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Sprout Creek Farm: Redux

November 17, 2011

It’s obviously been a while since I have put a post up.  Feels good to write again so hopefully I can find time to do it more often.  This piece for the NYCR focuses on a revisit to the cheeses from Sprout Creek Farm.  The last time that I officially tasted their cheeses, I left with mixed results.  In the end, I more or less attributed it to improper storage and cheese care at the shop I purchased from.  I am glad that I had an opportunity not only to taste again, but also discuss some of the finer points of technique with the cheesemaker.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual Taste of the Hudson Valley. Each year, local restaurants and artisans are given the opportunity to shine as they pair a couple of dishes with wine, beer, or other beverages of their choosing. The event is always well-attended as ticket holders move from table to table, chat with local chefs, sip wine, and comment on the successfulness of a particular pairing.

It’s a great time, but the purpose of this post is not to talk about the use of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, butternut squash soup, or local wine and beer. This cheese geek found the Sprout Creek Farm table, and I was anxious to chat with the cheesemaker to delve a bit deeper behind the scenes.

You can read the rest of my post for the NYCR here.

The Role of “Affinage ” in Making Great Cheese.

October 5, 2011

Just wanted to point out this story in the NY Times about the role of the “affineur”.  Is the quality of cheese really affected that much once the wheel is on the shelf?  Does all of that brushing and flipping and washing really impart anything noticeable?

ROB KAUFELT and Brian Ralph were standing in a cool underground bunker below Murray’s Cheese Shop in Greenwich Village, giving a visitor a tour of five temperature-and humidity-controlled cheese caves.  The man-made chambers, they said, prevent many of the things that can go wrong with cheese when it is not handled properly.

Take slipskin. If a mold-ripened cheese is stored in a place that is too humid or warm, the mold that coats the outside can “grow very aggressively,” said Mr. Ralph, 26, the cave manager at Murray’s. “It gets thicker and thicker and it peels away from the paste.”

Or if Cheddar is ripened carelessly, he said, “sometimes it can turn sulfuric, kind of rotten-eggy.”

Mr. Kaufelt, who has owned Murray’s since 1991, said, “If it’s too dry, it can crack.”

On the surface, the conversation might seem like a mere collection of scary stories about good cheese gone bad. But underneath it all, the two men were offering a glimpse into a topic that inspires both evangelical zeal and scoffing among hard-core fanatics of fromage.

 You can read the rest of the Times article here.  What do you think? Does it make a difference?

The State of New York Cheese

September 13, 2011

Photo courtesy of the New York Cheese Manufacturers' Association

Ever since I started writing about NY Cheese for the NYCR, my interest in cheese culture from region to region has grown. How does the cheese made in NY differ from that made in VT, WI, CA, etc…  Is there a difference?  I think so.  Wisconsin is generally regarded as this nation’s “Dairy State”.  Vermont is considered by many as the ‘Napa Valley of Cheese”.  Where does New York fit into this?  As I became more entrenched in the cheese scene and culture here, more and more questions cropped up as I investigated.

“Change is difficult.  If it were easy, then everyone and everything would be perfect…”  I have heard these words (or some variation) many times throughout my life as I am sure that many of you have as well.   Making changes is a way of life for us as we strive to learn, grow, and succeed.  Now you are probably asking yourself why the Cheese Editor is waxing philosophical at the top of a post but I assure you; this speaks directly to the state of New York cheese.

For years, New York has been one of the top 5 producers of milk in this country.   Beautiful grass makes for happy cows and plenty of good milk.  Dairy farming and industrial cheese has historically been a major factor for the NY dairy-farming industry.  Years ago, this was the way of life upstate.  Dairy farms produced milk and sold it to large milk buying cities such as Manhattan.  Farming was a way of life by which the men and women working could provide for their families and live out a hard-working, yet comfortable life.

You can read the rest of my post for the NYCR here.

The Hurricane Care Package Courtesy of Point Reyes

September 1, 2011

The benefits from being a member of the Culture Tasting Panel for Point Reyes continues to provide benefits.  As my wife and I made preparations for Irene, I received a package from Point Reyes Cheese with yet another wedge for us to sample:

This past week I found myself making list after list with anything and everything that one might need in preparation for a hurricane. This is not something that my fellow New Yorkers and I have to typically think about. Ordinarily, I would dismiss the hype from the media, make a couple of sarcastic remarks about buying a month’s supply of bread and milk, and then go along my merry way. Given that we felt the aftershocks of an earthquake on the east coast just a few days before, and the storm of the century projections that Irene was garnering from far and wide, I decided that I probably shouldn’t tempt fate.

My hurricane list included all of the recommended essentials: water, batteries, scotch, beer, cheese… like I said. The essentials… Anything else is superfluous… The benefits of participating on the Point Reyes tasting panel continues to pay dividends as a package arrived on my doorstep the day before the storm hit. Inside I found a letter providing an update on the progress of the yet-to-be-named Blue. In the interim, we were sent a wedge of “Tomme” that is yet to be released. What timing! I picked up my pen and crossed cheese off the list.

You can read the rest of my post for Culture Magazine here.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Irene

August 29, 2011

Hurricane Irene has come and gone.  The skies are clear, and communities can begin to assess the damage, begin the clean up, and move forward.  While the media focused almost exclusively on the path of the storm towards New York City, it is the areas to the north that seemed to have suffered the most extreme damage.

Word out of Vermont is that this is the worst storm and flooding  since the 1920’s.  Villages and farms underwater, bridges washed away, and if reports are true, an institutional cheese making facility wiped out.  Pictures posted on the Consider Bardwell Farm Blog show areas completely underwater.  The video link below shows a raging torrent of water plowing through what was once Grafton Village.

We can prepare for the worst and hope for the best.  My thoughts are with all of the communities that suffered damage as a result of this weather system.  How this will have an effect on the farms and cheesemakers of the Northeast remains to be seen…

Cheese on the Rebound

August 15, 2011

I have been down and out for close to a month now.  A family funeral back in the Midwest coupled with some sort of flu that continues to linger means that cheese has been the last thing on my mind these days.  Fear not though…   I will be back with a vengeance!  Watch this space…

Blue Cheese – The Final Update…

July 26, 2011

It’s been a long few months.  I am in unchartered territory here due to the temperature issues I encountered.  A blue normally takes 3-5 months in order to age properly.  If you have followed my other blue cheese updates (you can see my initial post and picture here) you know that I had to age this longer than normal due to the colder temperature.  I decided to bite the bullet and crack it.  Without rhyme or reason to this decision other than a hunch, I pulled the wheel out of the fridge, unwrapped the wheel from the foil, and took a look for the first time.

The aroma coming off of this hit me square in the face.  It smells like a foot…  That’s right.  A foot in the middle of a dank and dark cellar filled with musty sacks and hay.  Unbelievably strong and unbelievably awesome.

I love the look of the crusted wheel with orange and brown streaks interspersed with blue and green.  Definitely needs a scrape, but pretty cool to look at.

I actually held my breath as I began to cut through the middle of the wheel with my knife.  Great density and moisture.   “Fudgy” is overused quite a bit when describing cheese, but in some cases (such as this) I find it appropriate. A cheese wire would have been ideal here as they are best used for creamy cheeses that have a tendency to stick to things (like knives with wide blades).

I didn’t know what to expect in regards to the veining.  I poked several holes throughout the wheel from top to bottom as well as side to side to create maximum veining potential.  The blue mold “activates” during the aging process once exposed to air.  By poking holes deep into the wheels with a sterilized tool (such as an ice pick), the mold propagates within and grows along the channels created.  The veining is not as extensive as I anticipated, but there is even distribution to where I am definitely satisfied.  Pretty cool.

All right.  I have to admit that I hesitated before taking a bite.  Why?  Well…look at it.  I made this…at home…in my kitchen.  Every time I encounter mold in my fridge, I usually throw the offending object into the garbage. I say “usually,” as there are obvious exceptions.  This time, I encouraged the mold to grow.  This is what I wanted, but I haven’t done this before.  So before that first bite, I hesitated for approximately .001 seconds.

I am still smiling even as I write this.  This might be the best cheese that I have made.  I have said that a couple of times so I can only hope that as I continue to learn and refine my technique, this tells me that I am getting better.  This is a strong cheese and not for the faint at heart.  The clean flavor of the milk is not overpowered at all (love the milk from Tonjes Farm Dairy).  With the earthy broth-like quality and touch of fruity acidity on the end, there is a balance here that I don’t think I have achieved before.

In talking about cheese tasting, there is a 6th taste or “umami” that some people mention when looking for descriptors.  It isn’t anything that you can necessarily put your finger on, but an indescribable quality that continues to tempt the palate.  This is the closest that I have come to creating something that embodies that characteristic.

My recent experience with Point Reyes has inspired me to follow a similar process.  I am going to ask some cohorts of mine to taste this cheese, write down their thoughts, and then report back.  Maybe have a couple of people guest blog?  As much as I would like to maintain objectivity, I think I have reached a point to where I need to extend beyond my comfort level in order to improve.

And speaking of comfort levels, I need to move…  I mean physically move.  My cheesemaking has officially outgrown my small apartment.  I need new digs or a friend with a house and cellar…

VT Cheesemakers Festival 2011

July 21, 2011

It’s that time of year and once again tickets have sold out.  Over 40 cheesemakers and other craftsmen descend upon Shelburne Farms just outside of Burlington  for another day filled with all that is Vermont cheese.  I had a great time last year meeting up with friends and discovering new cheeses and cheesemakers from the surrounding area.

If you have a ticket for this coming Sunday, July 24th consider yourself lucky.  This is a great way to connect with people committed to bringing us the very best that they have to offer. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend this time; but I am already looking forward to the next.

If you have a ticket and are planning on going, let me know how it turned out!  Would love to hear from you!

Mecox Bay Dairy Sigit

July 14, 2011

Another NY cheese post for the New York Cork Report.  I always jump at the opportunity to taste Alpine-style cheeses. Easily my favorite…

I have a problem with Alpine-style cheeses. And when I say “problem,” I should probably say “obsession.”

I still remember the first time that I ever had a Rolf Beeler (incredibly important Swiss affineur) 18 month aged Gruyère and it changed my outlook on everything regarding cheese.

I was sitting at my kitchen table in Queens when I had my first taste. It immediately took me back to my time spent in Switzerland while studying and singing in Europe. The crisp, mountain air, the white snow interspersed with patches of green grass, the picture-perfect chalets… That first bite hit me with the realization that good cheese shows us a “sense of place.”

You can read the rest here: Mecox Bay Dairy Sigit.

War of the Mongers – CMI11

July 11, 2011

I had a great opportunity to cover the Cheesemonger Invitational for Eater this year.  What a night!  Meeting, eating and drinking with members of this tight-knit community was truly a pleasure.  Even with the air of competition, everyone was sincerely happy to be there, revel in the sensory overload from Tia Keenan’s cheese creations, and witness the impressive skills on display. 1st place went to Steve Jones from Cheese Bar. (Congrats again!)

From far and wide they came to conquer: Larkin Cold-Storage was the field of battle once again for the 2nd annual Cheesemonger Invitational. Cheese heads, cheese freaks and cheese lovers from all across the world came to witness the legendary skills that a cheesemonger must possess in order to succeed. As stated famously in the movie classic The Highlander, “There can be only one…”

You can read the rest of my post (1st time contributor!) on Eater here.

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