Saturday, August 28, 2010

Blogging and ACS Update

Hey there fellow turophiles. If you're at all like me you've been following the ACS conference by stalking those fortunate conference attendees who tweet, blog and do regular Facebook updates about it. My boss just texted me the winners and here they are:

Best of Show:
1st Place Pleasant Ridge Reserve
2nd Place Bonne Bouche pt 2 can be found here
3rd Place Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise

I'm going to have to change my tune at work. No I'm going to have to start saying

"Pleasant Ridge Reserve is the only cheese to have won 'Best of Show' three times at the ACS conference."

Congratulations Vermont!

On an unrelated note, I am in the process of moving my blog to Wordpress. The url will stay the same, but the overall design, and gadgets I get to play with will be 100% more rad. Stay tuned!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Vermont Trip Epilogue

I realized there were a few things I didn't mention about my Vermont trip.

This picture was taken on the way back from Lazy Lady farm. It was a beautiful day to for a road trip. Also a beautiful day to avoid border patrol. My brother has a car that is not completely legal. Westfield is close enough to Canada that there is border patrol with check points up and down the roads. In order to not be pulled over and have the car impounded miles and miles away from anyone we knew we took the "hopefully not crawling with border-patrol" route back to Montpelier.

When I move back to VT one of the first things I'm going to do is get Thors' car legalized.

The most important thing about this trip to Vermont is that we had a macaroni and cheese contest at my folks' house. Pa, my brother Thor* and I went in a macaroni and cheese throwdown of epic porportions. Since I have access to a lot of fancy cheesy goodness, the number one rule was that I was not allowed to bring any cheese from Chicago, or to have it shipped either.

Pa was the heavy favorite. The man makes a fantastic mac n' cheese. For my birhday dinner I usually ask for macaroni and cheese. When I go back east to visit I ask for macaroni and cheese. I was sure that he would win. My brother is just getting into making mac n' cheese and according to his friends had been practicing some different recipes out.

In the end, just like in Highlander there could only be one winner. That winner was me. It was awesome. I believe this is going to be a new tradition that's going to get bigger and bigger within the family. I hope to wipe the floor with each and every challenger!

Thanks go out to my brother for spending hours upon hours in the car driving me hither and yon.

Special Thanks also to Arnaldo** for letting me use your shower, this would've been a funkier trip without your help.

*Thor is not that name of my brother, just a super cool code name that would be way funnier to you if you knew my brother.
**Arnaldo isn't his real name either, I just love coming up with code names. It's super fun!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Lazy Lady Farm

I have been having a lot of trouble writing this post about Laini, her farm and her general awesomeness. The problem is that I've wanted to meet her for so long and visit her farm that I wrote a few early drafts with my "celebrity goggles" on. Kind of what happened when I met Allison Hooper at ACS last year.

Laini's Lazy Lady Farm of 40 milkers is certified organic and is off the grid. The kids have a nice little wooded area where they can romp and play and get all the nutrients that help to keep their immune systems happy. Her power is all solar and wind generated. Does any of this make the cheese taste better, or is it something else altogether?

Laini started out as a shepherd in the early days, selling lambs for meat and doing a rug business using sheep's' wool for felting. Shearing a sheep ran between $3-6 each and unfortunately the price of processing a lamb became very expensive as well. When Laini started out it was about $8 per lamb, more recently the price is $70+ per lamb.With such high prices Laini would have to charge a ridiculously high price in order to make any type of profit or even just recoup the expenses paid out to raise the lamb, or she could choose to set her price too low and go out of business all together.

Neither one sounded good so she switched to goats. Lazy Lady Farm started with 1 Nubian goat and a few sheep, but she soon got rid of raising sheep, and made the change to the heartier Alpine goat which has a shorter gestation period and a larger milk yield.

Laini's farm is settled on one of the most beautiful and picturesque parts of Vermont. She has two cows and is also uses cow's milk from a nearby neighbor who supplies milk to Organic Valley as well.

Being off the grid doesn't slow down work on the farm although it does make doing chores a bit more taxing physically. When we got there they were adding a door to the new cave that's being built 15 feet underground. Having an underground cave helps maintain the temperature and humidity and generates a natural airflow. In the winter time the cave is at about 40 degrees and 55 in the summer. Having that constant temperature is crucial when aging cheeses. Not all cheeses want to be aged at 55 degrees though. Luckily, Laini has a number of cheeses that are available on a seasonal rotation.

Happy little boy goat with a fantastic beard. Hipster boys around the country should hang their heads in shame when they gaze upon his goaty greatness.

Hello ladies! Lazy Lady employees enjoying a shady spot on the farm

When Laini first started making cheese she did so using four 5 gallon pots and that tiny stove. Each batch of cheese was started at a slightly different time and she would have all of the batches going at once. Things have improved. In 2003 she got a loan from the Vermont Community Loan Fund which enabled Lazy Lady Farm to build a bigger cheese plant (originally cheese was made in the kitchen) and there's room now for a bigger kettle (50 gallon) to make the cheesemaking process more efficient.

Laini talks about her goaty pursuits and cheesemaking endeavors.

Laini's cheeses have won numerous awards, she has kicked butt at ACS conferences, and is one of the most respected cheesemakers I know. She, like many others in the industry learned her craft by spending time abroad.

One of the things I enjoyed most when talking with Laini was her business sense. As a society we are in love with the romanticism of farming and making artisan products. The reality is that this is ridiculously hard work, and not every farmer is going to succeed and make a tidy profit. Laini is the only cheesemaker I've visited who talked about the financial aspects of the job. Sure, goats are adorable, but the bottom line is a farmer needs to make money in order to sustain their land, animals, and lifestyle. Being poor is not romantic. You have to have a good head for business to be a successful cheesemaker.

One of the biggest challenges in a cheesemakers' world is getting paid. If the retailer or distributor doesn't pay, they are jeopardizing Lainis' ability to stay in business. There are a lot of cheesemakers who will continue working with someone who isn't timely in their payments, but Laini isn't one of them. She pulls no punches and isn't afraid to name names of people who have tried to take advantage of her.

It is her blend of breeding and cheesemaking talent, creativity, passion, environmental concerns, no bullshit taken or given approach and practicality that makes Lazy Lady Farm and the woman behind it truly remarkable.

Laini runs a goat breeding program. If you're interested in acquiring a goat or two please check out her website here.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I spent hours with cows and didn't get trampled. Yippee!

There are two more Vermont oriented posts coming your way and then I promise to pepper in some non-Vermont oriented cheese love although I am planning on going back in October, so be prepared!

Today is about the first part of the Vermont Farm Tours. The first farm we went to was Crawford Family Farm in Whiting.

The Crawfords have been farming in Whiting since 1950 with the women in the family taking the lead roles. There are 300 acres of land and 50-60 Ayrshire (air-sheer) cows on the farm. Out of that number, only 18 cows and 6 heifers are milked for cheese with the rest of the milk going to fluid milk sales.

While Sherry makes a number of cheeses that are each tasty in their own right, the cheese you want to get your hands on is the clever and aptly named Vermont Ayr. This Alpine style cheese is made in small batches, brined and then put on ash wood planks in their aging room for anywhere from four months to a year.

During our visit Sherry played an educational game with us that she usually uses with school children to help them better understand what it is a cow does and how milk comes to be. While it was a little bit silly talking in a circle about how grasses "mooove" from the mouth through the digestive system it was fun too.

Then came the tasting portion of the tour. We were given tastes of three different batches of Vermont Ayr. I made my tasting notes on a piece of paper towel since my notebook and pen were foolishly left in the other room.

March '10- Butterscotch, hay, sweet, creamy in the paste. Rind has notes of stone, minerals and cut grass

Nov '09- Earthy, white button mushrooms, hayed grasses, slight sweetness but more savory. A bit like 1 year Gouda and Comte had a baby

July '09- A bit flat, slight ammonia in the rind, higher acidity like lemon zest, dry and a bit like an American Parmesean.

The above notes are why you should ALWAYS TASTE BEFORE YOU BUY! I don't care if you think you've had a cheese a million times before, a few months can make a huge difference in the flavor profile.

One cheese with 3 different ages and three completely different flavor profiles. Although in the minority, my favorite batch (and my brothers'as well) was from March of 2010, while the majority of the other tour participants went for the November 2009 batch.

Here Sherry is showing us her "high-tech" milk quality checking equipment. If the milk is funky here, she checks it out further before turning it into cheese.

Sherry offered everyone a taste of raw fluid milk. I proudly stepped forward along with some others to try a taste of something that causes controversy in the cheese world and among fluid dairy farmers alike. It was delicious and tasted more buttery and creamy than that stuff you see in the supermarket. It had flavor instead of just tasting like cold dairy. No one died and no one got sick. We also got to taste some of her yogurt which was yummy too.

My brother LOOOOOOVES cows. Seriously. He is a big ol' cow-loving freak. As you know from a previous post, I have a bit of a fear of cows. Luckily my brother was there to keep the calves from trampling me to a pulp.

Cows are beautiful and sweet. I know this in the logical part of my brain. They have stunning lashes, big brown eyes and super soft muzzles. They will give you big sloppy kisses with their tongues, and mouth your hands. They'll also crush you with their hooves of fury as soon as you let your guard down. Here I am protected by fencing but you can see that the calf is giving me the hairy eyeball right? That little moo-cow is just waiting for me to relax.
After Crawford Family Farm we went to Dancing Cow Farm in Bridport. From their website,
Dancing Cow Farm
At the end of a Vermont country lane, sits a farm with red barns and a small white house. It's centered in the middle of 243 acres of organic pasture and hay fields. With views of the Green Mountains to the East and the Adirondacks to the West, this is home to a herd of blissful bovines. These wonderful cows of all sizes, stripes and colors eat the grass, share their milk, and live their lives peacefully.
The farm is just as beautiful as described. So why is it called "Dancing Cow Farm"? Here's the cliff notes version.

When the cows are finally out on pasture after a cold Vermont winter of snow they are so excited to go out that they jump and frolic and play. After searching for a name for the farm during a conversation with a friend after describing the dancing cows the question was asked

"Oh, so is that the name of your farm? Dancing Cow?"
"Yes" replied Karen-a woman who knows a good thing when she hears it.

If you've never seen a 1000 pounds of moo-cow playing, you're missing out. It honestly does look like they're dancing.

While I love all of the cheeses they make, my favorite, hands-down is the Sarabande. I first tried Sarabande at my last trip to Vermont last summer. Unfortunately I didn't see any Sarabande out for sampling or for purchase. I asked Karen where my favorite cheese was and she told me that it hadn't gotten to it's 60 day age so she was unable to sell it. I must have looked pathetic because she went into the aging rooms and got a wheel out for us to taste.

I still love Sarabande, although since it was young, the flavor profile was a bit different. Instead of this creamy stinky, fudgy, smoky, grassy, milky bomb of funkiosity it was a mild, buttery, fresh grass cheese that was just developing a bit of smoke and tasted like sunshine. I know that's an odd description to give to a cheese, but I don't know how else to describe it. It tasted like a nice warm day in summer. I was ready to bribe her to part with some of the cheese, but I thought that might cause a riot among the others, so I kept quiet and happy by eating most of what had been cut for sampling.

New Cheese Alert!

Her name is Lindy Hop and she's the first blue from DCF (I'm getting tired of writing out the whole name of the farm, although logistically speaking it took longer to do this explanation). The sweet and supple paste has a flavor almost like clotted cream. It's so rich and creamy-although not gooey spreadable like a Brie. With notes of clover and a slight saltiness in the rind and I have found another favorite cheese to add to my always growing list.

When looking to sneak another taste of cheese I find that Legolas is right. We needed "a diversion". "Hey! Look over there quick!" That totally worked.*

lunch during the VT Farm Tour was underneath a few trees near their contented cows.
Unfortunately we didn't have a lot of time at the farm and soon we had to be on our way to Twig Farm. Hopefully I'll be able to go back soon, spend some more time talking to Karen and her family, get over my irrational fear of being trampled by cows and get some Sarabande for the ride home.

*Okay, that caption is totally misleading. This is one of those photos that just kind of happened at the right time. Karen's' husband had just walked in. We weren't tricking her into giving us more cheese, although someone in the group clearly decided to take advantage and swipe another morsel of yumminess. Oh, and if you don't know what I'm talking about with the Legolas reference you need to re-watch the Return of the King Extended Edition right now!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Twig Farm Visit

Some of my favorite cheeses come from Twig Farm in West Cornwall, Vermont. This small farmstead creamery is making some phenomenal stuff.

Why are their cheeses so rad? I've decided to write a list for you.

1. It's seasonably made. Michael encourages his goats to follow their natural breeding cycle. They mate in the fall, take the winter off to gestate, and in the spring "kidding" season starts, and fresh goat milk is available once again.

2. All of their cheeses are raw. I'm a huge fan of raw fluid milk and raw milk cheese. Why does raw milk make a difference? Many people believe that raw milk cheese has a more complex flavor profile. Yes, it's true that pasteurizing cheese kills off all of the bad bacteria like listeria, but it also kills off the good flavor-producing bacteria that add depth of flavor and a sense of terroir to the cheese. The cheeses from Twig Farm-especially square- taste very much like the natural flora that is part of the goats' diet.

3. Cheesemaker Michael used to be Cheesemonger Michael at South End Fromaggio in Boston. I think that it's beneficial for a cheesemaker to know what's going on in the retail world. Knowing what happens in the shop can help a cheesemaker out in terms of what size and shape of cheese is easy to distribute, what price point the markets can bear, how best to merchandise their cheese, and gives them a complete picture from milk to consumer on what happens to their product. It is also beneficial for a cheesemonger to learn more about the scientific and labor intensive processes that go into every delicious wheel that we sell, but that's another post for another day.

4. Michael knows the names of all of his goats and it is clear after meeting him that he loves his employees.

5. The land is beautiful. To get to the pasture we walked through a rocky little foresty area which is perfect for playing with your goaty girlfriends or for climbing with your little goaty hoofs. Then we got to the fields. Thistle, Queen Anne's Lace, clover and yummy grasses are all there ready to satisfy any of your nibbling needs. Twig Farm is a goat paradise.

6. The cheeses all have very simple names which is appealing and comforting in a way that I can't actually describe. While the names of the cheeses (Square, Fuzzy Wheel, Goat Tomme) almost sounds generic (like the "Acme" company that always come popping up in road runner cartoons) the cheeses are phenomenal. My favorite of the Twig Farm cheeses is Washed Rind. This buttery, creamy, slightly funky, definitely goaty cheese is washed in a whey brine solution and aged for just under three months. While you should absolutely buy any of their cheeses if you see them, the Washed Rind is required eating.

Goats hanging out in the pasture. Eating green stuffs and being happy.

My brother confessed to me that he isn't much of a goat lovin' man. The Twig Farm ladies changed his mind though. They just surrounded him and made him pet and fall in love with them. See bro, I told you. Goats are good.

Okay yeah it kind of looks like this goat is either burping, coughing or has a furball.

Goats are herd animals and love playing follow the leader.

These are the Twig Farm bucklings. So cute. All they wanted to do was nibble and nuzzle our hands.

This was the last stop on our three farm tour with Vermont Farm Tours, and it was one of my favorite. I've been a fan of Twig Farm for quite a while and meeting Michael and his lovely ladies was one of the highlights of my trip. If you're going on a cheese trip through Vermont, you MUST make a stop here to play with the goats.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My Brother Is Awesome

My most recent cheese journey was just last week when I went back to Vermont. I used the excuse that I wanted to go to the Vermont Cheesemaker's Festival, but in all honesty I just wanted to go "back home".

I know, I know, I've written posts about going back home to New York as well, and on some level I'll always be a girl from Queens, but Vermont is my soul. My most favorite thing to do when back in the Green Mountain State is to hang out with my brother. No, not that brother, the other one. The "good" one. The one who let's me crash on his bed while he takes the air mattress. The one who picks me up at the Boston airport just so we can go to a cheese shop and then drives me all over Vermont looking for tasty cheese. The one I haven't seen in a year. My best friend and emotional twin.

The next few posts are all dedicated to my fantastically wonderful, bad-ass, kick butt drummer, illegal-car driving, border-patrol avoiding, can't grow a full bushy beard to save his life brother. Thanks for making last week awesome!

On day one I landed at Logan airport with a GPS and an address of a cheese shop. Located only 10 minutes away from Logan on a tiny quiet little street is South End Formaggio. This shop might be small, but it is jam-packed with goodies. They have a lunch counter where you can get a huge ham and butter sandwich or even half a roasted chicken. There's a great array of cured meats and pate, craft beer, artisan wines, jams, mustards, crackers, some seasonal fresh fruit, frozen treats, tons of delicious chocolate and of course cheese. They are a cut-to-order shop with no minimum cut and let you taste just about everything. That's my favorite kind of shp to visit. I don't like being forced to buy a certain amount of cheese. I like to pick and choose, using measures such as "a smidge" and "sniglet". I forced my brother to try everything with me-even things he wasn't terribly excited about. We ended up with some Taleggio, Selles-sur-Cher and some especially fruity and nutty Comte.

Selles-sur-Cher is one of my favorite goat's milk cheeses. It's just a small disk of fresh chevre from France that has been rubbed in ash. This cheese is sublime. It has a firm texture with a bit of a sour, salty sweetness and barnyardy notes too. Unfortunately, since the AOC cheese is made from raw milk and the cheese is aged less than 60 days, in the U.S.A. we can only get pasteurized versions. The "authentic" cheese is very similar to the pasteurized version except it has a bit more goatiness to it. Although very similar to Bonne Bouche in size, this cheese is a bit more mellow, and tame. It's the "Cathy" to Bonne Bouche's "Patty" We ate it while watching Meg Ryan movies and mocking her precocious "acting skills".

The next day we took the "scenic" route (some might say we got lost) to Shelburne for a Vermont Farm Tour. Our guide was Chris and 14 of us set out to visit three artisan cheesemakers in Addison county. Doing the tour with Vermont Farm Tours was awesome. Two of the cheesemakers I'd wanted to visit on my trip to Vermont were on the tour: Twig Farm-makers of obscenely delicious cheese and Dancing Cow-cheesemakers who name all their delicious cheeses after dances. Taking the tour meant less driving for us and a more relaxed atmosphere.

Chris from Vermont Farm Tours

There were people of varying experiences there. One couple from Canada who are putting together an artisan cheese festival in June. One couple from Mexico who had a small herd of goats and were embarking upon their own cheesemaking journey-even though they don't like goat cheese. It was interesting being surrounded by so many people and having a chance to look at the cheese world through the eyes of others.

Of course we did the Vermont cheesemaker's Festival as well. I decided to splurge this year and buy the wine glass so I could taste and get...happy. The bro was stuc as the designated driver since it doesn't take much for me to be unable to drive. My favorite things from this year's festival were the Eden Ice Cider, Triple Cream and Cream Cheese from Champlain Valley Creamery, and this wicked awesome cheese I'd never had before from Cricket Creek Farm called Tobasi. Tobasi is a seasonally-made semi-soft raw cow's milk cheese, aged for about 3 months. It looks like tree bark, and it tastes a bit like a mild Taleggio. Full of grassy, nutty, creamy, earthy, lactic notes. No, I don't' know why a cheese from MA was at the VT Cheesemaker's Festival.

Tobasi is delicious and looks like tree bark and cheese had a baby.

They had a little pen with a sheep and two snow white little goats who like to play.

I love this t-shirt from Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery.

I love going out to breakfast. Especially when I'm in Vermont (real maple syrup on everything). If you enjoy deliciousness you have to make sure that you stop at the Penny Cluse Cafe in Burlington and get an order of gingerbread pancakes. They are light as a cloud, full of flavor, and hearty. I love them year-round, but can't wait to have them in the winter when it's really cold outside. I forced my brother to make a stop on our way to the festival. They also have fantastic juices made on premise. The grapefruit is especially divine.

If you're in Montpelier stop at Kismet Kitchen on Barre street. Fresh juice bar, local and organic foods, vegetarian and vegan options and specials that truly are special. My favorite was the fried green tomato Benedict. Oh, and thanks to the awesome server who let me go on and on about my slight obsession over duck eggs and then offered to poach some as a substitution for chicken eggs. It was the last thing I ate on this trip to Vermont, and one of the best.

Oh Vermont I miss you already, but not for long. I have decided to leave Chicago this year. When I first moved here to work at Spiagga I planned to be out here for one year and then move back to the East Coast. This summer was my sixth in the Windy City. I have had great experiences working in fantastic restaurants, and of course getting to work in a great cheese shop for the past few years, but I'm not a big city girl, and every time I go back to Vermont I'm reminded of that.

Dear reader this is where you come in. If you know of anyone looking for a cheese-passionate, slightly off-center, cheesy lass who can sing, plays the tambourine* and adores Vermont let me know. My email is

Things that I will be addressing in upcoming posts:

My Brother Is Awesome but not as cute as goats
I am the macaroni and cheese champion
What's that smell? Oh, it's coming from my suitcase.
Farmstead cheesemakers are awesome and raw milk didn't kill me
Lazy Lady Farm and avoiding the border patrol

*Technically I don't actually play the tambourine, but it doesn't look too hard. I'll learn.