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

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