Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Day A Whey Recap

Ok, ok. I know. The email should have come yesterday. It must have been something in that sunny country air, because I found myself doing quite a bit of sleeping... On this most yucky and rainy Tuesday morning, I wish I could continue on the same track, but alas, the week must begin sometime!

Sunday's Day A Whey trip to Sprout Creek Farm was a real knockout of a fall day, complete with resplendent foliage, plenty of sunshine, and more food than we knew what to do with. Our day began (after a slight directional hiccup, eh-hem, and an admittedly dorky screening of a movie entitled 'Living on the Wedge') at Sprout Creek Farm, established back in 1982 as an educational center for kids. To say that nuns Margo Morris and Sue Rogers were ahead of their time is a gross understatement. The two enterprising women founded Sprout Creek Farm as they began to realize that more and more, children were losing touch with nature, with the source of their food, and spending more time getting snuggly with their tv sets and fruit roll-ups. Now, that's not to say there isn't some lovely nostalgia surrounding fruit roll-ups... I myself probably consumed hundreds of the sticky little pancakes, but you get the idea.

When the farm moved to their current site in Poughkeepsie from Connecticut, Margo and Sue's ideas and programs truly began to flourish. Today Sprout Creek offers camping and overnight trips for kids of all ages, and produces everything from fresh veggies, to chickens, pork, and lamb, to honey and cheese. They started up their creamery about 10 years ago with a line of three cheeses, but have really hit their stride in the past two years with cheese maker Colin McGrath. Colin took time out of his busy, cheesy schedule to share with us the intricacies of cheese making, starting with the little innocuous sounding strains of bacteria all the way through to a finished wheel of cheese. As we listened to Colin's talk, the day's cheese making was in full effect. The words curds and whey went from nursery rhyme fodder to reality as we watched the curds be stirred, drained, and then spiritedly packed and smushed into molds to await the brine tank. Colin, a self-professed lover of all things fermented, also makes his own beer at home, the perfect accompaniment (in my opinion) to the array of cheeses made at Sprout Creek. Maybe on the next trip we can incorporate a little lesson in brewing too??

After all that talk of cheese, bellies were rumbling, so we retired to the barn for a big old picnic lunch, replete with salad, breads, cheese (of course!) and cider. Now we all know what the best follow up to a glorious Sunday lunch should be... nap time. Even if everyone didn't lay down in the grass for a little shut-eye in the sun, there was plenty of relaxing going on. I found the homemade peppermint stick ice cream in the creamery too good to pass up, and opted for a cone instead of a snooze.

Our next stop was Terhune Orchard, a charming little place just down the road in a town called Pleasant Valley. I mean, seriously, you'd think that all those folks upstate would just be content with their gorgeous parcels, but no, they've got to rub in all in up our Brooklyn and East Village faces and call them things like 'Pleasant Valley.' Well, dang it, they're right. To call that spot anything other than pleasant would be an out and out lie. For it being so late in the season, there were a surprising variety of apples left to be had, and we waltzed out of there with scores of Empires, Winesaps, Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious, the list goes on and on... I witnessed more than one person, bag overflowing, try to cram in just one more crispy little orb, thoughts of pie and apple sauce and streusel in their heads. Or maybe that was just me. I now have more apples than I know what to do with, and am seriously thinking, at the risk of being labelled the dreaded, health-freak old lady, of dispensing with some of them during trick or treating at the Essex Street Market.

So, I hope you all have a most happy, apple and cheese filled week, and check out the pictures of the trip online when you get a minute. (I promise I'll get to that by tomorrow!) Our last Day A Whey was a true delight. Many thanks to everyone for schlepping along with us!

Until next year... we might just plan a Sprout Creek camp out ourselves!

Monday, October 20, 2008

For the Love of Goat Yogurt

Cheese lovers, meet goat yogurt.

Goat milk is one of those funny things that has been a bit maligned by the masses over time. People inevitably have some funny remembrance of the first time they tasted goat milk... some hippie relative giving it to them as kids, growing up near a farm that milked some stinky goats and being forced by a parent to take a swig...

Or, take my Italian friend Agusto. For a time before opening the cheese shop, I lived in a small town in Umbria whose population was hovered somewhere around 1,000 people. In the town there was a cadre of old people who were tough as nails and would all help each other out during the harvesting of grapes, olives, you name it. Now, keep in mind that harvesting is at base a pretty arduous and tedious job, and without sufficient banter and shit-giving, folks are likely to get bored. And also keep in mind that in a town that small, everyone knows EVERYTHING about everyone.

One fine October day, Agusto (who is now well into his seventies) was working alongside everyone else, snipping grapes off vines and hauling them by the bucketload to a nearby truck, when somebody yelled out 'goat boy' or some such thing in Italian and set the whole group guffawing. As an outsider, I was mildly confused by this allegation (I lived across the street from Agusto and knew that he had no goats) so I elbowed the person next to me in the ribs and asked what all the goat insults were about. She, being of the same age bracket as Agusto, informed me that when they were kids, Agusto had a twin brother and for want of sufficient milk, Agusto was raised on goats' milk. And so the joke went, from the 1940's on into eternity.

Well let me tell you what. Today I'm here to celebrate the dang milk of the goat, and tell you that whatever anti-goat feelings you may harbor, you have got to try Beltane Farm's superb goat yogurt. Somebody's got to set the record straight, and the does (ie lady goats) of Beltane are up to the challenge.

Beltane Farm Goat Yogurt is of the Greek persuasion, thick and rich and silky, with just the right amount of tang and sourness. Paul Trubey, farmer, yogurt maker, and all around nice guy, has painstakingly perfected his recipe over the past few years and has come up with something the likes of which I've never tasted. After the yogurt has set, Paul strains it through cheesecloth to achieve a more hearty and robust texture. The result is decadent, stick-to-your-spoon yogurt that makes for a fantastic cuppa breakfast or dessert. I'm imagining whipping some up with some maple syrup and serving it alongside a streusel-y apple crisp. Oh how the mind wanders at 8:00 am on a Monday...

So for the love of goat yogurt, get yourself down to the cheese shop to try a lovin' spoonful. You just might have a change of heart (or tastebuds, as it were.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Tasty Cheese Ahoy!

It's been a while since we've given you a rundown of all the tasty new cheese in our purview... Seems like the cheese makers have been going like gangbusters these past few months, cranking out some delightful things that rarely see the light of day at Saxelby's. Stop on by for a nibble or two, and see what's good in our cheesy world!

Seal Cove Pyramids
(pasteurized goats' milk. Seal Cove Farm, ME)

An ashed pyramid of goats' milk cheese to rival any of its distant French relatives. These pyramids are chalk full of barnyardy goatiness (a very technical cheese term, eh-hem!), as the goats' milk makes a shift and becomes heartier and more dense at this time of year. Nevertheless, a light and mouth-watering tang picks up the back end of the cheese, giving it a bright little lilt. The rind that blooms on the surface of this coal-black cheese is delicate and fine, adding a decidedly earthy and mushroomy flavor.

Mixed Emotions
(raw goat and cows' milk. Lazy Lady Farm, VT)

Is the moniker of this cheese a reference to crossing the goat/cow boundary in cheese making? Like their human counterparts, those barnyard beasts up in Vermont are just more progressive by nature. This tasty, golden pancake of cheese is made up at Lazy Lady Farm, but finished and aged in the cellars at Jasper Hill, just down the road. The result is a unique and savory cheese that tastes a bit of caramel and peanut butter, but with an undertone of goat musk. Laini buys in cows' milk from some local organic farmers, rounding out the cheese with a deep buttery baseline.

(raw cows' milk. Dancing Cow Farm, VT)

A beautiful aged cows' milk cheese from one of the most beautiful farms in the Champlain Valley. Menuet, like the rest of the cadre of cheeses made by Steve and Karen Getz, is named after a dance, and certainly makes us want to step to it! The cheese is pale golden yellow, with a firm, crumbly paste that is somehow sweet and tart all in one go. The wheels at Saxelby's are spring cheeses, made from the milk of the Getz's herd right after they went out onto pasture. See what sunshine locked into cheese tastes like!

PS... For anyone who hasn't picked up a copy of yesterday's New York Times, run, don't walk to the newsstand! Michael Pollan has once again hit the nail right on the head with a thoughtful and inspiring letter to our future president called 'Farmer in Chief.' It's in the magazine, or just a click away, if you click the link below...

'Farmer in Chief' by Michael Pollan