Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cheers to the Champlain Valley!

When we think of European cheeses, we tend to imagine fairly well defined regions where we can expect to find specific styles of fermented milk goodness. Dry, sharp cheeses from the arid regions of Spain and Italy, velvety buttery cheeses from the cool climes of Northern France, giant wheels of robust and hearty cheese from the Alps. Certain areas are known for their cheese making prowess, just as certain soils are touted as producing some of the finest wines.

In the US, farmstead cheese has grown up in a much different way than in Europe. Whereas across the pond there was a slow percolation of culture (bacterial and human) that lead to certain areas producing certain types of cheese, here in the states it has unraveled in more of a willy-nilly fashion. American farmstead cheese makers have come to their craft from many different walks of life, and in many respects their cheeses are unique edible artifacts that represent the experiences, apprenticeships, travels, and influences that lead up to their taking the crazy plunge into the world of curds and whey.

That said, there are definitely cheese regions of our own odd American making that are coalescing before our very eyes. Twenty years ago there was a smattering of farmstead cheese makers across the country; each farm was an island, a renegade, a strange exception to the rule of what farming should be. Now, there are little pockets of farmstead cheese making that skip and bound over the tremendous gap from California to Maine.

Vermont's Champlain Valley is one of those hotbeds of artisanal cheese making that has erupted quietly but surely as mushrooms after a good dose of rain. I spent last weekend traipsing around the Valley with my family, and was struck by the number of cheese makers nestled within a ten mile radius of the little town where we stayed. There is a true cheese culture developing there, putting down its roots and slowly but surely altering the farmscape and the surrounding community.

In an area known for dairy, artisanal cheese is a new take on an old farming tradition. Most farms in Addison made their living producing milk and cream for far off markets. Some of it left the Valley as fluid milk bound for Boston or New York, and some was sent off to one of the big coops in the state to be turned into cheese. Now there is a proliferation of local cheese makers who are demonstrating that there is a way to run a dairy and produce something of higher value than commodity milk. And that something (glorious, succulent cheese!) enriches the community threefold. It preserves the farm landscape, encourages a burgeoning craft, and provides us with something ridiculously tasty to eat.

At Saxelby Cheesemongers, we are proud to feature a small army of cheeses from Vermont's Champlain Valley, and encourage you to come in for a taste of the region. Each one is unique as its maker and the patch of farmland it hails from...

Goat Tomme
Twig Farm (raw goats' milk. West Cornwall, VT)
Cheese maker Michael Lee and his thiry-odd does are the forces behind this earthy and musky tomme. The herbal and floral flavors that issue forth from the ivory-colored paste owe their existence to the rough and scrubby pastures and woodlands the goats spend their days browsing.

Dancing Cow Farm (raw cows' milk. Bridport, VT)
A simple, but elegant tomme made from the pastured milk of Steve and Karen Getz's herd. Bouree is aged for about five months, with the Getz family entrusting the affinage to the folks up at Jasper Hill Farm. All that rind-washing tlc renders Bourree supple, and delicate, with a buttery pliant paste and flavors of toasted nuts, tobacco, and freshly cut grass on the palate.

Blue Ledge Farm (raw goats' milk. Salisbury, VT)
One of the gooiest cheeses this side of the Mississippi. Dunmore is a raw milk marvel from Greg Bernhardt, Hannah Sessions, and their troupe of stalwart caprine amigas. The wheels are coated by a bloomy white rind that comes to buckle and bulge as the cheese ages, evoking the finest and most mushroomy flavor one could dream of. Beneath the rind is a layer of buttercream soft cheese, leading to a core that is chalky, yet fine in texture.

Vermont Ayr
Crawford Family Farm (raw cows' milk. Whiting, VT)
Taking its name from the Crawfords' handsome herd of Ayrshire cows, Vermont Ayr is rich and swissy, with an undeniably fruity quality. Vermont Ayr is aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm; the gorgoeous natural rind is rustic and mottled with white and coffee colored spots. The cheese imparts a mineral zing that'll make you pucker just a bit.

Scholten Family Farm (pasteurized cows' milk, VT)
Weybridge is a rich and buttery cheese made from the milk of Dutch Belted cows, a traditional breed of dairy cow not so often seen these days in Vermont. Weybridge is quite light and moist for a bloomy rind cheese, evoking the tang of rich crème fraiche. The finish is delicately barnyardy (a paradox if ever there was one) and slightly tart.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mini Burrata!

This week's email is small and milky sweet. Whoever said that the best things come in small packages knew a thing or two about jewelry and as it turns out, cheese too. Not to say that we don't love us a big old honking chunk of fromage every now and again, but there are times to acquiesce and appreciate the little things in life.

What the heck am I getting at? Mini burrata! Saxelby Cheesemongers is pleased to announce the arrival of these diminutive pillows of curd and ricotta laden goodness. Just like their big brothers, these burrata are crafted by hand in Philly. The mozzarella curd is stretched and formed into a little pocket before being filled with curd and panna.

Clocking in at a fighting weight of just about four ounces, mini burratas are tiny but terrifically delicious. So, if you've ever stared a big burrata down and wondered just how in god's name you were going to eat the whole thing, here's your answer. And at just $3.50 a pop, you might want to snag a few...

Till next week! Small is beautiful.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fresh Milk on the Radio

Saxelby Cheesemongers gets down and dairy on the Heritage Radio Network with author Anne Mendelson...

Saxelby Cheesemongers' bi-weekly show, 'Cutting the Curd' waxes poetic on a myriad of dairy-centric topics. Listen in live every other Sunday from 3:30 to 4:00 pm or check out the Heritage Radio Network archives to hear the latest and the greatest... Yesterday's dispatch featured a conversation with Anne Mendelson, author of the delightful book Milk: The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages

Milk. It does a body good. We've all heard that refrain a thousand times or more. But it wasn't always that way. Before there were milk marketing campaigns, much of the world preferred their milk in the already soured format. Yogurt, cheese, and other fermented milk products ruled supreme for thousands of years before people started drinking the fresh stuff. Whether that was a result of climate, physiology, or convenience is up for debate. And debate and ruminate Ms. Mendelson does.

From the backyard cow to the super dairies at work in this country today, Anne Mendelson's tome traces the lineage of our dairy industry, linking our predilection for fresh milk with the growth of an industry that came to favor production and efficiency over flavor and health. As a young one growing up in the suburban midwest, I had no idea what constituted 'real milk.' I always assumed the white stuff lining the refrigerated shelves of the supermarket was the end all be all of the milk line. Our radio debate focuses in on the merits of real milk: it tastes better, it preserves local dairies and a working farm landscape, and means healthy and happy animals. Our fridge at Saxelby Cheesemongers is chock full of the good stuff... organic, unhomogenized cows milk from the Evans Creamery, and organic goat's milk from Kortright Creamery, both from small farms upstate New York.

So get yourself a cookie, crack open a bottle of creamy, delicious milk, kick back and listen in to this and our next dairy pursuits over the airwaves.

Till next Monday! Drink milk and be merry.

Monday, July 06, 2009

New Cheese on the Board

It's now officially the height of summer. July fourth has come and gone, and the days are long and lazy. That means plenty of time for barbequing, picnicking, beach-going, and carousing of all kinds. It also means that the cheese cave is practically overflowing with goodness as we begin to harvest the myriad of cheeses available from all the farms we work with. Saxelby Cheesemongers is pleased to announce the addition of a few wonderful new cheeses to our roster of dairy delights. So, if you're yearning for a little cheesy excitement, take a swing by the shop and nibble a morsel or more of some our new arrivals. Whether you're looking to beef up your picnic basket or round out the old cheese drawer in the fridge, you're sure to find something you love.

Did we mention that in addition to being delicious these new cheeses are all easy on the pocketbook as well? Whoever said you can't have too much of a good thing was right on the money.

Meadow Creek Dairy (raw cows' milk. Galax, VA)
$16.99 per lb

A bright, nutty quadrangular cheese with a musty, mushroomy rind. Made from raw Jersey milk and aged for 4 to 5 months, Appalachian is a fine specimen of an Alpine-style tomme. The ochre, golden-colored paste is supple yet snappy and has a subtle but deep flavor that is attributed to the fine pasture that the cows graze. A mellow but beautiful cheese that would make the strapping Swiss cowherds swoon.

Red Meck
Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese (raw cows' milk. Mecklenburg, NY)
$16.99 per lb

Red Meck is a stout, chubby wheel of cheese from New York's own Finger Lakes. Laced with Swissy eyes and boasts a particular prickle that'll set your tastebuds reeling. The flavor is sharp and distinctive, balancing bright, spicy fruity notes with sweet milky undertones. The rind of Red Meck is periodically washed with brine, adding a dose of pungent, tang to the cheese as it matures.

Scholten Family Farm (pasteurized cows' milk, VT)
$7.99 per piece

Weybridge is a brand spankin' new cheese, aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm. This rich and buttery cheese is made from the milk of Dutch Belted cows, a traditional breed of dairy cow making a comeback in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. Weybridge is quite light and moist for a bloomy rind cheese, evoking the tang of rich crème fraiche. The finish is delicately barnyardy (a paradox if ever there was one) and slightly tart.