Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Eek! What Happened to Monday?

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers
What happened to Monday?

One minute, we're out on our Day A-Whey cavorting around Sprout Creek Farm and picking loads of apples at Mead Orchard, and the next thing you know it's Tuesday... Yikes! Where does all the time go?

Well, sufficed to say I am sorry for my tardy email this week, but I hope it finds you all well and getting geared up for Halloween and whatever other mischief you have planned for the next few days.

This Day A-Whey trip was our best ever... the weather couldn't have been finer, the provisions were delicious, and the company divine. Margo Morris, one of the founders of Sprout Creek Farm, spent the morning walking the farm with us, explaining the hows and whys of life on the farm. In addition to making some exceptional cheese, Sprout Creek is first and foremost an educational center for kids. Since it's inception in 1982, Sprout Creek has been a place where children can come to learn about life on the farm, and what it takes to grow your own food. So, besides the cows, we got to get up close and personal with goats, sheep, ducks, chickens... you name it! I think I learned more about chickens than I ever thought possible, including the proper way to catch and hold one (it's by the feet, not the neck, should any of you care to know).

Over the years, Sprout Creek Farm got bigger, and their herd of cows became heftier as well. Six years ago, they opened their creamery and began to produce Ouray (the cheese that we know and swoon over) as well as a canon of other delectable cow and goats' milk cheeses. Colin, their young and passionate cheese maker, lead us on a gustatory tour of all of his cheeses, trusty standbys and new creations alike, elucidating all the ways milk can be made into cheese. Somewhere along the line as a CIA student, Colin became enamored with cheese and cheese making, and found his way down the road to Sprout Creek Farm. We are eagerly anticipating his new lactic innovations at the shop later this winter.

After a little lunch and stroll in the sun, we headed up to Mead Orchard for what turned out to be the last day of apple picking of the season! Since it's been so warm this year, the trees were still brimming with fruit, and the Braeburn and Rome apples were crisp and tart and just about as close to perfection as apples can come. On the crest of one of the orchard's hills, we were treated to a gorgeous view of the Catskills to the West and, much to our surprise to a few VERY late strawberries that were lurking under the leafy cover of low lying strawberry plants.

I think my Monday must have been spent just reeling over the goodness of Sunday, and concocting some plans for all those apples in my fridge. I'm thinking pie with a slice of Ouray melted on top...

Thanks to everyone who helped make this Day A-Whey our best yet! We'll be in touch soon about more trips for next summer. It'll be here before we know it!

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Discovery of Cheese! (or, eat your heart out Christopher Columbus)

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers

The world of American farmstead cheese is a wee tiny blip on the radar in the evolutionary history of fermented milk foods. While we've been re-discovering our cheese heritage over the past 20 years or so, other cultures have been making cheese for millenia. References to cheese making sprout up like mushrooms all throughout the history of civilization. Homer made mention of it in 'The Odyssey,' remnants of cheese and earthenware cheese making pots were found in the pharaohs' tombs of Egypt, and even little David, who slew the giant Goliath, was a shepherd en route to deliver cheeses to his brothers when he was forced into his unlikely battle.

No one is really sure how cheese was 'invented' per se, but there seem to have been a number of factors conspiring that in the end, made cheese making possible. Back in the day when humans were hunter gatherers, there was no time, and indeed no feasible way to make cheese. All those wild goats, sheep, and cattle had absolutely zero interest in being milked by human hands. I mean, come on, can you imagine your average mammoth skin wearing dude approaching a tiny goat or sheep on a hillside somewhere yodeling 'here goaty goaty...' and getting any kind of favorable response? I think not.

So, with the domestication of livestock and the advent of shepherding came the stability necessary to make cheese. The shepherds tended the pastureland to nourish their flock, and were also attuned to the natural reproductive cycles of their animals that allowed them regular access to fresh milk. Legend has it that one cool and crispy night, a shepherd left his pot of milk too close to the fire and when he went to drink it, got a thick and curdy surprise. Legend also has it that on a hot summer day, the shepherd left his pot of milk out in the sun a bit too long (perhaps he'd had some wine with lunch?) and came back to discover the same thing. Curds in place of milk. That, fellow caseophiles, is the most simple kind of cheese. The milk curdles, is drained through some kind of apparatus (the earliest examples were wire baskets and earthenware pots with tons of tiny holes punched in them) and is salted and eaten fresh. Yum!

Another step in the evolutionary cheese chain was the discovery of rennet. Rennet is an enzyme found in the fourth stomach of a calf, and is used to coagulate milk, changing it from a liquid to a solid mass of curd. So, let's revisit our unsuspecting shepherd friend, the one who left the pot of milk out in the sun for a brief minute...

Bags made from animal stomachs were commonplace way back when, and were frequently used to transport liquids during travel. They were lighter and more compact than clay pots, and could be slung over the shepherd's back, like a little ready-made purse full o' milk (or wine, or water). So our shepherd goes out journeying with a skin filled with milk, pauses for a moment to whet his whistle, raises his bag to take a drink, and... surprise! Nary a drop of milk falls. The milk, with the aid of the rennet has curdled, and is now more of a yogurt or kefir-like substance. Rennet was found to be a more stable and reliable method of coagulating milk and is now the most widely used coagulant in cheese making. Thank goodness for hapless shepherds.

And so it has gone throughout the years... cheese is pretty much a history of one happy accident after another, yielding ever-more delightful varieties of dairy goodness. And we lucky Americans are on the precipice of a veritable cheese explosion, as more folks decide to take up cheese making, learning from pioneers of the American artisan cheese movement of the 70's and 80's or from apprenticing with European farmers. So, if you're not sure how to spend your Monday off, why not celebrate the discovery of cheese?!

And if you'd like to discover how to make cheese for yourself, don't forget! Our next Day A-Whey is coming up on Sunday, October 28th. Reserve your spot now! They're going like cheese cakes.

A Day A-Whey
Day Trip to Sprout Creek Farm and Mead Orchard
Sunday, October 28th
8:30 am to 6:00 pm

Join Saxelby Cheesemongers for our next Day A-Whey! The fall foliage will be breathtaking, the cows will be a-milking, and the apples ripe for the picking. Sit back, relax, and let us do the driving. All you have to bring is your appetite!

for tickets ($85) and more information, visit: