Monday, March 31, 2008

A Day A-Whey to Mecox Bay

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers

It's finally that time of year! Saxelby Cheesemongers Announces Our First Day A-Whey trip to Mecox Bay Dairy and Wolffer Vineyard.

Sunday, May 4th, 2008
8:30 am to 7:30 pm

Bus departs from Saxelby Cheesemongers at 8:30 am sharp!

Saxelby Cheesemongers says: You don't have to travel far from New York City to taste some of the finest wines and cheeses in the world! Cheese lovers, oenophiles, and just about anyone interested in sustainability, local farming, and good food will delight in this fabulous, farm-y excursion! Our Day A-Whey will begin at Wolffer Vineyard with a guided wine tasting and picnic lunch. Next, we'll stop at Mecox Bay Dairy, a fourth generation family farm in Bridgehampton for a tour of their farm and creamery. And last but not least, if the weather permits (and we're crossing our fingers it does!) we'll visit at a local beach for a little stroll in the sun and sand. Oh, and did we mention that we'll do the driving?? All you have to do is show up hungry!

A Day A-Whey starts with wine (as all good days a-whey should...) at Wolffer Vineyard. Daytrippers will have time to meander through the vines and see the beginnings of the wine making process in full bloom. Around noontime, we'll convene on Wolffer's beautiful terrace for a guided tasting and picnic lunch featuring five wines, an array of raw milk cheeses from Mecox Bay Dairy, and other local fixins from NYC Greenmarkets. Roman Roth, a German-born winemaker who studied winemaking all over the world before settling on Long Island to pursue his craft, produces excellent wine utilizing traditional and sustainable methods that highlight the loamy soil and mild climate of the East End of Long Island.

Next, we'll head out to Mecox Bay Dairy, where Art Ludlow, farmer and cheese maker extraordinaire, will treat daytrippers to a tour of his farm. We'll see how fruits and veggies, turkeys, pigs, and cows all play a part on this tiny, yet diverse family farm. Art will then lead us on a tour of his creamery and explain the oh-so-mysterious process that transforms raw milk into delicious cheese!

Finally, we'll stop off at a local beach for a late-afternoon stroll and an opportunity to soak up some precious early summer sunshine; with the bus returning to the city by 7:30 pm

Couldn't we all use A Day A-Whey?!

For tickets ($110) and further information, please visit:

Monday, March 24, 2008

How Many Cheese Lovers Does it Take?

How many cheese lovers does it take to eat an entire wheel of Ascutney Mountain?

Apparently not too many. About 50, by my estimation.

Does anyone else remember those tootsie pop ads from the eighties that featured a wise and somewhat professorly owl?? He would wonder aloud how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop, begin his task in earnest, and then inevitably crack, biting into the lollipop before it was anywhere near the center. I posed this question to myself last weekend, on the eve of my birthday party, as we toted a wheel of Ascutney Mountain from the shop to Brooklyn. At about 8:30 pm the cheese was unveiled, set atop a table with a generous pie shaped wedge carved out of it, and left to the forces of nature present in the room to do with it what they would. Also present was one rather large and imposing knife, which no one seemed phased by. On the contrary, folks seemed only all too excited to take a stab (literally) at the giant piece of cheese staring them in the face.

In just 30 minutes or so, there was evident progress made, with interesting divets and chunks carved out of the center of the cheese, and a small heap of rubble and rind accumulating on the cutting board. Next, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a friend take what would have been about a pound's worth or so, julienne it with impressive skill, and dole it out to everyone who happened to be within an arm's reach. With about half the cheese gone, the band began to play and I headed downstairs to shake a leg, figuring I'd come back upstairs and wrap up what remained of the fromage later on. Between sets, after dancing and working up a bit of a hunger, I checked back in on the cheese, and was shocked to see that now there was just a smallish, eggplant-sized chunk of Ascutney left to be had. Thinking to myself, there's no time like the present, I grabbed one more generous slice and a dancing partner and headed back downstairs to revel and waltz a bit more.

Now I don't know what transpired in that final hour or so, but on my next pass by the cheese board, the good old Ascutney was no more. Only a few drab crumbs of rind remained to attest to its existence. Being a cheese monger, I must say I was filled with pride to be in such good and cheesy company, that we were able to take on an entire wheel and finish it off with gusto. Maybe next year, we'll get a bigger cheese and up the ante...

With friends like these, who needs birthday cake?

And in other news...

Stay tuned next Monday for details on this year's crop of Day A-Whey trips! We'll be announcing our first trip and give you all the info on how to get yourself on that wonderful, cheesy bus.

'Till next week! Eat cheese and be merry.

Monday, March 17, 2008

American Cheeses with an Irish Lilt

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers

Good morgan to you! As my own Irish grandmother would say.

For most of us Americans, St. Patrick's Day is a holiday mostly occupied by parades full of creepy leprechauns, bagpipers, green outfits, and beer drinking. But we at Saxelby Cheesemongers say hey, why not toss a little cheese into the mix this year just to shake things up a bit? Though we may not carry any Irish cheese, per se, we have a few that have been inspired by our be-freckled cohorts across the Atlantic.

In particular, there are two cheeses from Cato Corner Farm that merit a shout out on this most Irish of days...

Brigid's Abbey, a raw cows' milk cheese that is Cato's most popular at market, got its name from the Irish patron saint of milkmaids. According to historical accounts, Saint Brigid herself did not much enjoy the beer and hoopla which now surrounds St. Patricks' Day, though she was a follower of his other more wholesome teachings. In fact, legend has it that she was pretty much booted out of her house after her overly good and charitable soul started to dispense with the family's milk and other comestibles to all the local beggars. Brigid's cheese is a fine one indeed, a sweet and slightly tangy tomme with a rustic dusty rind that tastes like toasted almonds and grass.

Hooligan, an aptly named little stinker of a cheese, is made from the same recipe as Brigid's Abbey; but where Brigid has gone the way of mild, unimposing saintly cheeses, the Hooligan has taken a turn to the pungent dark side as a result of how it is aged. Hooligans are washed-rind cheeses, meaning that as they ripen, they are given a good rub down twice a week with a salty brine solution. However, this washing doesn't clean them up in any way, no sir. In fact, it allows them to develop a moist, orange rind that stinks to high... well, you get the idea. That wonderous funk, coupled with the thick creamy texture of the cheese makes it an ideal match for a piece of dark bread and a Guinness or two.

So, whether you are feeling pious or mischievous this Saint Patty's Day, there is a cheese out there to fit your mood or go head to head with that frosty mug o' beer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Cheese Doldrums

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers

So, another week has dawned! And brighter it will be thanks to good old daylight savings time. In the world of American farmstead cheese, the old light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter too. Allow me to explain:

At Saxelby Cheesemongers, the months of February and March are what I like to call the cheese doldrums, because the selection of cheeses available to us seriously dwindles as we try to shake off the last vestiges of winter. And the doldrums don't apply just to cheese. It's exactly the same scenario as walking around the farmers' market and seeing the same old stalwart selection of turnips and apples and cabbages that have been there since November. Right now at the cheese shop we are up to our ears in aged cows' milk cheese (the dairy equivalent of turnips at the market), but have a very paltry selection indeed when it comes to fresh cheese, especially of the sheep and goat persuasion. Now, it's not because the farmers are lazy, or depressed by the seemingly never ending string of cold wintry weather. In the wintertime, veggies don't grow in the ground, and cows (to some extent) and sheep and goats (to a larger extent) don't make much in the way of milk. Traditionally, cows, sheep, and goats are pregnant and dry (i.e. not producing milk) all winter long, and have their young ones and begin to produce milk again in the springtime. It's just nature's way of giving the animals a break, or a little maternity leave if you will.

However, all that down time on the farm is about to come to a screeching, baa-ing halt! As I write, thousands upon thousands of kids and lambs are being born in barns across the northeast and across the country. This kidding and lambing extravaganza is a noisy but joyous harbinger of spring, and also of good cheeses to come. When the kids and lambs come, so does the milk, and our cheese makers are at the ready to turn it into some scrumptious and delectable fromage. So, in the next few weeks we have a lot to look forward to. Keep an eye out for new fresh cheeses, blooming like crocuses at the cheese shop. They're just the thing to wake up your wintry palate and point it towards warmer weather and good, sweet, green springtime fare!

Monday, March 03, 2008

To Market To Market

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers

To Market To Market...

This Monday brings a little discourse on the Essex Street Market and the public markets of New York City. For those of you who have never been to the Essex Street Market, well, you are missing out on something wonderful. Nowhere else in New York City does such a market exist. Essex Street Market is a veritable palimpsest of the Lower East Side, representing all of its varied and colorful inhabitants and their foodstuffs.

When walking down Essex Street, arriving at the corner of Essex and Delancey, you wouldn't necessarily note that the market was there at all. Besides some pale blue lettering on the exterior of the building announcing its existence, you might think you were walking past a school or a public swimming pool or some other such civic edifice. Mayor Fiorello Laguardia, who built the market in the early 1940's would be quite proud of that fact, as he constructed Essex along with a whole host of other markets across the city in the spare modern style of the day. However, the market's bland facade reveals very little about the flurry of activity taking place within its walls during daylight hours.

Originally built to extricate pushcart vendors from the clogged streets of lower Manhattan, the Essex Market has always been home to a menagerie of vendors from all walks of life. Today, along with fishmongers, greengrocers, and butchers, you'll find a barber who can give you a stellar haircut for eight dollars, a tailor, an electronics repairman who can restore ancient appliances to working order, and a second generation fishmonger/cake artist capable of building you a cake to look like anything from a pirate ship to a couple tumbling about underneath the sheets.

The thing about Essex that makes it such an amazing institution is the fact that all of these vendors have been brought together under one roof to pursue their distinctly different businesses, coexisting with and adding to one another's offerings. Essex is not a market that was designed by a fancy firm in order to sell you a gourmet shopping experience or to bring tourists down to the neighborhood, on the contrary, it has grown in strange and unpredictable directions, adapting to and attesting to the growth of the neighborhood and its character.

Essex Street Market is a public market, meaning that it is owned and managed by the city, for the benefit of the city's residents. In cities across the globe these kinds of markets are a given, and serve as a public forum for food and community. However, in New York these kinds of markets are notably lacking. Alongside Essex, the only other surviving markets from the Laguardia era are La Marqueta in Harlem and the Moore Street Market in East Williamsburg. The Greenmarket system is undoubtedly a venerable and fantastic New York City institution, but could be added to and augmented by new market projects in the city.

Foremost among these projects is New Amsterdam Public, a not for profit organization dedicated to establishing a permanent, covered, year-round market at the site of the old Fulton Fish Market. New Amsterdam Public would feature only food grown within a 500 mile radius of New York, and would add to the potency of the Greenmarket by offering access to the bounty that our region has to offer every day of the week in a setting that is a bit less dependent on the weather and its whims. Also, for all those farmers who live just a bit too far to drive down to the city each week to vend their wares, a new public market full of specialty purveyors would allow New Yorkers access to a wider and more varied spectrum of fruits, veggies, cheeses, meats, and fish.

For all those who love markets and who relish wandering through the aisles of Essex, I would encourage you to check out New Amsterdam's current plans and progress. There might just be a way that you could get involved and help a new public market to take root in New York City's original, historic market district.

For more information on New Amsterdam Public or Essex Street Market, visit these cyberspaces:

Here's to the markets. May they ever feed, inspire, and entertain us!