Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Cheesemaker Challenge

Following my visit to Jasper Hill, I headed south to spend the night in Montpelier. I scored a killer rate downtown at the Capital Plaza, where my soap packaging would inform me that Montpelier is the smallest capital city in the country. No joke. It was a lovely spot & I walked down the street to meet up with Zoe & the Jasper Hill cheesemakers for a local brew & tasty bites conjured up by a former Spotted Pig (pretty much my favorite NYC spot) chef. Yum.

The following morning I would finally head south on a quest to visit several cheesemakers over the next two days before my official Vermont exit. I felt a bit like a I was on a reality show with a scavenger hunt format. Maybe, The Cheesemaker Challenge? I scavenged & here is what I found...

Vermont Butter & Cheese
is quite the operation these days. As you can see, it is more of a factory than the quaint creameries I have been visiting. However, they are still churning out delicious goat cheese & even more delicious butter (pun most certainly intended). Founders Allison Hooper & Bob Reese have been invaluable to the American artisan cheese revolution since they joined forces in 1984.
Allison, the cheesemaker of the duo, stumbled into cheese in between college semesters while studying in France. She was looking for room & board, but what she found was an introduction to traditional European artisanal cheesemaking. Once she returned to the states, Bob, working for the Vermont Department of Agriculture at the time, invited her to make cheese for a state dinner, and the rest is history. Their operation now supports over 20 local family farms...and did I mention their cultured butter with sea salt is delicious? Well, it is.

I would not get the chance to talk to Allison or Bob, but it was great to see the operation in all its glory. Next I stopped for a look at Fat Toad Farm, mostly because I liked the name. I was greeted by a friendly dog & this adorable farm shop, but not a cheesemaker in sight. The small family farm has been making fresh goat cheese & goat milk caramel since 2007. I tried several varieties in their shop & left with a maple goat cheese & vanilla bean caramel. They were too good to resist.

Neighborly Farms was the last stop of the day & included a delightful tour of the creamery from...the cheesemaker (Hooray!!!). I enjoyed a moment of curd lovin' scavenger victory. Then, about 30 seconds into the cheesemaker's cheddar shpeal, I realized...I was finishing his sentences in my head & my queries left him speechless. I stumped the cheesemaker! Does that make me an official Cheddarhead? If the hat fits...I shall wear it proud.

Day one of my Vermont scavenge south was coming to a close, so I found a cozy place to rest my head for the night in Woodstock, VT. Not THE Woodstock, which is in New York, nor the last Woodstock I would find myself spending the night before the end of the Tour, but a picturesque slightly touristy town in southern Vermont. That night I would map out one last day of Vermont cheese scavenging packed with exciting stops.

Cue ominous sky & violent down pour.

Day 2 would be a lot like day one...only wet. My first stop was planned for Thistle Hill Farm, makers of the every-so-scrumptious Tarentaise. John & Janine, owners & cheesemakers, traded in the corporate city life to reconnect with the land & well...make cheese (for a little curd of inspiration, follow the link & watch the youtube video). They traveled to Switzerland searching for their recipe and after several tweaks, created Tarentaise. It's an alpine style cheese made by John & Janine from the raw milk produced by their herd of certified organic Jersey cows in a traditional copper vat. It is one of my favorite American cheeses at the moment, so you can imagine my excitement when John agreed to a cheese chat.

I arrived at the farm, slightly later than anticipated due to the storm, and it was beautiful. Not a person in sight, I took it upon myself to explore the farm a bit & take a few pics (left is the aging room & a unique humidifier; right is a member of the herd). Then I began to worry. Determined not to return to my cheese stalker ways, I left the farm without talking to anyone. Later, I was informed that John, Janine, & family were stuck on an island off the coast of Maine...the ferries were not operating due to the storm. Foiled again!

Later that day I visited both Grafton Village (left) & Vermont Shepard (right) for another dose of cheddar making & a vacant farm store. It appears that the rain put a bit of a damper on my last day in Vermont. Luckily, I found a co-op full of beautiful food to brighten my day before my exit. An amazing spread of local produce, meat, cheese, and fresh baked goods, like below, can be found in most small (well...they are all pretty small) towns throughout the state. It is a remarkable thing. I dig it.

For the recap...2 days, 7 farms & creameries, 1 cheesemaker. Did I win?

Goodbye for now, Vermont! It has been a real cheddar slice!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Two Curds...Jasper Hill.

Thanks to my trusty GPS, the Mazda & I were able to navigate the dark & rainy roads to arrive at Jasper Hill as planned to meet up with Zoe. As luck should have it they were still making cheese & milking the herd, which made for an action packed after hours tour. Our first stop was a visit to the barn, where the beautiful herd of 40 Aryshire cows were rocking out while producing delicious milk. Milk that would be used in the cheese room across the way, our second stop, to produce Bayley Hazen Blue, a raw cows milk blue cheese. Remaining milk will help produce Constant Bliss, a soft ripened bloomy-rind cheese that is nearly as buttery as a triple cream, without triple the cream. They recently began acquiring pasteurized milk from a nearby dairy to supplement their own milk & increase production of this delightful cheese, which they were still making during my visit...very much by hand. Scooping ladles of plump curd into the small molds.

Just when I thought my visit to a farmstead creamery after dark could get any better...it did. Before heading over to check out The Cellar, I was able to catch Mateo Kehler for a brief cheese chat on his way out for the evening. Mateo, the original cheesemaker for Jasper Hill, started the farmstead with his brother Andy and later convinced their wives Victoria & Angela to join the fun.

The adventure began in 1998 when the brothers bought a chunk of land in Greensboro, VT, where they used to spend summers with their grandparents. Cheese was not their first instinct of what to make on the farmstead. They tried both beer & tofu before turning to the curd...and the rest is cheese history. Mateo went to England to study with Neal's Yard & Andy rounded up the finances to begin the business. Their first batch came in 2003 & shortly after they began winning awards including "Best in Show" at the 2006 American Cheese Society competition for Constant Bliss.

As the business continued to grow...so did their vision for the future of Vermont artisan cheese. The vision was sparked by a partnership with Vermont cheese behemoth, Cabot. They had produced a batch of traditional clothbound cheddar, but needed both a place to store the high maintenance cheese and a connection to the artisan cheese market. Jasper Hill provided both managing the cheese mites that come along with all clothbound cheeses and selling it almost effortlessly. As demand increased for the Cabot clothbound cheddar, Mateo & Andy realized they would certainly need more space than was available in their small cellar (located under their cheese room), and plans were set in motion for a project that has potential to drastically change the American cheese scene.

The Cellars at Jasper Hill, is 22 thousand square feet of cheese aging (finishing, affinage, whatever you would like to call it) heaven and is the first facility of it's kind in the States (the pic at right is from a few years ago, like I said it was dark & rainy when I was there...so my pics did not exactly capture the site). This $3.2 million investment is based on European models where milk & cheese is produced on the farm & than transported to a finishing facility where it is carefully aged, sold, & distributed. The idea is to allow cheesemakers to focus on producing amazing quality cheese without worrying about the cost & labor that comes after. The bunker-like structure carefully built into the side of a hill directly across from the barn is an amazing and completely unexpected site. It is composed of 7 arched vaults with independently controlled temperature & humidity set to ideal conditions for the variety of cheese within each vault. Left, you can sneak a peak at the inside of one of the larger vaults entirely filled with clothbound cheddar from both Cabot and nearby Grafton Village. Smaller vaults like the one at right have become home to more delicate soft ripened cheeses from a variety of cheesemakers including Von Trapp Farmstead (yes, they are direct descendants of the Austrian family made famous in the Sound of Music...now making cheese...I love it!), Ploughgate Creamery, Crawford Family Farm & Dancing Cow from my last post, and many more. All tasty Vermont cheeses, living in perfect harmony. Now do you see why I call it heaven?

Mateo & Andy, and the entire Jasper Hill family, are taking American artisan cheese to levels it has never seen. Mateo commented, "We (Americans) have hundreds of years of history to make up for (when it comes to cheesemaking)," and Jasper Hill is trying to speed up the process by investing serious time, money, & effort for the sake of the curd. In doing so they are also supporting the movement to smaller sustainable producers & are helping to make it as economically viable as it is fulfilling. Ideas that do not always have to be mutually exclusive...especially when the product is delicious Vermont cheese! Hair nets off to these guys! Nearly makes my curd-loving eyes misty.

It was truly an enlightening evening, and I am so thankful for Zoe taking time after a long work day to show me around. Tons of Curds for you, Zoe! Hope to see you again soon.

Monday, November 16, 2009

There you are, Vermont!

After 12 days of having a cheese partner in crime, it was time for Oliver to head back to San Francisco. I would miss my co-cheeser dearly in the next few weeks, but there was still some serious curds to gather. After a night in the mountains chatting cheese with Molly, a friend of a friend who so graciously offered me a place to stay for the night, I was still determined to have a killer Vermont cheese experience. Slowly but surely, things fell into place. I scored 2 visits & was sure that more would follow.

My first proper Vermont farm & creamery visit was with Dancing Cow Farmstead Cheese run by husband & wife duo, Steve & Karen. In 2003 they moved to Vermont from eastern Pennsylvania to raise their family & invest in their passion for delicious food by starting a diary farm. The first batch of cheese was born in 2005 & began selling in 2006, and production has been ramping up ever since. They are working to find a sustainable dairy farm model that is healthy for the earth & their family life as well as economically viable. A model that is still a work in progress, but they have made some serious strides. Their herd of roughly 30 is one of the most beautiful I have seen & are treated with a tremendous amount of love & care. Each has a name (Mango, I believe, is the one in the picture), a personality, & a story. It is no wonder that they make delicious milk! They are milked once a day (most milk twice) in the morning & then they spend the rest of the day out on the pasture. The milk goes directly from the parlor to the cheese vat for Karen to work her magic. Karen makes cheese everyday, until she needs a break...and it is delightful. Each cheese is named after a dance, the Sarabande being my absolute favorite. It is a cow's milk washed rind in a non-traditional pyramid shape, and it is buttery, nutty, & beyond delicious. Their Bourree, shown above, is a slightly more approachable yet still very tasty cheese & they are working on adding a blue to the dancing family (exciting!), likely to be named Lindy Hop.

After my lovely visit with Steve & Karen, I was headed to Crawford Family Farm to meet with Sherry, their cheesemaker. I arrived at the farm to another serendipitous GATC moment which may require some back story/explanation.

Similar to Lazy Lady Farms, Jasper Hill has been at the top of my Vermont list. I been told on several accounts, including Tom Calvers of Westcombe Dairy in England, that it is a place that I just must see. Not only do they make delicious farmstead cheese, they have recently invested in a 22,000 square feet of cheese aging heaven. I had been in contact with Jasper Hill, but had been unable to land a time for a visit. Leading up to the holidays they were insanely busy & most of their operation would be traveling for the time I was in the Northeast Kingdom, so I was slowly losing hope. Until...I arrive at the Crawford Family Farm to find Shelly packing up boxes of cheese with Zoe, who works for Jasper Hill, to take back to the Cellars (a.k.a. cheese aging heaven). After a short conversation with Zoe, she graciously offered to show me around Jasper Hill that evening, after working hours. She & Mateo, one of the founding brothers & cheesemaker, were traveling the following day, so time was of the essence. With a warm, fuzzy, Vermont-lovin' feeling, I told her I would be there that evening & continued my visit with Sherry.

Sherry, one of 3 siblings running the 4th generation dairy farm, leads the cheese charge making Vermont Ayr. It is an alpine style cheese made from the raw milk of the family farm Aryshire cows. As you can see in the picture (left), their vat is pretty small, which can mean that Sherry makes cheese twice in one day to keep up with demand. Insane. However, they are looking to get a larger vat, which is a wonderful thing for the lovers of curd, because the Vermont Ayr is quite enjoyable. It's creamy earthy flavor highlights the beautiful terrior of the Champlain Valley, making it yet another Vermont cheese treasure.

After my visit, which included a trip with Sherry in her Prius to a nearby town to drop off some cheese for a local CSA (love it!), I was headed back to the Northeast Kingdom for my after hours tour of Jasper Hill.

Vermont, thanks for finally coming to the party!

Thanks to Molly for putting me up & reinvigorating my excitement about Vermont cheese & to Stephen, Karen, & Sherry for taking time out of your busy schedules to chat cheese. These curds are for you!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vermonster & the Cheese Stalker

It is no secret that Vermont produces some of the most delicious cheese in America. Tasty curd, however, does not come easy. In Vermont, roughly 70% of cheesemakers are considered farmstead. They are managing their own herds, producing their own milk, making & aging the cheese right on the farm. It is an amazing amount of backbreaking work to create masterpieces for us to enjoy. Needless to say, this was a much anticipated leg of the GATC.

Fully equipped with the Vermont Cheese Trail & my trusty Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, I was ready to chat some cheese with the talent of the Northeast Kingdom (a term coined by former Governor & Senator, George Aiken, to describe the northeast corner of Vermont due to the insane beauty of the land...little curd of history). I contacted several farms & creameries in the area & anxiously awaited their response. Maybe it was all the nervous eating, but I started to get worried about our depleting cheese reserves as we waited...and waited...crickets. One doesn't accept visitors, a few were no longer making cheese, and others just did not respond. Included in the non-respondents was Lazy Lady Farms. If you remember back in the early days of this blog, I wrote about her cheeses after first trying it at Saxelby's in NYC. I have been obsessed with her cheese ever since & I was determined to see it's birth place. So, I tried again...leaving what I thought was a very flattering, charming, & slightly desperate voicemail. Still no answer. It was time to take matters into our own hands. Knowing that the farm was only a short drive from where we were staying, I could not resist. We did the drive by...once...twice (not suspicious at all by the way in a black 4-door sedan cruising by on gravel roads)...and by the third time Oliver had talked me into stopping to see if anyone would be available for a quick chat. The dialogue went a little something like this...

Me: "Hello. Is this Lazy Lady Farms?"

Man: "Yes."

Me: " Oh good. Well, I had emailed & called to inquire about a possible visit...and then we were in the area...and"

Man: "We are really busy right now. Feel free to look around a bit if you'd like."

Me: "Is Laini around?" (Laini is the cheesemaker & owner whose name I completely mis-pronounced, but the gentleman was nice enough to correct me immediately)

Man: "Laini is not here. We are really busy."

Me: "Is that a cheese cave you are building?"

Man: "Yes."

Me: "Where is the current cheese cave? Is it nearby?"

Man: "It's over there." (pointing obscurely to a large area of the property)

Me: "Sorry to bother you. Have a great day."

Just like that, I became a cheese stalker. I received an email a few days after our drive by that read, "Sorry you showed up. We have NO time for visitors. Drowning in work. I am at the farmers market Saturday."

Discouraged by the hunt for cheese, Oliver & I made the most of our time finding unbelievable hikes, microbrews, farmer's markets, and delicious restaurants. We even attended a Locavore dinner at the Applecheek Farm in Hyde Park, VT. For those that are not familiar, locavore is a term for those interested in eating seasonal & locally produced foods (I feel a bit like wikipedia this post). The locavore movement is strong in Vermont & as luck should have it, there was an event while we were in town. The meal was tasty (left we have a pic of the meal; cheese soup, roast beef, roasted root vegetables, fresh baked bread, spinach & goat cheese salad, & some fresh apple cider) but the company was the highlight of the evening. We listened to stories upon stories from the locals about being nipped at by coyotes, chased down by moose, and of a local brewery being attacked by Monster Energy Drinks for the name of one of their beers, the Vermonster (check out this youtube video for the full story...I think Monster decided to back down after convenient stores in the area started taking Monster off the shelves). It was a great evening thanks to the friendly Vermont locavores at Applecheek Farms.

Of course we could not visit northern Vermont without a trip to the home of Ben & Jerry's in Waterbury. We braved the tourist scene (it is the single most visited attraction in the state) for a tour & taste. The tour was chock full of bad cow jokes & ice cream factoids & the taste seemed ridiculously more delightful than scooping out of a pint, but mostly I just wanted to post this picture.
Who knew you could have so much fun while cheese stalking? My luck of the curd was destined to turn around...I could feel it in my calcium rich bones.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Beauty & The Cheese

One of the many wonderful things about cruising around visiting farms & cheesemakers, is the surrounding nature. I have been delighted by some amazing sites along this journey, and our time in Acadia National Park was overflowing with buena vistas. Hopefully these pics help tell the story of this beautiful chunk of our country. How could we not stop for a few nights to hike off some of that cheese?
The restaurants near the park, however, were not quite as delicious as the park was beautiful. So, on the way out we were determined to find a tasty meal. For this, we head Table, A Farmhouse Bistro, in the town of Blue Hill, ME. Dedicated to local ingredients, chef Rich Hanson (twice nominated for James Beard awards...impressive) selects ingredients from local producers as well as Artisana, a farm operated specifically to provide delicious produce for the restaurant. While sitting at the bar enjoying a delicious meal of grilled flatbread served with olive tapenade & roasted garlic, creamy kale soup, haddock fish & chips (what can I say...we were addicted!), and some warm spiced wine, the kitchen received a delivery...a cheese delivery, that is. Bob Bowen of Sunset Acres was delivering cheese made by his wife, Anne, and just so happened to be the most chatty & friendly fellow around. After bonding over curd at the bar, he invited us to his farm...an invitation we happily accepted. He even drew us a map.
Nearly half an hour later, we arrive at Sunset Acres to be greeted by Bob & his herd of 100 goats (Saanen, Nubian, & Alpine). We toured the farm, hung out with the goats as Bob pointed out the best producers of the bunch, & witnessed a milking in the small parlor that Bob & Anne designed over dinner sketching on a napkin. The clever parlor (in the pic at right...and yes, Oliver did help to milk one of the goats) seems to be working out for the duo providing quality milk for cheesemaking. Anne's soft-ripened beauties are in high demand & all delivered by Bob, who claims never to leave Hwy 1 nor make a left turn (love it). Only the best run haunts along his route, like Table, are lucky enough to receive this delicious cheese.
Both the Table & our visit to Sunset Acres made for a wonderful Maine finale before we head west to Vermont.

Special thanks to Bob & Anne for taking the time out of their busy days to shoot the curd! What a blast. We will be in touch (just in case you are reading this...I plan to hold you to your promise)!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Open Creamery Day!

As luck should have it, our second day in Maine was an open creamery day! Cheesemakers all over the state opened their doors to curd nerds like myself for an inside look at their farm...or operation as would be the case at our first stop, Edible Rind. This brand new cheesemaking crew was working out of a space in a strip mall. I could barely believe my eyes when we pulled into the parking lot for the visit, but when I think about it, I would be happy as a clam to see a creamery in every strip mall...like Curves, only WAY better. The folks at Edible Rind are getting organic milk from nearby Brook Ridge Farm & will focus soft ripened cheeses with both washed & bloomy rinds. We were able to taste their Camembert-style cheese yet to be names, & it was pretty delicious. Goes to show those of us that may be haters...good things come in a variety of packages, even strip malls.

Next up was Liberty Fields Farm, a goat farm & cheesery all by accident. Once upon a time, Anne (from Wisconsin!) & Joel Tripp bought their daughter 2 Nubian goats to show in 4-H competitions and soon enough the goats became a passion for the whole family (which is not hard to believe...I am about to nab a few Nubians for myself, but I am pretty sure my landlord would not be a fan of the idea). Soon enough, the herd grew & produced enough milk to support a small cheesemaking business. Anne now makes cheese every day...and very delicious cheese at that. Saco Bay Dusk & Mist (one with & one without ash coating) are both soft-ripened bloomy-rind cheeses aged 2-4 weeks, and are both some of the best young goat's milk cheeses I have tasted. It must be the Wisconsin touch.

The last stop of the day was way off the beaten path at Little Falls Farm. Nestled in the banks of the Crooked River in Harrison, Maine Mary & John are farmers & cheesemakers to the core. Everything down to milking the goats & making rennet is done by hand and the entire operation is 100% certified organic. The goats, who enjoy good living & rotational grazing on their beautiful property, produce enough milk to make 1-2 of the wheel at right each day. The cheese is then aged up to a year & is sold nearly exclusively at the annual Common Ground County Fair. A festival by the Maine Organic Farmers & Gardeners Association (MOFGA) celebrating strictly organic farmers in the state of Maine. Mary seems to really enjoy the event & just straight enjoy life. It was a pleasure to chat with her & visit her lovely farm.

Next, the GATC takes a trip to some delightful exploring of the Acadia National Park. We will bring the cheese.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Maine Squeeze

After a quick stop at Formaggio Kitchen & picking up my co-cheeser in Boston, we head north to the coast of Maine. Friends, meet Oliver, my main squeeze who will be joining me for adventures in food & nature up the coast of Maine & down into Vermont. I was quite excited for the company & cheese eating assistance.
Heading north on the Hwy 1, we stopped in a variety of crowded touristy towns & grabbed our first lobsta roll in Kennebunk Port. For those of you out there that love these tasty-tailed creatures, this is the ultimate experience. You must go to Maine...now. Lobster as unpretentious as it gets served on a toasted hotdog bun with melted butter. Delicious.
Past the plethora of picturesque coastal towns we arrive in Portland, ME. A small city with big taste buds. I was mesmerized by the quality of food, brews, and life of this city which has a hefty population of 64,ooo. I enjoyed one of the best meals of my 29 years at the Fore Street bar (check out their produce cooler at right...amazing). Oliver & I were able to nab two seats at the bar for dinner 10 minutes before the kitchen closed. Who knew you would need reservations for a Sunday night dinner in Portland. I guess...it was Columbus weekend. My bad. Either way, we happily sat at the bar & enjoyed a meal of flavor explosions 100% prepared in this wood-burning oven (left). I wish I had pictures of each dish, but I was somehow too distracted (strange). Here is the run-down...wood-fired pizza with apple compote, Comte, & fresh herbs; mussels in a garlic almond butter sauce; lobster wood fired to perfection with a winter squash souffle, wild mushrooms & an insane butter sauce; halibut roasted over fall veggies & topped with caper butter sauce; & a sweet, perhaps unnecessary, ending of pumpkin pudding cake served with seriously decadent chocolate sorbet (hold the butter-involved sauce on this one) & another generous glass of vino poured by our perfectly friendly tender. An experience truly worth the wait & splurge. We were nearly the last to leave after we starred at the kitchen for a good 10 minutes (wait...you cooked our lobster where?). Dedicated to using only local produce, meats, & fish...this place gets it. I loved it!
We also enjoyed perhaps best fish & chips of our lives mid-pub crawl at Gritty McDuff's. Hesitant to enter, we were delighted with amazing perfectly fried haddock from the Atlantic, with a few Black Fly Stouts (made in house) & kielbasa mac & cheese. I love when good food happens without looking!

Portland, you leave us with happy stomachs & delighted souls. If you did not get so frigid, it would be hard to leave.

New York to Massachusetts

Now, where were we? Ahhh yes, New York...ya'll have some serious catching up to do! Or is that me? Either way, I left off in Washington County, where I would visit the Argyle Cheese Farmer in the morning before heading to Massachusetts. Marge, the cheesemaker for Argyle, welcomed me in for a tour & a chat about her fairly new cheesemaking endeavor. She has recently put aside her financial advisory & tax planning practice for the love of the curd...and her family farm. The farm was already producing delicious milk, which Marge is now using to create creamy tasty cheese, yogurt, & coming soon...gelato (I nabbed a sneak preview of the chocolate hazelnut...yum). The cheeses have traditional European roots, but definitely take on a style of their own, highlighting the uniquely creamy milk quality. Marge's Caerphilly is an absolutely wonderful semi-firm easy eatin' cheese (I could go for some right now come to think of it). The cheese at right is the newest addition to the family, Grace. She was not ready for the tasting, but she sure is a beautiful cheese! Call me cheesarazzi...I just could not resist.

After Argyle I cruise south & a bit east through some amazing countryside. I am not sure this picture does it justice, but the leaves are amazing. It's hard to imagine this area in another season because the colors make it so unbelievably breathtaking. Most of the time it feels like I am driving through a painting. Ahhh...nature. I highly recommend an autumn trip to the northeast (and likely will again in the next few postings), and when you take that trip, be sure to stop in Great Barrington, just across the New York boarder. It is an enjoyable little town with great cafes, eateries, and of course a cheese shop, Rubiner's, that is not to be missed. The shop is set in an old bank, the entrance through two white pillars is quite a unique contrast to the rustic space inside. The dark wood & open concept really lets the cheese take the lead. There is also a cafe down the alley offering delicious sandwiches & baked goods for those requiring more than cheese for lunch (to each their own). After tasting a few nibblets of cheese, I selected the Kunik from Nettle Meadow Goat Farm out of New York & I was immediately addicted. A goat & cow's milk triple cream that is so perfectly done that after my first taste it was pretty difficult not to throw my arms around in delight. It just...feels so good when it touches your lips. You must try it.

I would spend the night in this delightful town peering into restaurants & chilling at Fuel, my favorite coffee shop for the day. Next stop is Boston, where I will pick up a GACT guest, Oliver!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hudson Valley

After a mere hour & 40 minutes in NYC gridlock traffic, I head north through the absolutely beautiful Hudson Valley. I am constantly trying to snap shots that can accurately capture the fall colors & have been unsuccessful thus far. I think I need more sunshine, but I will certainly keep trying. Despite my distraction with the beauty, I was able to visit 3 creameries & a farmer's market...not to shabby. First stop...

Sprout Creek Farm, just outside of Poughkeepsie & about 45 minutes past bumper-to-bumperville, is a beautiful country escape. This 200 acre working farm is a non-profit owned by the Society of the Sacred Heart. It was established as an educational program for students back in 1982 & continues that same philosophy today. Students visit from surrounding areas to learn what brings food from the farm to table & all the joy in between. They began making cheese in 2000 to generate some additional revenue & have been producing delicious goat & cow's milk cheese since. Batch 35, a washed rind raw cow's milk cheese, & Camus (Kah-moo...could have fooled me), a mild raw cow's milk blue, were my favorites of the wheels I tried. Both fairly mild for those of cheesers trying to break into stinky or blue goodness.

Just over an hour north, I stopped at Hawthorn Valley Farm for tour, which began flipping feta curd (fun!), & a chance to shoot the curd with cheesemaker, Peter Kindel (in the pic at right, with his old school copper kettle). Peter & his wife have traveled the globe digging into the art of artisan cheesemaking, including stints in France, England, Colorado, & Sonoma County's Redwood Hill. The farm & creamery are certified organic & even more rare, biodynamic. Peter is doing some really amazing things since coming one year ago including a traditional clothbound cheddar & washed rind raclette-style cheese. I am certainly excited to see what comes out of this dairy in the next few years.

The last creamery stop of the day was Old Chatham Sheephearding Company, which is the most picturesque farm I have seen on my tour thus far. The bright red barns are nestled in the hills of the Hudson Valley & the fall colors of the surrounding trees add to the dramatics. I hope this picture does is a lick of justice...because it was a remarkable site for the Mazda & I upon arrival. The farm is open to the public, so I took it upon myself to hang out with some baby sheep before my tour of the creamery. Old Chatham focuses mostly on soft ripened Camabert style sheep's milk cheese, so I was really excited to get a closer look at the operation. In the pic at right you can see Brian, who was super camera shy, pouring the large uniform curds into the molds for draining. After this, they move through a variety of aging rooms to dry out & form their beautiful white bloomy rind. Delicious. After the creamery, I was able to witness my first sheep milking, which was highly entertaining. I was pretty much expecting a little brawl to break out as stocky white puff-balls filed into the milking barn. Pretty glad I am not an ewe...if you know what I mean.

After my delightful visit at Old Chatham, I moved north still to the Sarasota Springs Farmer's Market where I chatted with the makers of Argyle & Longview Farms cheese. Both are fairly new producers making wonderful small production cheese. Longview produces an young alpine style cheese that is caramel, nutty, & delicious...amongst many others. Argyle, who's farm I would visit the next morning, makes a Caerphilly style cheese that is unbelievably creamy highlighting the delicious milk from the family farm. It was just a beautiful market for such a small community. I am finding a lot of that up in these parts, which is quite wonderful!

Not bad for a day north of The Big Cheese.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zingerman's, Manhattan, & Brooklyn...oh my!

Alright, maybe one more stop in the middle...I have heard too much about Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor, MI to pass up the opportunity. I stopped in to check out what all the hype is about, and I have to say, this place is serious about food. The small space you see is filled to the brim with goodies that will make any foodie's heart sing ( I had to talk myself out of purchasing a $40 balsamic...it was serious), and the cheese counter was astounding. Paul, the monger on duty, guided me through an extensive Zingerman's cheese tasting (yes, they make about 18 cheeses of their own in the creamery down the street). While several of them were very tasty...the Camembert, produced in partnership with Herve Mons out of France, was undoubtedly the favorite. It is pretty much like eating ice cream, butter, & cheese all rolled into one goey mess of delight. If I had regular access to that...I would be in serious trouble. After my cheese tour, Paul also recommended the ruben as their best sandwich. As my monger for the evening, I trusted him...and was certainly happy that I did. Who knew kraut & corned beef could be that good? Good heavens. I would have to say that Ann Arbor is a lucky place. I would bet my curds that the best deli in Columbus, OH does not hold a candle to this place (ohhhhh snap). Go Blue.

A night at the Motel 6 & 627 miles later, I arrived at my next destination...Brooklyn, where I will stay with dear friends Kris & Judy in exchange for a 6 pack of New Glarus' Spotted Cow. Pretty sweet deal. With one day for each Manhattan & Brooklyn, my time was quite brief...as will be the rest of this posting.

My day in Manhattan included re-visiting some favorites (Saxelby's, Gimme Coffee, etc) as well as a few delicious newbies. I have been meaning to try Porchetta since I caught wind of it's opening. Traditional Roman style pork loin seasoned with goodness (wild fennel pollen being the key here) wrapped in belly fat & slow cooked to absolute perfection. If you like pork like I do...you would love Porchetta (since the menu is pork...or...pork). A brisk 30 blocks later, I stopped in Artisanal, billed as a 'fromogerie & bistro' my visit was well overdue. The place is gigantor & rather fancy for my t-shirt & sneaks get-up, but the cheese assortment was an extensive & beautiful display on the back-center wall. After selecting 3 cheeses for tasting, Hoja Santa from Texas, Grayson from Virginia, & Great Hill Blue from Mass, I sat at the bar & enjoyed a glass of NY Riesling waiting for my plate to arrive. The bread was stale, but the cheese was...interesting & a bit overpowered by the leaf flavor, perfectly stinky & delicious, & classicly blue, in that order. That night I dined with friend at Caracas, an arepa bar in the East Village, and it was absolutely unique & delicious. Arepas, just quickly for those that are not familiar, are a Venezuelan treat...a corn tortilla & pita hybrid of sorts stuffed with goodness. Generally meat & cheese are involved, but not always. The pork shoulder option was my favorite (shocking), but Caracas had several to choose from. Nice pick, Bassam!

My day in Brooklyn was full of new experiences, most of which were on the subway, but I did get around to some fine establishments...eventually. Stinky Bklyn was my first stop & was delighted by the playful interior, wide array of cheese, & small aging cave where the stinky get stinkier. They also have 4 varieties of cured pork & sliced by hand right off the thigh...Euro style (I was too busy being in heaven to take a picture...sorry). Located in Carroll Gardens this is the perfect one-stop picnic shop...cheese, check...Serrano ham, check...fresh crusty bread, check. Perfect.

Next stop was the Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg. A beautiful shop with very unique cheese options. They had two cheeses from the caves of Herve Mons (famous French affinuer), which had which had flavors that matched the uniqueness of their funky rinds & an assortment of Lazy Lady Farms concoctions, a personal favorite of mine. Let's just say...I ended up buying another half pound of cheese to add to my growing cheese cave in the trunk of my car. Poor Mazda. It is about time for a new air freshener.

That eve I enjoyed a delicious meal at Applewood in Park Slope. Completely seasonal menu built with local & sustainable ingredients...this place manages to stay under the radar & the food was absolutely remarkable. I would certainly put it on your list for when you are in the NYC area.

BIG BIG THANK YOU to Kris & Judy for putting my up for 3 nights & giving me a lovely Brooklyn tour. It was truly a treat. This curd is for you!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Chicago...you seem to like cheese too!

I know Chicago is not a creamery hot spot, but I could not cruise east without a stop in to visit an amazing friend & check out the budding cheese scene. So, whether you live in Chi-town or someday plan to drop in, here are some places that are serious about the curd...

Pastoral. About to open it's third location, Pastoral has become the cheese authority in the Windy City. It did not take long looking at their assortment to understand why. They have put a lot of love into finding unique & delicious cheese from across the globe. Service was extremely helpful & knowledgeable and they offer many tempting sandwich, side, & wine options making it a one stop shop for your Cub's tailgate (haha...that's how I roll out the barrel). Fabulous cheese...fabulous shop.

Eno. For those in love with wine, cheese, & chocolate, or any combination of the three...this spot should not be missed. They offer a wide variety of flights for all of these delicious treats (& informational note cards to boot...check out the pic). Cheeses & chocolates are mostly local small production selections & the wine list, while not quite local, offers heaps of unique choices by the glass. Perfect for an afternoon with a dear friend, a date, or any combination of people interested in learning more about some of life's sweetest sensations. They have several locations...so check out the link to see if there is one near you (Bay Area friends...they have a space at the Half Moon Bay Ritz)!

Green City Market in Lincoln Park. In my numerous visits to Chicago, I had yet to attend a farmers market. It appears I was missing out! The Green City market in Lincoln Park is not only beautiful...it is stuffed with delicious local goodies including several cheesemakers, a few of which I had visited in my trip through Wisconsin. Others had traveled from Michigan, Indiana, & of course Illinois. My cheese highlight for the market was certainly Capriole farmstead goat cheeses...specifically the aged raw milk cheeses, and more specifically the Old Kentucky Tomme. Deliciously creamy & complex flavors. It is a must try...add it to the list! I also scored some honey crisp apples (it's fall!) and enjoyed some fresh & delicious cider doughnuts...almost forgot to mention. Whoops.

Thank you to Caroline for being my Chicago sponsor & the best darn friend a curd-loving girl could have. Since she's not a fan queso (yet...I know...we are working on it) I say, this chocolate truffle is for you!

Now, officially, I head east...