Monday, February 23, 2009

Spring Brook Tarentaise Is In the Air...

It's that time of year. Thankfully, almost time to say goodbye to winter and ring in the spring. Saxelby Cheesemongers is getting in the mix with the introduction of a new cheese with a seasonal moniker, Spring Brook Tarentaise. Not only is it utterly delicious, it's part of an experiment that illustrates an interesting step in the evolution of cheese making in the US.

Spring Brook Tarentaise hails from Spring Brook Farm in Reading Vemont, a laudable operation that doubles as an educational center called 'Farms for City Kids' in the summertime. We're happy they've added cheese making to their repertoire, and that the rich and tasty Tarentaise is the result. Made in the style of a traditional Alpine cheese, with a distinctive concave dip ringing the rind of each wheel, and boasting a rich and dense paste similar to a Gruyere or a Beaufort. Aged for seven months, Spring Brook Tarentaise is a conduit of nuanced flavor: from toasted hazelnuts to wet grass, and has a hearty dose of that distinctive 'swissy' bite. The cheeses are crafted from raw cows' milk, and are washed intensively for a number of weeks when young. As the cheese ages and the rind begins to toughen up, they are washed slightly less often, but given lots of TLC nonetheless, and are turned and brushed for the remainder of their lives in the cave at Spring Brook Farm.

Jeremy Stephenson, cheese maker at Spring Brook, learned the Tarentaise recipe from John and Janine Putnam of Thistle Hill Farm in nearby Pomfret, Vermont. It is a move that takes its cue from a long European tradition, where every farm in a relatively close geographic region makes a similar style of cheese. Much like the world of wine, AOC and DOC laws have evolved over the past hundred years or so to protect and identify certain distinctive cheeses native to specific regions. In the American farmstead cheese making tradition, such constraints never existed (I guess there's no need for an AOC equivalent for 40 lb blocks of cryovac cheddar), and cheese makers have pretty much gone hog wild, developing and inventing whatever style of cheese they like.

The two breeds of Tarentaise, that of Spring Brook and that of Thistle Hill start out with the same recipe but evolve to be very distinctive cheeses, each with their own flavor and texture attributes. Still, the nod to the Europeans is an interesting one, and as the American farmstead cheese movement continues to gain steam and grow, we might just begin to see more of that kind of thing taking place. It would ensure that some of the beautiful cheeses developed on small farms over the last 15 to 20 years continue to made should the cheese makers retire, or their kids decide to pursue a life outside of cheese. (Maybe if that's the case we could start up our own adoption program! City kids of all ages who want to help schlep around the cheese house! Random thought to be continued...)

Till next week, eat cheese and be merry! And don't forget, we've got some cheese-tastic events coming up. Check the calendar on the website to see what we've got brewing, or check out the little preview below:

Saturday, February 28th, 4:00 to 5:00 pm
Cave Aged Cheese and Fresh Brews: Ploughgate Creamery and other fine cheeses from the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm

at Beer Table (427 B 7th Avenue btwn 14th and 15th St.) in Park Slope, Brooklyn
For reservations ($35) call Justin Philips at 718-965-1196

Monday, February 16, 2009

Decamping to Brooklyn (and Beer Table)

On this most presidential of Mondays, Saxelby Cheesemongers is pleased to announce that we're jumping back on the tasting wagon with a duo of beer and cheese inspired events at Beer Table in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Beer Table is one of our favorite places; the fermented grain yin to our fermented milk yang, and we relish each and every chance we get to spend time out in their cozy neck of the woods. So mark your calendars and head on over to the slope to see what's what in the wintry world of beer and cheese!

Monday February 23rd, 7:00 to 8:00 pm
No Regulations Required!
American Farmstead Cheese and Italian Microbrew Tasting

For reservations ($50) call Beer Table at 718-965-1196

Saxelby Cheesemongers and Beer Table proudly present: No Regulations Required! Enjoy the bounty of wacky and iconoclastic brewers and cheese makers as we explore the world of Italian-made, Belgian-style beer paired with American-made, Italian-style cheeses. The old adage 'rules were made to be broken' certainly applies here. Justin Philips, proprietor of Beer Table, and Veronica Pedraza, ex-cheese maker at Sweet Grass Dairy, and current cheese monger of Saxelby Cheesemongers are your fermented experts and guides for this decadent evening. Justin'll be pulling out all the stops as it were, uncorking some fine and rarely seen bottles of super small production Italian brews. $50 allows you to sample 5 brews and 5 cheeses.

Saturday February 28th, 4:00 to 5:00 pm
Cave Aged Cheese and Fresh Brews:
Featuring Ploughgate Creamery and other fine cheeses from the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm

For reservations ($35) call Beer Table at 718-965-1196

Join Anne Saxelby and Justin Phillips, proprietor of Beer Table, for another round of fermented festvities featuring cheeses ripened in the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, located in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Marisa Mauro, cheese maker and proprietor of Ploughgate Creamery will be on hand to lead a tasting of her delicious winter cheeses, and will discuss her relationship with the affineurs at the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm responsible for ripening them. Learn what it takes to be a young cheese maker, and get a behind the scenes peek at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, one of the most innovative projects in American farmstead cheese. The Cellars aren't just in the business of ripening cheese... their aim is nothing less than establishing and re-invigorating the art of cheese making in Vermont. $35 allows you to sample 5 brews and 5 cheeses.

Beer Table is located at 427 B 7th Avenue btwn 14th and 15th St. in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Hope to see you there!

*Don't forget! This Saturday, February 21st, marks the date of Founded on Oyster Shells, a beer and oyster dinner to benefit New Amsterdam Public. Tickets are still available at Your support of this dinner sows the seeds for a new public market for New York City in the future!*

Monday, February 09, 2009

Oyster Shells and Diving Bells... Something's Brewing at New Amsterdam Market

From the get go, Saxelby Cheesemongers has been a staunch advocate of New Amsterdam Market, whose aim is to establish a new permanent public market in Lower Manhattan. Residing in the Essex Market, we know what a boon it is to be in a big, raucous market envrionment, surrounded by purveyors and personalities selling everything from fresh fish to buckets of breadfruit. For months, many of you have been patiently inquiring as to what New Amsterdam Market's plans for the future were... and I can finally say that there's something brewing...

A Winter Meal to Benefit New Amsterdam Market
Saturday, February 21st
5:00 to 9:00 pm
f/ocus Rental Gallery
599 11th Avenue

A dedicated and talented coterie of food folks including chef Caroline Fidanza (Diner and Marlow and Sons) Ross Gabriel (Home Restaurant) Kelly Taylor (Kelso of Brooklyn) and a handful of Long Island oystermen have created an incredible, hearty menu featuring local oysters that once abounded in the riverbed and estuary surrounding Manhattan. There'll be plenty of shuckers, plenty of beer, home made bread & butter, fish chowder, baked beans, and sauerkraut.

The proceeds from the dinner will go to benefit New Amsterdam Public; helping them to establish a monthly market this coming spring through fall. The City has gotten behind New Amsterdam's efforts, and plans to dedicate a space in Lower Manhattan for market use. New Amsterdam Market would be the first of its kind in the New York, as it is a market of purveyors of local foods. That means marketing like it used to be (or still is in many places around the world) where you go to a specialist for each and every product you buy, encouraging and supporting deep relationships between customers and purveyors, and between purveyors and food producers. For any of us who've been trapped in a serpentine que at New Yorks' vast array of supermarkets, we know and crave that friendly intimacy that comes from knowing your butcher, your greengrocer, and your monger.

Come on out and munch in support! Market season will be here before we know it.

For tickets ($50) and further information, visit

Monday, February 02, 2009

Farming for Freedom

Farming for Freedom... the counterintuitive version.

Yesterday I went traipsing around the city in search of a CD that I had heard at a friend's dinner party the other week. Now, I haven't gotten any new music for a really long time, and was irrationally excited by the thought of owning it. Much to my chagrin, at the record store I was told that the CD was out of stock probably indefinitely, as the artist had made only 5,000 copies of the album. However, it was whispered in my ear that the music could be gotten online for free, or for a small donation (completely optional, but being the midwestern girl that I am, I donated) It struck me as odd and wonderful that there was something that I wanted to buy, but couldn't because the artist had chosen to just let people download the music for free. Counterintuitive indeed.

In this day and age with all the economic craziness being visited on us daily, freedom (economically speaking or otherwise) is certainly on lots of folks' minds. I got to thinking about freedom, and all the different ways it relates to farming. Traditionally, farming has been seen (especially in this country) as a sort of oppressive, backward profession that ties people to the land and restricts their freedom. But there is a rising crop of farmers out there creating their own freedom daily by doing their own thing, creating their own markets and their own communities, operating outside the constraints of conventional agriculture. It seems that we're entering a period of flux, where the small, the homespun, may afford more personal freedom than the reliance on larger structures, be they corporations or commodity markets.

Now this kind of freedom does entail quite a bit of good old-fashioned elbow grease, but in speed-bumpy, rugged times speckled throughout our history, we've never been known as stingy with our hard-work ethic. And Americans through the ages from Jefferson to Thoreau to my personal hero Wendell Berry, have advocated for the freedom that comes from one's ability to provide for oneself. The bonus is that on the other end of that commitment wrought in elbow grease, there are many benefits to be reaped: namely community and conviviality and satisfaction of a job well done and tasty food created.

Anybody who's interested in tasting a bit of this freedom (quite literally!), can most surely do it. Whether you'd like a New York-centric experience or an internship or apprenticeship further afield, there are many organizations and farms out there in need of extra hands. Talk about free... by offering a token of your time, you can get an amazing dose of knowledge and know-how. I will be posting a bunch of links on the blog for organizations that can bridge the gap between farmers and folks who want to learn. For now, here's some free fodder for all you would-be farmers out there from a crafty little collective called the Greenhorns. It's their Greenhorns Guide for Beginning Farmers and it's an amazing almanac that covers the rudiments of getting down and dirty.

It's the perfect time of year to hatch a plan or plant a seed for this coming spring. Happy germinating!

Butterfat is for Lovers

Saxelby Cheesemongers and Roni-Sue Chocolates present a Valentines' Day Splurge for Your Sweet-and-Savory Heart!

It's that time of year again... slush is on the ground and love is in the air. This Valentine's Day, why dally around with the usual bouquet of fresh flowers when you could get your sweetie something truly one of a kind? Saxelby Cheesemongers, purveyors of fine American farmstead cheese, and Roni-Sue's Chocolates, makers of hand-rolled truffles, have joined forces to create a line up of cheese and chocolate pairings that are sure to make even the sturdiest hearts swoon.

Saxelby Cheesemongers' Sweet-and-Savory Heart gift selection includes three half-pound wedges of delicious cheese, as well as six hand-rolled truffles. Try some Pleasant Ridge, a deep, caramelly, nutty tomme from Wisconsin with a dark chocolate Frida truffle laced with smoky spice. Constant Bliss (an appropriate cheese for cupid if ever there was one) is a soft and buttery cheese that matches beautifully with a sweet and toasty Pecan Pie truffle. Brebis Blanche, a bright and tangy button of sheeps' milk cheese from New York State is the perfect foil to Roni-Sue's Portly Fig truffle, a jammy affair infused with a heady dash of port.

Sweet-and-Savory Heart gift boxes are $49 (plus shipping), and can be ordered and shipped online through or picked up at Saxelby Cheesemongers located in the Essex Street Market on Manhattan's Lower East Side.

Come on, you know your sweetheart deserves a little tlc. Tender lovin' cheese... and chocolate.