Monday, December 29, 2008

Ringing it In...

It's the eve of New Years Eve, and it's gotten me to thinking about what lies in store for cheese and the makers of it in 2009. With each passing year, we are graced with more and more beautiful cheeses coming from small farms across the country. And while there may be lots of ice (or mud) and sludge and puddles out there, the seeds of next years' production are being sown as we speak.

In Vermont, in Pennsylvania, upstate New York, there are bunches of folks learning the cheese ropes and honing their craft, and with a bit of luck and a few pestering entreaties via telephone, we'll be seeing some of their cheeses this coming winter and spring. And that's just the newbies. The more seasoned cheese makers that we work with at Saxelby Cheesemongers are twisting and stretching their creative limbs and evolving new cheeses in a seemingly round-the-clock, dairy-centric effort to get the most interesting and true flavors from their animals and their land.

Now is an especially fruitful time for makers of delicious dairy, and the cheeses that we are seeing (and eating!) are changing the cheese-scape of our country like never before. Just like different moments in the history of art produce different outbursts of inspiration and innovation, cheese is the movement of our day. I guess if we were painters it would be a return from abstraction to realism to a more solid, tangible realism. Like tracing from Pollock back to Sargent, from Kraft to Jasper Hill Farm. Any way you slice it, from these mongers' eyes, things are definitely looking up.

One of the particularly American innovations that has captured my interest over the past year is the influx of mixed milk cheeses out there. There are many cheese makers out there milking goats and sheep who have begun to craft an impressive array of mixed milk cheeses, usually by adding a bit of cows' milk. Sometimes the imperative is economic, and other times the desire to experiment and create is the overarching goal.

Goats and sheep are quite seasonal in their milk production, goats giving milk for about 9 months after freshening (farm speak for giving birth) and sheep for just 5 months or so. As the animals near the end of their lactation cycle, the constitution and flavor of the milk changes, getting fattier and more rich. Many of the farms we work with at Saxelby Cheesemongers have taken to combining this late season goat and sheeps' milk with a bit of cows' milk, both to balance out the fat content, and eke out some different flavors. It also means that the farmer can make and store more cheese to get them through the winter months when their own animals aren't giving milk. Cows' milk, being quite mellow and buttery in flavor, is an ideal element to play with, tweaking the flavor a little bit in the direction of butterfatty goodness, and making the texture of the cheese a bit silkier and more supple.

This seasonal mixing of the milk is something that is unique to America, and to be frank, something that probably would not be tolerated by AOC and DOC regulations in Europe. Across the pond, cheeses are made according to traditions that were established over the past couple of hundred years, and to deviate from them is akin to sacrilege. However, in our little age of experimentation, these tweaks and deviations are being embraced daily by cheese makers mastering their own styles and varieties of cheeses. Ok, so there might be a bit of Pollock in there. Cheese makers nowadays are kind of benificent, stir-the-pot renegades in their own right.

If you'd like to try a few on for size, come by the shop and weigh in with a nibble or two. At this time of year, the ranks of mixed milk cheeses are at their fullest and most splendiforous. Just ask for a bite of any of these and see what the mixing of milks is all about:

Battenkill Tomme (raw sheep and cows' milk. Three Corner Field Farm, NY)

Humble Pie (pasteurized cow and sheeps' milk. Woodcock Farm, VT)

Seal Cove Tomme (pasteurized goat and cows' milk. Seal Cove Farm, ME)

Capriola (pasteurized goat and cows' milk. Lazy Lady Farm, VT)

Timberdoodle (raw sheep and cows' milk. Woodcock Farm, VT)

We wish you a Happy New Year and Happy New Cheeses to Come in 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas... According to Saxelby Cheesemongers

This Week at Saxelby Cheesemongers
The Twelve days of Christmas According to Saxelby Cheesemongers...

This one's for you Veronica! We at Saxelby Cheesemongers would like to admit that we have a bit of beef, as if were, with the traditional lyrics to this song. Has anyone else ever noticed that the Twelve Days of Christmas in its original incarnation is unabashedly biased towards fowl? In attempt to appease the dairy gods this Yuletide season, we've worked out an alternative to the birdy norm...

This song is best when accompanied by a kazoo. Here goes. A-one, a-two, and a-one-two-three!

On the twelfth day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Twelve little eggies... er a dozen if you prefer (Rich, free-range, and delicious! La!)

On the eleventh day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Eleven scoops of ricotta (Just enough for a killer frittata! La la!)

On the tenth day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Ten chunks of butter (And why not? A leaning tower of butterfat is never a bad thing. Ho hum!)

On the ninth day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Nine different yogurts (Cow, goat, sheep, skyr, thick and thin, plain and flavored! Ta da!)

On the eighth day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Eight maids a' milking (Ok. So they got one verse right. Why deviate from a good thing?)

On the seventh day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Seven stinky cheeses (Hooligan, Grayson, Twig Wheel, Three Mountain, Fil-A-Buster, Rappleree, Chester... whew! La dee da!)

On the sixth day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Six goats a-bleating (As goats are want to do at all hours of the day and night. Mbaaa!)

On the fifth day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Five Wrapped Pearls!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Home-spun gooey mixed milk cheeses wrapped in grape leaves that were steeped in spicy bourbon. 'Nuff said. Hiccup. La!)

On the fourth day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Four kinds of blue cheese (Bayley Hazen, Cayuga Blue, Mossend Blue and brand spankin' new Battenkill Blue)

On the third day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Three cows a-moo-ing (A little loud, but the neighbors'll get used to it.)

On the second day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
Two cheese sandwiches (with Frankie's olive oil drizzled on top! Good for breakfast, lunch, or to snack on for the long plane ride! Ta da dee!!)

On the first day of Christmas my monger gave to me...
A steaming pot of fondue! (And for those of you who've made it this far... you just might want to make some for yourselves! Have a peek at Saxelby Cheesemongers' take on the classic fondue Savoyarde below.)

Happy Holidays and a Joyous New Year to you all.

Saxelby Cheesemongers

Fondue Savoyarde as interpreted by Saxelby Cheesemongers and Anne Beuh:

For one bottle of white wine, you'll need about three pounds of cheese.
You'll also need the following:

1 clove of garlic, minced till quite tiny
Nutmeg and ground black pepper to taste
3 tbsp corn flour diluted in whiskey, bourbon, or eau de vie

For the cheese we chose:
Rupert (raw cows' milk. Consider Bardwell Farm, VT)
Pawlet (raw cows' milk. Consider Bardwell Farm, VT)
Grafton Classic 2 Year Cheddar (raw cows' milk. Grafton Cheese, VT)
However, there are innumerable other delectable combinations! Experiment and see what frightfully delicious concoction you can dream up!

1. Heat 1/3 bottle of white wine over medium-low heat.

2. Add 1/3 of your total cheese (about 1 lb if you're following this recipe exactly, but you can always make less! Three pounds is a lot of cheese... but we firmly believe in your cheese consumption capabilities.) Incorporate by stirring. Stir often and consistently, or else the cheese begins to stick to the pan!

3. Add a touch of garlic, nutmeg and black pepper to taste and continue to stir.

4. After a few minutes, add 1 tbsp of corn flour diluted in some kind of strong alcohol of your choosing.

5. Keep simmering and stirring for about 20 minutes total, then dig (or dip) in!

You can dip pretty much anything into this mixture and it'll be ridiculously tasty, but we picked boiled potatoes, steamed cauliflower, apples, and bread. Oh yeah, and just to guild the lily, we had some smoked ham from Jeffrey's on the side.
When you've gobbled through the first round, just start it all over again till there's no more cheese in sight.

Monday, December 01, 2008

On a Sunday in December...

This week I'll make it short and sweet. For the month of December, the Essex Street Market will be open on Sundays! Who'd a thunk it??

It is a point that has been belabored by many a patron of Saxelby Cheesemongers. The Essex Market, lovely and quirky tho it may be, has up till this point been closed on Sundays. Well, this December, the market has at long last decided to bite the bullet. That's right, no more mad Saturday scramble for cheese! Beginning this Sunday, and continuing every Sunday till New Year's, the market will be open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm for your dinner party-ing, Sunday supper-ing, holiday entertaining needs.

Back in the day, the Essex Market, like much of the neighborhood, was closed on Saturdays. At some point in the last twenty years or so, the current switched and the day changed to Sunday. Over the past few years, customers and vendors alike have been voicing their desire to have the market open on Sundays and slowly but surely, the EDC responded!

So spread the word and come on by! The market will be full of good cheer... there'll be live music, new cheeses, and all manner of shenanigans alla Lower East Side.