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 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 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 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 ( 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 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 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 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 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 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 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...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Hello Wisconsin!

Through Waukesha, Waupaca, Wonewoc, Menomonie, & Weyauwega, over the Mississippi, Hudson, & St. Croix, & between Lakes Winnebago & Michigan...I cruised grand ol' Sconi like it was my curd-loving job (which it pretty much is, but that is a cheese-tail of it's own). I was pleased to find that the cheese pride is alive & well in America's Dairyland. Beyond the mounds of colby-jack & smoked jalapeno baked in chocolate cheese (the later was a bit of an exaggeration, but I certainly would not be surprised), there are WONDERFUL things happening with artisan cheese in Wisconsin. I was fortunate enough to catch some of the amazing people responsible for the cheese wonderment...the tour starts just west of Madison.

Uplands Cheese Co,
located in the beautiful rolling hills outside of Dodgeville, WI was my first stop on my way northwest. I was lucky enough to score a tour with Mike Gingrich, part owner & original cheesemaker of the delightfully delicious Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Back before their journey into cheesemaking, the owners operated the farm strictly as a dairy farm focused on rotational grazing. The local flora in their pastures produced a unique & delicious milk that seemed to be going to waste as milk prices dropped...which is where the cheese came into the picture (thank goodness). After some serious cheesearch of their own, they decided on a Beaufort style (a raw cow's milk cheese made in the French Alps, similar to Gruyere) and worked with the University of Wisconsin to hone a recipe. The rest is history. Cheesemaking only happens in the summer when there is fresh pasture, keeping production fairly small & the quality of this cheese unbelievable. I can barely wait to taste what they come up with next!

After Uplands Cheese, I backtracked slightly to Bleu Mont to
check out their operation & talk cheese. Willi Lehner, owner & cheesemaker, was out adventuring in the Tetons with his daughter, but his partner, Kitas, was a wonderful hostess. Willi grew up making cheese & in 1998 bought the farm in Blue Mounds, WI, which is now a peaceful piece of cheese heaven. 'Willi's Caves' are the latest addition to this property for affinage of Bleu Mont & local friendly cheeses. Willi buys milk from local producers & leases facilities nearby to make Bandaged Cheddar, Lil' Will's Big Cheese, and several other tasty varieties. The flavors of his cheese certainly reflect the unique aging environment...the caves are his secret weapon of sorts. Willi is always experimenting, and the state of Wisconsin reaps all the benefits as their cheese rarely escapes the state. I savored ever last morsel of the Bandaged Cheddar that Kitas sent away with me...delicious!

On my way to Minneapolis I stopped at Cedar Grove Cheese.
This outfit has offered help to many new cheesemakers (Uplands included) & is a leader in the responsible & sustainable farming & cheesemaking, so I had to take a peak. Work was mostly done for the day at the time of my visit, but I was able to check out their "Living Machine" waste water filtration system. This working ecosystem uses natural microbes & hydroponic plants to filter all waste water produced by the creamery before releasing the clean water in a nearby creek. Pretty stellar operation. After Cedar Grove, I was off to the Twin Cities for a cheese-filled burger at The Nook in St. Paul. It was called the Paul Molitor, my favorite Brewer of all I could not resist. Is there a such thing as cheese overload?

After a delicious breakfast in Minneapolis & a quick stop at Surdyk's to check out their cheese selection, which is quite respectable, I headed north to the LoveTree Farmstead in Grantburg, WI. It was a busy day for the husband & wife duo recovering from the weekend markets & Monday's storms (there was some crazy wind in cheesehead land Sunday & Monday), but I was able to talk with owner David Falk about their lovely farm. I will certainly try to make it back for a more in depth tour of the cheese caves. They have received several awards for their cheeses & in 2002 named Artisans of the Year by Bon Appetite, but they remain a small operation...selling most of their delicious cheese at local farmer's markets. If you are lucky enough to live in the area, grab a hunk of the Trade Lake Cedar (raw sheeps milk aged 2-4 months) & enjoy. I'm jealous.

The rest of my daylight hours were spent cruising across the state to Appleton, where I would spend the night with good friends, enjoy some delicious food & beer, & agonize over who I would side with in Monday night's Packers vs. Brett Favre match. Many of us grew up wearing a wedge with a green & gold Favre jersey. So, I hope you were patient with your Packer fan friends on Monday. I digress...

The last stop on the Wisconsin leg of the GACT, was Saxon Homestead where I scored an amazing tour the farm & creamery. Erik Klessig (I wanted to put him in my pocket he was so sweet), uncle to Karl & Robert Klessig who run the farm, was kind enough to show me the ins & outs of the family farm including a little Johnny Cash to show off the sound system in the newly converted barn hall (party in Cleveland, WI anyone?). Saxon, similar to Uplands, participates in rotational grazing moving the heard to a new paddock, or pasture, every 12 hours. This allows the pasture to recover & the cows happily fed, which produces the delicious milk that gets directly transported a few miles down the road to their creamery. At the creamery, all Saxon cheeses are hand crafted with love. My personal favorite is their Green Fields which highlights the quality & flora of the milk produced by their beautiful family farm. Delicious.

Wisconsin, you were so good to me. I am so happy to see your dairyness still in tact & happy cows are roaming free. There are certainly some creameries I missed & others I would like to go back to for another visit, so I will be back, but this tour was quite enjoyable. Speaking of being good to me...I would like to get personal for a moment & extend a giant THANK YOU to my parents, Richard & Dianne Dvorak, who are trusting me with their car & have provided love & support beyond anything I could have ever expected. You guys are seriously the best! Also, my lovely lodging sponsors Chris in Minneapolis & Beth & Chris in Appleton. It was so great to see you guys & sleep in a lovely bed! This curd is for you!

Cooler chock-full of cheese & two 6-packs of New Glarus Spotted Cow in tow...I head to Chicago!