look younger, but they just look awful and bleached out.
Best of Show is Rogue Creamery of Oregan for their Rogue River Blue.
Second Place is Cowgirl Creamery of California for Red Hawk
Third Place is Consider Bardwell Farm in Vermont for Rupert
Third Place is also Carr Valley Cheese Co., in Wisconsin for Cave Aged Mellage
Tying at the ACS is not an uncommon thing. It happens quite often.
Congratulations to all of the people who placed, and to every single one of the hard working cheesemakers who pour their heart and soul into their animals, milk, standards, and cheese.
Tomorrow is Town Meeting and the festival of cheese. Subjects including if ACS should have more regulation over the words organic, artisan, farmstead and the like. Unfortunately I know I'm going to have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. Hopefully I'll be more composed.
So, really quickly here's what been going on in Austin, TX in huge run-on sentences. After taking 10hrs to get here (via NYC)-don't ask I met up with my co-workers, went out for Vietnamese, had some drinks went to bed, woke up went to seminars remembered that the ACS coffee is just as bad as it was last year, had lunch, had 3 PBR at a bar and the bartender Brian only charged me $4 so now I love Brian.
I met Jeremy Spring Brook Farm (have I spoken about Tarentaise? If not, I will) Met Mateo, the Don of VT Cheese, also met Allison Hooper who I refer to as the Frank Sinatra of the ACS, but in person I told her that meeting her was like meeting Elvis. I hope she knows that I meant because she's so awesome and not because I think she's a drug addict slob who's going to die on the toilet eating a ham sandwich. I respect her intelligence and think she probably knew what I meant. Although the next time I see her maybe I'll call her Paul McCartney-pre Wings obviously!
Went to more seminars, had dinner, drank, had my boss pay for both (Woo Hoo!) Now off to the new people seminar where, shockingly they will be plying us with cheese and booze. Cheese people love cheese, but they REALLY love booze. Oh well, it's 102 here, I could use a cold beer. TTFN
Forgot to tell you guys, next year's conference is going to be in Seattle from 8/25-8/28. I've already put my time off request in.
Also, to the person who was looking for volunteer opportunities, I spoke to the woman at the desk and she said that they already have everyone that they need, but to maybe come by in person one day as there is always a cheesemergency that comes up.
A few weeks ago I went to a seminar given by Dave and Raef from Neal's Yard Dairy,held at Goose Island Brewery here in Chicago. We were given a tasting of eight different cheeses. Today I'm going to talk about the first four.
Going clockwise I'm going to start at 12 and tell you about Ogleshield. This was a brand new cheese for me, and I fell in love immediately. From the wonderful people who bring you the big English cheese, Montgomery's Cheddar,Ogleshield is a washed rind cheese. In this case it's been washed in a brine solution. On their website NYD says it's similar to Raclette. I know that they're the experts, but honestly Raclette never tasted this good. It feels like on the timeline of cheese, Raclette evolved into something bigger, better and tastier. It's floral, a bit grassy and beefy. It's got a little bit of a funk going on, but it's very mild. This is one of those cheeses where it smells milder than it tastes. This cheese tastes warm. Not temperature, but when I tasted it I imagined it's melting possibilities.
Next up is Ardrahan. another washed rind cheese, this time from County Cork, Ireland. This cheese is also washed in a brine solution, but is very different. Where the Ogleshield has fruity, mellow flavors, the Ardrahan is much more assertive. Bacon, earth, leather and a smidgen of smokiness make this soft but not gooey cheese one of my favorites.
The next two are tricksy precious. Why? Because they're the same cheese. This is Montgomery's Cheddar. There are few things in the world I will commit an act of violence for. Cheddar is one of them. Montgomery's is at the top of that list. Keen's, Cabot Clothbound and Beecher's are also on the list. You know when you hear about people going crazy during some W**-Mart Christmas sale? That's me if you get between me and the last hunk of Cheddar. I won't cut you, but you might accidentally "trip".
Montgomery's Cheddar is what Cheddar should taste like. Traditionally made it is a huge cheese. Assertive in it's nutty, tangy, earthy, beefy flavors it's like a mini explosion in your mouth. Aged for a few years it develops these nice little crystals through the paste that add depth and a slight crunch. It has a bit of a caramelized, sweet flavor to it. Similar to caramelizing onions.
Dave asked us by show of hands which one we liked better. I picked number 2 (#4 on the plate). I was convinced that it was older. Significantly older. Older by at least a year. To my surprise I found out these cheeses were made weeks apart, not months or years. So what made the difference? Why did cheese number one taste like a good sharp Cheddar, and the second one tasted like a wild party in my mouth?* Different starters. One cheese was made with a Wednesday starter and one with a Saturday. That, and a few weeks time made all the difference.
I always try to get customers to taste the cheese. Sometimes when people come into the shop they say "Oh, I've had _____ cheese before. I don't need to taste it." I try to give them a taste anyway. Usually I'm successful. The Cheddar tasting is an anectode I'm going to use from now on to convince everyone to always taste the cheese. Always. Seriously.
I know it's the middle of summer, but in my opinion macaroni and cheese is a year round dish. My favorite dish in the world is a good macaroni and cheese. I love it so much that if taunted by grade school children I would let them know that I love it so much in face I want to marry it, but current laws in my state don't allow a woman to marry food. Instead of the Taleggio and Pleasant Ridge Resrve, I made this recipe with Ogelshield. For this dish, no mushrooms or roasted garlic are needed. Just stinky cheesy goodness. Warning! Although this cheese doesn't have a big foot on it, when you apply heat to it it makes a powerful smell. A very footy, stinky smell.
I'm going to try to do the second half of this post before I leave Tuesday morning. I don't know how much posting will get done during the week. If you're feeling bereft of cheese talk, I will be twittering a bit since it takes less time, and can be done from my phone. Follow me on twitter and see what's going on at Cheesewench's first ACS conference!
I am a cook (training courtesy of NECI) who fell into the world of cheese nine years ago. Who knew how deep the rabbit hole would go? I am one of the social media coordinators for the ACS as well as being a member. I love cheese, shiny things and the number 7.