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Ending on a High



So, it’s official. It actually has been for 3 weeks–I got the announcement right after I had finished helping in the production of Vermont Creamerys “Bonne Bouche.”  My worry and stress and sleepless nights paid off. I’m now one of 253 Certified Cheese Professionals in the US/Canada and one of two in Maine. I’m not sure what doors this may open–hell, I’m just happy I passed that exam.

But, on that note, the other bit of news that I have is that I’ve decided to cease updating this blog.  It’s been a good 4 1/2 years, but over the past year–with new responsibilities in life–I don’t really have the drive or desire to keep it up.

Thanks to everyone who read and joined along on the trip. It was fun.

-S

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From Maine To Madison–Epilogue

Imagine for a moment that you walked into Willie Wonkas Factory, only in this world the chocolate has been replaced by cheese. Every corner you turned, every room you entered, was filled with glorious cheese.

That’s essentially what it’s like to attend the American Cheese Society Conference.

There were cheese t-shirts, cheese posters, cheese bags, cheese making kits, cheese and chocolate pairing classes, lectures on running a cheese business, beer and cheese pairings, classes on ‘squeaky’ cheese, cheesemakers, cheesemongers and cheese distributors.  You could rub elbows with cheese royalty, like Laura Werlin and Mike Gingrich

Or cheese rock stars like the crew from Jasper Hill

 (from the Cellars of Jasper Hill Facebook)

You couldn’t throw a stone in Madison and NOT hit someone that was somehow connected to cheese. Nor could you go more than an hour without finding someone who wanted to feed you cheese. It was like I was living in a mid-west utopia.

We would have to venture outside of our cheese bubble every few hours to snag up some real food–which doesn’t count the endless baskets of Deep Fried Cheese Curd with sides of Ranch Dressing that we ate (my favorite proved to be the ones from The Great Dane pub).

The Great Dane was actually the place of a few meals during the week, including my first, a plate of fish and chips which I had just an hour after I landed with my coworkers from Boston. 

Post exam drinks at The Tipsy Cow (along with some more cheese curd and fried alligator)

Last day brunch at Marigold Kitchen, which included an omelet with artichokes, tomatoes and asiago, and a few bites of my friends Duck Confit Hash (WHY IS NO ONE MAKING THIS IN PORTLAND?!).

There was also a coma inducing footlong Maple Bacon Donut from the Farmers Market

But, my most important stop every day came from Alterra Coffee (now Colectivo as they’ve been bought out by Nestle but they get to keep the Madison location independent from the others).

If I stayed in Madison, it would have been for this.  I love my local roasters, but Alterra bakes all of their bagels, muffins and pastries in house, including this killer biscuit that was stuffed with eggs, cheese and bacon.

But, I’m sure you want to hear more about the Conference..maybe how the exam was?

Well, truthfully, the exam was a good deal harder than many of us anticipated.  Of the 98 of us that represented Whole Foods, I’d guess that one walked out of that room without any doubts or worry, but he was also the guy that played Final Fantasy during our review session the day before the exam so I knew he felt very confident in his knowledge.  The other 190+ people in the room, probably felt good, but through the conversations I had, had some issues with some of the questions that were on the exam, particularly the way that they were worded.  As we’re only the second group to take the exam, there are are still a lot of kinks to be worked out. The true downside is that we won’t find out until sometime in September. But, honestly, I waited five months to take the exam, so waiting another few weeks is a breeze.

And, it’s funny how there was such emotionally and mental lead up to the exam, but as the week passed by it seemed like such a small blip on the map compared to everything else I did there.

One of my favorite classes that I attended was a Chocolate and Cheese pairing class that featured Gail Ambrousius, from Wisconsin. To get our appetites going and our palets honed, she led us  through a brief tasting of different single origin chocolates. My favorite, by far, was an 85% chocolate from Ecuador.

The card says 65%, but it was a misprint.  This was probably the smoothest dark chocolate I’ve ever encountered and lacked any bitterness that you would associate with a percentage so close to unsweetened.

The overall pairings for the class were:

It’s a toss up between the Marieke Gouda and Almond toffee pairing and the Espresso BellaVitano with a Dark Sea Salt Caramel as far as my favorite.  The last tasted like a rich caramel latte, the first was a balance of sweet/salty and creamy/crunchy.

The Friday before the conference ended, the ACS gave out it’s awards for the best American cheeses.  It was essentially the Oscar for cheese, but with more flannel than sequence. Maine represented nicely, with York Hill, Silvery Moon, Pineland Farms and Crooked Face Creamery all taking home awards. But, the ceremony really comes down to the last few minutes of the show, where the top three–or in this case, four–were announced.  Bleu Mont Dairy tied with itself for 3rd overall, with their Reserve Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana.  I was lucky enough to pick up a piece of the Reserve Cheddar the next morning at the Farmers Market and shared it with co-workers back in Maine.

It had all of the markings of a superb English Cheddar: creamy paste, saliva inducing sharpness and a note of horseradish at the finish.

2nd place went to Grafton Village for their Bear Hill, a sheeps milk cheese with a pretty limited production, so we haven’t seen it around these parts yet (and I missed tasting it at the Festival of Cheese on Saturday).

And, I really should have put money on my call for Best in Show.  I was offered a bet with a vendor, but probably make no where near the money they do… But, man, if I had I would have won with my dark horse pick of Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farms.

How much of a shock was it to the crew at Jasper Hill?  Well, they only sent three wheels to be judged, so when they did eventually win, they had to hike several cases from Greensboro, VT to Madison, WI in less than 24 hours. By car.

As you can see in the picture above, the wheels were perfect and having some Winnimere in August felt like a horrible, naughty treat, as it’s usually not available for several months. It was bliss on a spoon and I could not be more happy for everyone at Jasper Hill for their blue ribbon showing (Harbison, Willoughby, Landaff and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar also took home ribbons this year for the Cellars).

There were so many other great cheeses, in the sea of 1,800 entrants this year, that I’m going to simply sum it up with a few photos of some of my other favorites.

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From Maine to Madison–Final Journey

Today I fly out of Portland for my second–and final–trip to Madison, WI, of the summer. The first trip was a training for work, a week long intensive study at the Center for Dairy Research housed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. During the week we visited Chalet Cheese Cooperative, home of Limburger production in the US.

It was on that visit that I gained true respect for Limburger cheese, usually referred to as the “stinky old man” cheese by many (myself included). To see the workers hand washing the bricks in the humid rooms and then later taste the finished product was something I rarely get to do in my job.


 

But, much like Maine and its cheesemakers, the humbleness and love of their craft is what connected to me the most to places like Chalet, Emmi Roth Kase and Crave Brothers Dairy. These are smaller operations, Chalet being the smallest of the three, that have worked through decades to perfect their cheese and focus on smaller batch, quality product.

Visiting Crave Brothers, I was reminded of my trips to Pineland Farms, with the sprawling scenery, but Crave, easily, has several hundred more cows than Pineland tends to.

Their main products are pasta filata style cheeses like various sized and shaped mozzarella, as well as some of the sweetest mascarpone cheese I’ve tasted. Our trip to Crave ended up to be a bittersweet one, as just a month later, they were linked to a listeria outbreak with one of their cheeses–a washed rind. It’s one of those heart breaking stories that can make or break a creamery, like it did with Sally Jackson’s cheeses three years ago. What Crave is doing environmentally, in regards to turning manure into power and then putting it back on the grid and powering around 300 local homes, makes them an industry leader and I truly hope that they can bounce back from this incident.

But, it wasn’t all about petting adorable cows and visiting picturesque creameries, most of our days were spent in lecture halls learning the science of cheese (veal rennet is the most traditional of the rennets used in cheesemaking)
and eating more cheese than our bodies were ever meant to (there were over 100 cheeses eaten in just 4 days).

We were even lucky enough to get elbow deep in curd and make our own cheese for several hours. The humidity in the room was nearly intolerable and I felt for the people in the rooms at Crave, Chalet and Emmi Roth for dealing with it for hours on end, day after day.

Overall, the week was exhausting and invaluable to my studying for the Certified Cheese Professional Exam that I take this Wednesday.  This trip marks the end of five months of studying and preparation for the first test I’ve taken in about a decade. (Ok, maybe four months of studying–I will admit to taking a month off after returning from the CDR because my brain was at utter capacity).

My summer, essentially, has been consumed by cheese. Reading all three of Max McCalman‘s books, weekly lecture calls at work with some of the most prominent people in the industry (teaching us about everything from pairings, to sensory to proper storage and handling), lugging around one 25+ pound binder (and one smaller 15 pound one) with all of my notes, readings and power point presentations from our lectures, going over and over the ACS ‘Body of Knowledge‘ for the exam to make sure I don’t miss any key areas and writing up 311 flashcards to study (on top of the 700+ shared by friends who are either already taken the exam or are taking it this year with me). There hasn’t been much summer, really–and there sure as hell hasn’t been much blogging, even though I had all of the best intentions to use this as a studying outlet so I didn’t go stir crazy reading about the fat/protein ratios in cows during their lactic cycle.

But, Wednesday–after 4pm our time (3pm in Madison)–I will finally be able to exhale. Until then..May the cheese be with you.

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Pocket Picnic

Drink Koozies, bearded chefs and a lake side view. Welcome to the June edition of Pocket Brunch. This months outing of the locally organized pop-up brunch, which has caught a bit of a cult following, was held at the newly opened Bresca and the Honey Bee at Outlook Beach on Sabbathday Lake in New Gloucester. The guest chefs for this round of brunching was Krista Kern Desjarlais, of the much loved Bresca restaurant, and her husband, Erik Desjarlais, who also happen to own Outlook Beach and the attached Snack Shack.

When Pocket Brunch was started a year ago, I quietly held my breath and waited–month after month–as they announced their guest chefs. The Desjarlais’ were my dream Pocket Brunch guests–bringing together two chefs whose food and restaurants I’ve highly enjoyed and respected–and apparently I wasn’t alone as this edition sold out in less than two hours.

I’m just going to leave it to the food to do the talking this time around, kids.  There wasn’t a bad bite in the bunch, the weather was perfect, the company was fantastic and not a single descriptor for the meal–hell, for the entire day–would do it justice. Definitely one of those “you had to be there” kind of meals.

Viva la Pocket Brunch!

 

 

Thank you SO F’ING MUCH to:
Josh and Katie Schier-Potocki
Joel “Juice Bomb” Beauchamp
Nan’l Meiklejohn
Rocco Salvatore Talarico (who is doing a crazy offshoot of PB at his home–with details here).

And, to our chefs, Erik (“Stop calling me that!”) Desjarlais and Krista Kern Desjarlais.
We have wedding details to talk about for next summer with the two of you.

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Food Truck-O-Rama

Just over a year ago, Portland Foodies (yea, I dropped the “F” word) were all in a tizzy as The Food Network was rolling into town for one of their last stops in ‘The Great American Food Truck Race.” The timing couldn’t have been better as the city council was scratching their heads over what to do about our simmering desire for a fleet of own. The opposition was needlessly crying that it would hurt the brick and mortar establishments, while the rest of us were calling “SHENANIGANS” over their empty argument. The fact was, and remains, if you’re putting out good food–whether at a set table within four walls or dishing it out from a slot window with wheels–people will show up.  That didn’t stop the council, however, from burdening food truck owners with a list of silly rules and fees once they did finally gave them the green light. Because of the hurdles of money and space, the rush of food trucks to Portland’s streets has been more of a trickle than a tidal wave as little more than a handful have finally pulled up curbside.

But, in celebration of Summer, and the rolling out of the food trucks, Professor A. has gathered us once again (like we’re some weird version of a food based X-Men) for a round robin review of their offerings. 

The latest to open is Small Axe Truck, run by Karl Deuben and Bill Levy–both well known from their work at Hugo’s and Miyake. In the morning the stunning orange truck is set up in the back of Anderson Street, along side Bunker Brewing and Tandem Coffee, serving up the usual fare of breakfast sandwiches, bagels, yogurt and breakfast bowls.  What isn’t homemade (like eggs and veggies) on the menu , is locally procured–like the bagels from 158 Picket Street Cafe in South Portland–and everything is under $7. The morning I went, the weather was perfect and there was already a hearty line of more than half a dozen people, with more streaming in as I waited.

While my usual inclination is to go for anything with a sausage gravy (theirs is made with green chiles), I opted for their breakfast bowl with veggies and goats milk ricotta…because, well, I f’ing love goats milk ricotta.

Because of the line, the wait was around fifteen minutes from ordering to delivery and, if I hadn’t already had too much coffee, I would have taken advantage of their location and popped into Tandem for a malted ice coffee. But, the wait was more manageable, especially on such a gorgeous morning.
When my name was called, I grabbed my box and quickly scurried back to my car, ready to devour its contents.

The veggies consisted of sauteed arugula, and the eggs were fried over easy.  The hash browns were done more like lincoln log sized tater tots and the goats milk ricotta was sprinkled atop the eggs. It was also the first thing I went after.  I want to say that it was delicate, tangy and light, but the cheese had an off bitterness and unpleasant musty ‘goatiness’ that I usually associate with a much older goats cheese. Now, the bitterness may have been from the arugula or an issue with the making of the ricotta itself, but it lacked the cream and tanginess (and salt) of ricottas I’ve had from Tourmaline Hill Farm and, most recently, Blue Rooster. The eggs, however, were nicely cooked with their beautifully runny, bright orange yolks and the arugula added a bit of subdued pepper to the mix. The hash browns, though, were a bit over fried and greasy, leaving a not so pleasant coating on my tongue by the time I finished my meal. Overall, I felt generally “Meh..” about the whole dish, but don’t necessarily hold it against them as they’d only been open just over a week when I made my visit.  I’ve also heard absolute raves about their lunch offerings, which honestly appeal to me more than what their early morning menu offers. So, because of those reasons–and because I know Karl can make some amazing food–I’ll definitely be paying them a visit soon at their location on 385 Congress Street for lunch.

But, now to move on from the newest truck in the fleet, to one that has been established for the past few years, Bite Into Maine, which touts itself as a ‘Mainecentric Mobile Eatery.”

For the past two years, the husband and wife team of Sarah and Karl Sutton have set up shop across the bridge at Fort Williams Park, in Cape Elizabeth, and have gotten rave reviews in both  local and national press for their centerpiece offering: Maine Lobster Rolls.

 

But, thankfully, their location–and the wonky rules for trucks in Portland (is there such thing as a food truck guest pass?) hasn’t stopped them from gracing us with some of the tastiest rolls in all of Maine. They’ve made cameos at Picnic Music and Arts Festival (where I tasted my first BIM roll last summer) and the ingenious “Flea Bites,” a gathering of mobile food vendors, hosted in the warmer months at the Portland Flea-for-All.

When we came across them in town, they were hitched up at Rising Tide Brewing Company on Fox Street, where they seem to be hosting a food truck every week.  The crowd was light, but it allowed The Missus and I to talk a bit with Sarah and Karl, who were just gearing up for the Lobster Roll Rumble in NYC. They may not have won later on during the Rumble, but they apparently had one hell of a time if their Facebook photos are any indication.

I asked Sarah to choose which style we should have and, without hestitation, she said “The Picnic. It’s my favorite.” Well, when the owner of the establishment tells you it’s their personal choice, you don’t question it–and I’m glad we didn’t.  Like all of their rolls, which include traditional, wasabi and Connecticut style, this one was piled thick and tall with at least a 1/2 pound of fresh lobster meat. The meat, which is also drizzled with butter, is somehow balanced upon a good heap of homemade coleslaw and topped with a dash of celery salt. And, to round it out, it’s served on a toasted bun, made exclusively for them Sorella’s Bakehouse on Anderson Street (which also makes some fantastic breads that you can buy at Miccuci’s Market on India).

On first bite, it was easy to see why it was Sarah’s favorite, and their choice for entry into The Rumble.  The coleslaw is lightly dressed, leaving a lot of crunch in the red and green cabbage. Add that to a perfect crisp on the bun and you have the perfect balance to the buttery lobster. The roll itself weighed a pound–if not a bit more–and was near impossible to eat with simple bites without plucking out some of the lobster with the fork they provided (this is by no means a criticism of the roll). Full claws, ample chunks of tail meat–Maine bliss on a bun, my friends and well worth the $13.95 price per roll. We didn’t need to bother with any sides like chips or a meal ending whoopie pie, as the roll was more than enough to satiate the hunger we arrived with.

Bite Into Maine Food Truck on Urbanspoon

 

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Appreciating The Greats: Applebys Cheshire

Cheshire cheese is one with great, if muddied, history. Some say it is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, some say it is not mentioned until 1580 and others say the cheese is nearly a thousand years older than the Domesday book, dating back to early Romans. Whether it be 500, 1000 or 2000 years old, it is a cheese of pride in England, particularly for the Appleby family in Shropshire, England.

While many makes of Cheshire are industrialized (because Cheshire itself does not hold PDO protection), the Appleby name guarantees the buyer that the cheese is still handmade, and clothbound, under the watch of head cheesemaker Gary Gray. The milk comes from the families Friesian Holsteins cows (Holsteins are the black and white variety we’re all familiar with) , which has a lower fat composition in their milk than any other breed.

Their cheese is currently being distributed by Neals Yard Dairy in England.

Tasting Notes:
Milk: Raw Cow
Brand: Applebys–from Neals Yard Dairy

Appearance:
  Rind: Clean, light tan. Faint remnants on the rind from the cloth it was wrapped in.
  Paste: Bright orange–colored with Annatto; Drier looking than many younger cheeses (aged under 1 year)

Smell:
  Rind/Paste: Both smell musty, like a basement. Likely due to the wedge being wrapped in plastic and not in cheese paper

Mouthfeel: Crumbly, dry.

Flavor:
  Rind: I skipped eating this one.
  Paste: Peppery, tangy, acidic–like sour cream.

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