ACS, american cheese society, certified cheese professional exam, cheese, maine to madison, Wisconsin cheese, Wisconsin creameries

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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12 days of cheesemas, bonnieview farm, cheese, cheese advent calendar, cheesemas, Herve Mons, Pyrenees Brebis, sheep's milk cheese, vermont shepherd

12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 4

(photo from a random Tumblr)

Pecorinos and Manchegos seem to dominate when we talk about sheep’s milk cheese, but little is ever said about Brebis. Yet, you can’t have a conversation about sheep’s cheese–or ANY cheese–without bringing the French into it. For their contribution, many know of the widely produced Petit Basque. However for those who want a little more age and nuance to their cheese, you can look to Pyrenees Brebis.

As is characteristic of all sheep’s cheese, the Brebis is rich in butterfat, with an ever so slight back note of caramel and almonds.  I always find cheeses like the Brebis (locally, look for those from Bonnieview Farm and Major Farm in Vermont), carry what the sheep were eating that season a little more upfront. So, don’t be surprised if you catch glimpses of clover and mustard amongst the sweet profile of the milk.

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12 days of cheesemas, cheese, cheese advent calendar, kinsman ridge, landaff creamery, washed rinds

12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 1

(photo from Formaggio Kitchen)

Well, it’s that time of year again, kiddies.Cheesemas.

The first in our list is Landaff Creamery‘s Kinsman Ridge, a raw cow’s milk washed rind aged in The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont. Kinsman Ridge is one of two cheeses produced at Landaff Creamery, in New Hampshire, the other being their name sake, Landaff. While it ages in the caves of Jasper Hill, it is a true farmstead cheese and, like the Landaff, is truly unique.

The paste is extremely pliable, though it never never gets runny like many washed rinds. This is more akin to Taleggio in it’s texture. The flavor, however is much more mild. It has notes of grass, chives and even a bit of brown butter with the rind. I would serve this in matchsticks with almonds. No bread, it takes up too much cheese room.

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Celebrating with a (Mostly) Local Cheese Plate

It was like the Birthday Gods were smiling on us. All within the week of our birthday, I was gifted a bag of cheese from Spring Day Creamery, in Durham, ME (a ‘Thank You’ for helping her out a bit at the Brunswick Farmers Market when she found herself a smidge in the weeds) and a sizable chunk of Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise, which was given to me by the owner, Jim, after talking to him for a bit about his cheeses and their “Farms for City Kids” program.

I took this as a sign that I needed to make a cheese plate for The Missus and I for our special day (though, in reality, it was a day late when we finally had room in our bellies to enjoy it). So, I gathered up some other sundries, like the German Landjaeger sausage from Rosemont Market, some Marcona Almonds from Whole Foods and a small jar of Blueberry Blossom Honey from Urban Farm Fermentory. Served with toasted homemade crostini, using a baguette purchased from Zu Bakery, it all made for a lovely, mostly local, plate.

The Candide is Sarah Spring’s peppered brie.  The wheel she was selling at the market was perfectly gooey and ripe.  The flavor, only a hint of pepper came through from the rind, was of butter and mushroom. It was nice to have a Maine produced brie that didn’t fall victim to over salting or too thick of a rind, which can lead to a bitter finish at the end.

Most of the Tarentaise that I’ve had is aged around a year, but this slice came from a wheel aged somewhere between 5-7 months. It lacked the intense raw milk bite that I’m accustomed to with this cheese, but it’s subtlety made it more representative of other Alpine styled cheeses like Le Gruyere and Comte. It was smooth, slightly nutty with a breath of swissiness at its finish. It also made for a fantastic melting cheese the following night as I grated some over a shaved steak and mushroom sandwich.

Washed rinds are a finicky lot and, because of this, you won’t find too many Maine cheese makers venturing out and attempting this style of cheese. Some of my favorite cheeses are washed rinds, like Winnimere and Epoisses, so it excites me when I come across a washed rind that’s produced closer to home.  The La Vie En Rose is a subtle one, you probably won’t have your refrigerator stinking up with its presence ( The Missus has questioned many a smell in our refrigerator because of my cheese choices), but it does have that wonderful, sweet paste that I adore in washed rinds. It’s pliable texture puts it closer to Saint-Nectaire than any other French style washed rind. But, honestly, I’d take the La Vie En Rose any day.

Ah, the jewel in the crown of Spring Day Creamery cheeses: Spring Day Blues.  Last year, Spring Day placed 2nd to Rogue River Blue at the American Cheese Society Awards, which is no small fete for a cheese maker working with such limited space. In fact, to me, this is a coup. When I had the cheese three years ago, I recalled it tasting slightly earthy and mushroomy, like Blue D’Auvergne. After three years, its easy to see that Sarah has honed her blue making skills. The blue now lies somewhere between a Gorgonzola Dolce and St. Agur. The texture was spreadable and the paste was sweet and creamy, with a back note of pepper. This was, paired with a touch of the UFF honey, my favorite on the plate.

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12 days of cheesemas, cheese, counting down my favorite holiday cheeses, holiday cheese plate, italian cheeses, piave

12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 4


(photo from The Cheese Library)

Piave Vecchio is the younger, much overlooked cousin to Parmesan Reggiano. Aged significantly younger (this cheese ranges from young–30-60 days old, to Vecchio Oro del Tempo–12+ months), it pleases the palate with a creamy, nutty paste, filled with those little ‘crunchy bits‘ that people can’t seem to get enough of. While your first instinct may be to grab the grater and top some pasta with it, it makes a fantastic nibbling cheese, especially for those who don’t like their aged cheese to have too much sharpness.

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12 days of cheesemas, cheese, cheeses from switzerland, counting down my favorite holiday cheeses, holiday cheese plates, stinky cheeses, vacherin mont d'or

12 Days of Cheesemas–Day 3


(photo from Murray’s Cheese)

Vacherin Mont D’or is one of those perfect seasonal, winter cheeses. It’s also a food porn cheese, with its gooey, unctuous paste. Its one of those cheeses that you sheer the top off of and ladle out the inside or dip roasted potatoes into on a cold December evening. The paste is smoke, earth and woods. While many may feel Gruyere or Emmenthaler cheeses are the true mark of Switzerlands contribution to the cheese world, they do not hold a candle to a perfectly ripe Vacherin. If only we didn’t have such silly raw milk laws in this country that prevent us from ever experiencing a ‘true’ Vacherin at its peak.

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How to Buy Cheddar Cheese

Long before I moved up to Portland, I worked at a medical college library back home and would spend the slower nights diagnosing my ex-girlfriends with the DSM-IV (and I completely NAILED the diagnosis of one ex having BPD). Other nights I would look through emergency medical texts and books on trauma, which only prepared me for marathons of Bones, Wire in the Blood and Shark Week.

Now, I use the library’s unlimited resources for good and less morbid things. Like cheese. Wonderful, joyful cheese. One little gem that I recently found at the Portland Public Library was this USDA published guide, from 1967, on buying cheddar cheese.

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Pleasing Pasta

I don’t cook much pasta at home and, come to think of it, we don’t go out for much pasta either. Practically never. But, occasionally I’ll come across an interesting ingredient at Miccuci’s or recipe online that will inspire me enough to go beyond a red sauce. This one started with the pasta and evolved into an adjusted version of Tagilatelle with Baby Vegetables and Lemon-Parmesan Sauce from Bon Appetite.

  • 1 16-ounce package Malfadine pasta
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, halved, thinly sliced
  • 8 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed
  • 8 ounces frozen tiny green beans (3 cups), thawed
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 1/4 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese plus more for passing
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preparation

  • Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender. Drain, reserving 2 cups cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.

  • Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and zucchini; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until zucchini is almost tender, about 8 minutes. Add beans and lemon peel. Toss 1 minute.

  • Scrape contents of skillet over pasta in pot. Add 1 1/4 cups Parmesan cheese, cream, lemon juice, and 1 cup reserved cooking liquid. Place over medium-high heat and toss until heated through and sauce coats pasta, adding more reserved pasta liquid by 1/4 cupfuls to moisten as needed. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, passing additional cheese separately.

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Edible Obsession: Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farms


My fingers smell like funk right now. I can smell honey, yeast and must. To be more specific, they smell like the rind of Jasper Hill Farm’s Winnimere cheese and the local honey I paired with it. Six months ago I said goodbye to this cheese as it’s season ended. Six months of hardly touching a gooey washed rind until now. Two weeks ago I saw on the Jasper Hill Facebook page that they were releasing the first batches and then I waited patiently.

Then, while shopping at Whole Foods today I noticed her there in the case. She was a perfectly untouched, deep copper toned round. Had I been $28 richer, I would have bought the whole wheel just to marvel at by myself in the privacy of my own home. It is one of my desert island foods, you see. But, upon looking at the piece that was cut for me, to see how quickly the cheese tried to rush out from it’s rind, I knew it was actually best to not get the whole wheel. Why? Because it’s perfect right f’ing now. In fact, it may be one of the best batches I’ve seen from them since their first release of this particular cheese. But, it shouldn’t surprise me at all because it seems like Jasper Hill is hitting it’s stride. Recent sampled batches of their Moses Sleeper, Constant Bliss, Clothbound Cheddar (done in conjunction with Cabot Creamery) and their Bayley Hazen Blue have been particularly delicious.

My first taste of this years Winnimere was a pleasant surprise. While it had the body of a near overly ripened cheese, it had a sweetness that was extremely reminiscent of a triple creme brie. The slight smokiness of a cured meat–something I absolutely love in this cheese–was more subtle than I remembered it, though the rind itself(washed with a lambic ale) was as yeasty as ever.

You can seek it out at Whole Foods, The Cheese Iron and K. Hortons(I think) for the next six months, as well as it’s appearances on many a cheese plate at local restaurants. Do yourself a favor and buy a small wedge of it. Let it come to room temperature, smear it on slices of your favorite crusty bread and share my obsession. I’ll need the shoulders of others to cry upon come July when she disappears once again.

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Cheese Stash Mac and Cheese

The other night, like most nights, the Missus and I were rummaging through the kitchen for something to snack on at a later hour. As I do nearly every night, I said out loud the items found in our kitchen to her, whether they were truly snack worthy or not:

Shumai, bacon, pasta, butter, eggs, brownies, cereal, frozen corn, pancake mix, cheese, risotto, breadcrumbs…

I was stuck on the breadcrumbs and in my giggly fog I made a note to make a breadcrumb topped macaroni and cheese on my next day off. It worked out nicely as it happened to fall during a snow storm in Portland(again). As already stated, I love my cheese. At any given time, there are at least four in the fridge–before this was made there were ten.

  1. 5 year Vintage Gouda
  2. Beryl Marton Trempherbe Garlic and Herb
  3. Provolone
  4. Sweet Grass Dairy “Green Hill”
  5. Pineland Farms Pepperjack
  6. Pineland Farms 2 year cheddar
  7. Parmigiano-Reggiano
  8. Cave Aged Gruyere
  9. Rolf Beeler Appenzeller
  10. Alp and Dell Cheddar

I went with #6, 8-10–a nice cheddar/alpine combination. I found it very surprising, as I was prepping the cheese, that the Alp and Dell–only aged 3m–was crumbliest of all the cheeses. I bought it purely for a mac and cheese because of it’s bright annatto colored flesh, but it was used sparingly more for it’s color than for either flavor or body. As it turned out, it barely even melted when added to the top before baking. The alpine cheeses listed are both in my top 10 of favorites for winter eating–sadly, I have a top 10 cheese list for just about everything.

The recipe I went with was Alton Brown’s Baked Mac and Cheese and it definitely was the best that I’ve made in a long time. Not only was the consistency wonderful, but the flavors of the cheese(salty, nutty and slightly sour), garlic, onion and mustard really complimented each other. It was served along side a nice bloody rare spoon roast. Perfect eating on a snow bound day.

Baked Macaroni and Cheese
Recipe courtesy Alton Brown

  • 1/2 pound elbow macaroni (I used penne)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon powdered mustard
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup yellow onion, finely diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika(I had none and added garlic instead for flavor)
  • 1 large egg
  • 12 ounces sharp cheddar (4oz 2yr; 3 oz Appenzeller; 3 oz Gruyere; 2 oz Alp and Dell)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Fresh black pepper

Topping:

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente.
While the pasta is cooking, in a separate pot, melt the butter.

Whisk in the flour and mustard and keep it moving for about five minutes. **I didn’t have mustard powder, but ground some seeds up along side some dried garlic flakes to make the powder.
Make sure it’s free of lumps.
Stir in the milk, onion, bay leaf, and paprika.
Simmer for ten minutes and remove the bay leaf.

Temper in the egg.

Stir in 3/4 of the cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Fold the macaroni into the mix and pour into a 2-quart casserole dish.

Top with remaining cheese.Melt the butter in a saute pan and toss the bread crumbs to coat.

Top the macaroni with the bread crumbs. Bake for 30 minutes.

Remove from oven and rest for five minutes before serving.


A side note to my love of cheese and of football:
I have a bet going with a friend from Wisconsin that my beloved Chicago Bears will defeat her Green Bay Packers this coming Sunday. I’m cautiously optimistic about the game, but I have already found the closest specialty shop near to her in case Cutler messes up(again).

The wager: I win, I get a pound (or half, we haven’t decided) of Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged. I lose, then she gets the deemed amount in the form of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar aged @ Jasper Hill Farms in VT.

Go Bears.

Macaroni and Cheese on Foodista

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