American-NewEngland


Recently in the cheese world …

American Goat Cheese Awards: The American Dairy Goat Association (ADGA) annual cheese competition was held last month in New York. Congratulations to Bonnie Blue Farm (TN) for the Best in Show award for Tanasi Tomme, and to Split Creek Farm (SC) for Reserve Best in Show for Farm Feta in Olive Oil. Familiar names on the winners list include Maryland’s Firefly Farms (four awards) and Spriggs Delight Farm; Oregon’s Rivers Edge Chevre (1st in flavored hard cheeses for Astraea); California’s Redwood Hill Farm (cleaning up the yogurt & kefir categories) and Fat Toad Farm in Vermont for their goats milk caramel sauce. View the complete results here.

MSLivingNov09Craft Cheese in Mainstream Media: Martha Stewart Living’s November issue features Vermont’s artisan cheesemakers, and the cheese episode airs this Thursday, Nov. 5, featuring Liz Thorpe. Emeril Lagasse is also on the bandwagon, recently visiting Jasper Hill Farm and Bellwether Farms in California for the Emeril Green show. The Bellwether episode (“Pass the Cheese, Please”) first aired last night, Nov. 2, but check the listings for a re-run if you missed it.

Tillamook Mac ‘n Cheese Competition: Last month was the 5th annual Tillamook Macaroni and Cheese competition in Portland, OR. The winner? Ann Jones from Littleton, CO, with her “Rustic Fried Sage and Chicken Apple Sausage Mac ‘n Cheese with Autumn Chutney.” She took both grand prize and people’s choice (and, I presume, longest recipe name!). Congrats!

Free Cheese! Bellwether Farms is giving away a $100 gift certificate to one lucky winner. To enter, create an original recipe using Bellwether’s creme fraiche and submit the recipe and a photo by December 1st. View complete details here.

On the Cheese Blogs: Madame Fromage selected Meadow Creek‘s Grayson as her Halloween cheese (great pick!) … The Cheeselover Fiona Beckett is served a unique cheese course … View pictures from the 2009 PDX Wedge Festival … Check out this recipe for Savory Onion and Gouda Dutch Baby from Herbivoracious (perfect for any bits of L’Amuse or Roomano you may have around).

American Cheese on Twitter: Now that Twitter has launched their lists feature, we’ve set about to create the ultimate list of American cheesemakers/sellers/enthusiasts. If you’re interested in America’s craft cheese movement, these are our must-follows. And if you make, sell, or promote cheese in America and we somehow aren’t yet following you on Twitter, drop us a note in the comments or @100cheeses.

Cheese of the Month: The most viewed cheese review we posted for the month of October was… Coach Farm’s goat medallion (third from left, above).

Remember to check our DC and MN Cheese Event listings for classes, tastings and more … we’ll be updating as holiday events are announced. And if you have cheese events or news to share, drop us a note at dccheese@gmail.com or mncheese@gmail.com.



Before we get any further into fall (it’s October already?!) I need to fill you in on one last fresh goat cheese, the Coach Farm Medallion. I didn’t think this cheese would be hard to find when I first saw it on the list, as my local cheese shop carries several Coach products, but they never seemed to have the Medallion, a small 4-ounce knob of creamy chevre. Coach Farm‘s goat cheeses were one of the first artisanal cheeses I can recall tasting, years ago on my first pilgrimage to the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan. My travel companion and I were smitten and brought back a jar of marinated goat buttons which I ate as slowly as possible to stretch out the supply.

Coach Farm is located in New York’s Hudson Valley, about two hours north of the city. Their French Alpine dairy goats graze on fresh alfalfa hay grown on the farm, plus a daily supplement of soybeans, oats and corn. Coach uses vegetable rennet, making their cheeses vegetarian-friendly. The milking parlor connects directly to the creamery, where they ladle the curds by hand, turning out consistently rich, smooth cheeses. This particular medallion was crisp, creamy and fresh tasting, silky in texture and flavor. (Is silky a flavor? It is now.)

Yes, if you’re wondering, the Coach is that Coach, of handbag fame. The founders, Miles and Lillian Cahn, retired from the fashion business and moved upstate to enjoy a quiet country life with 1,000 goats. Their hobby quickly took off and their goat cheeses have been featured in some of New York’s top restaurants — including those of Mario Batali, who is married to the Cahn’s daughter. Today, you can also find Coach’s fresh and aged goats-milk cheeses, and their delicious drinkable “Yo-Goat,” at fine cheese shops across the country. I picked up the Medallion at Marlow & Daughters, an adorable little gourmet market in Brooklyn, on our last visit to New York. We enjoyed it with a few other regional cheeses and Brooklyn-made goodies from the Bedford Cheese Shop …. more on that soon!

(Can you guess the other two cheeses on the plate? Hint: they’re from states on the I-91 corridor.)

At the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival I set the cheese down just for a moment to test my new Flip recorder on a willing subject, Steve Getz of Dancing Cow Farmstead Cheese. He credited his wife Mary with the decision to make this particular award-winning batch of Menuet during a particularly lush few days on the couple’s farm, but she demurred to Steve to take the lead on camera.

As Steve explains, Menuet was Dancing Cow’s first cheese and has been somewhat overlooked in favor of their more well-known washed-rind Bourrée, which also ages at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. But here’s the story of Menuet, third-place finisher in the open category, cow’s milk, at the 2009 American Cheese Society awards:

Steve Getz chats about Dancing Cow Menuet from Colleen Levine on Vimeo.

Dancing Cow Farm is located in the Champlain Valley, and comprised of organically-maintained pasture on which their happy Jersey and Guernsey (and a few other breeds in the mix) dairy cows feed. Their newest cheese, Sarabande, is exquisite — a silky, pungent, washed-rind cheese made in a triangular Valencay mold (shh, don’t tell the French cheese enforcers!). In fact, the name comes from a forbidden Spanish dance. As with all Dancing Cow’s cheeses, it is made from fresh, uncooled raw milk of a single milking. You can taste the care and love in each of their cheeses, and I encourage you to seek them out at your local cheese shop.

P.S. I noticed Cheesetique has Bourée in stock right now, for all you DC/VA cheese fans.

The reason for our Vermont Cheese Tour, an afternoon spent at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, organized by the Vermont Cheese Council and Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. and hosted at Shelburne Farms. Read on for my most notable picks.

the barn at Shelburne

the barn at Shelburne (photo (c) Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival)

The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, as mentioned previously, took place on the stunningly beautiful lakefront estate of Shelburne Farms. The event organizers sold out all 1,000 available tickets several days before the event, and from reports of those who arrived earlier than I, nearly all 1,000 hungry cheese hounds tried to pack themselves into the barn during the opening hour. By the time we arrived in mid-afternoon (road-tripping with a toddler, I’ve discovered, involves exponentially more time than you would otherwise presume), the crowds had thinned somewhat and while the cheesemakers and vendors seemed exhausted, there were plenty of samples remaining. Some people reported sampling other types of food, but with limited time remaining before closing, I had to focus on the matter at hand: tasting every last morsel of cheese. It was a treat to meet some of the cheesemakers whose handiwork I have recently become acquainted with, like Crawford Family Farms (Vermont Ayr) and Thistle Farm (Tarantaise).  I even coaxed Steve Getz of Dancing Cow into being the first victim participant in our newest occasional feature here at Cheese + Champagne, “Cheesemaker Chats.” (Stay tuned.)

With the exception of those cheeses I’ve already noted, the cheeses that were most memorable (I could hardly name a favorite) were those on the two ends of the spectrum, beefy washed rinds or creamy, fresh cheeses. If I hadn’t already believed that terroir plays a key role in the flavor development of farmstead cheese, I would be even more convinced now after tasting cheeses that were redolent with complex, grassy, sweet and sometimes floral flavors that reflected the mountain meadows we drove through on our way to Shelburne.

Dorset by Consider Bardwell

Dorset by Consider Bardwell

Washed rinds I loved included Dorset by Consider Bardwell, Willoughby by Ploughgate Creamery (washed in local mead), the alluring Sarabande by Dancing Cow, and of course, Oma from  von Trapp Farmstead/Cellars at Jasper Hill. Oh Oma, that lusty, barnyardy, silky smooth wonder.

coastal ricotta from Rhode Island

And on the fresh side, Vermont Shepherd ricotta lama, creamy chevre from Fat Toad Farm, and the incredible Narragansett Creamery ricotta (despite being an interloper from Rhode Island) are also worth seeking out. A Murray’s staff member and I chatted over the ricotta, where he wondered aloud whether the ricotta stood out on its own merits alone or because it was such a palate refresher after tasting more than a hundred rich cheeses. Either way, it was divine. The boy enjoyed the berry-topped samples and we savored it again back in New York, drizzled with honey. Delish.

One non-cheese item I did take time to taste was the summer sausage from VT Smoke and Cure — my beagle later enjoyed it too, sniffing it out in my cooler bag when we arrived back home and devouring the entire stick. (So much for my husband’s souvenir.)

There were seminars and book signings, as well as food vendors outside the barn. I missed my cheddar and beer pairing seminar, but Boston foodie Kelly of The Pink Apron gives a review of the cheese pairing seminar by Murray’s VP Liz Thorpe. I did sample North Branch Vineyards wines, on the advice of Steve from Dancing Cow. The boy enjoyed the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream truck, naturally, and my final sampling was of a delightful horchata from one of the food vendors.

Vermont is studded with small family dairy farms, and the festival felt like a big, happy family reunion. I hope to continue visiting for years to come and watching the state’s farmstead cheese revolution continue to grow.

P.S. See the Whrrl slideshow for a few more pictures, though unfortunately due to an improperly charged camera battery (doh!) I was left relying on my iphone for pics.

The Cheese + Champagne Vermont Cheese Week Tour continues with another Vermont cheddar on the Wine Spectator list.

The third of the Wine Spectator 100 cheeses* I was able to sample in Vermont was Grafton Village’s clothbound cheddar. I’ve sampled their younger cheddars previously, but had been unable to find their clothbound version locally. (In fact, when I called one cheese shop to inquire they thought I must be referring to the Cabot/Jasper Hill clothbound and encouraged me to try that instead.)

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival 

photo courtesty of Allison Wolf/Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Clothbound cheddars are common in the U.K., but a fairly new phenomenon here in the States. We’ve written before about the Cabot/Jasper Hill joint venture, and the Grafton Village clothbound is a team project as well. As we learned at the June Fancy Food Show, Grafton is now sending their wheels of clothbound cheddar to be aged in the sandstone caves of Faribault Dairy in Minnesota.

Grafton clothbound begins with hormone-free raw milk from their Jersey cows, produced by their co-op of Vermont dairy farmers, and is aged up to 10 months to develop a smooth, creamy yet earthy flavor and the familiar crumbly texture of good cheddar.

My taste buds were too taxed to try a Grafton/Cabot head-to-head taste off after making my rounds at the festival, but if you have the opportunity to try both at the same time I encourage you to do so and report back. And if you can’t find it at your local cheese shop, Grafton offers it for sale online.

* editor’s note/musings: At the time of the Wine Spectator selection, Grafton’s clothbound was also aged at Jasper Hill. Since we were unable to taste it until now, we have no idea how the taste might have changed with the move to a new aging facility. But wouldn’t that be a fun tasting experiment to taste identical cheeses aged in caves more than 1,000 miles apart?

 

Vermont Cheese Week resumes here on Cheese + Champagne, now that yours truly has reluctantly returned back south. Stay tuned for more virtual postcards from Vermont and a taste of Brooklyn’s cheese world as well.

The vast estate of Shelburne Farms served as host of the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and perhaps my biggest regret of the weekend was not spending more time touring the 1,400-acre non-profit farm. The farm is located just a few miles south of Burlington, and after driving up from Albany, NY, through the Champlain Valley we turned onto the dirt road into the farm expecting to see your usual grassy fields and dairy cows milling about. Sure enough, we were greeted by some meandering Brown Swiss cows, but we were surprised by the lush, FSC-certified forest, gorgeous 19th-century architecture, and most of all, to come around a bend and see this view of the lake.

Stunning, even on the dreary grey afternoon.

The festival was hosted in one of the barns, and the Shelburne Farms table was one of the first we visited. I was eager to try the 2-year-aged cheddar, another Vermont cheese on our Wine Spectator list; my sister-in-law and son were smitten with the smoked cheddar. (They’re not alone; Shelburne’s smoked cheddar won best of its kind at the American Cheese Society awards, one of the farm’s four blue ribbons this year.)

The farm was created as a model agricultural estate by William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb (yes, those Vanderbilts) in 1886, and became a non-profit in 1972. The cheese is just one part of the farm’s environmentally and economically sustainable programs; the green-certified timber is sold to local furniture-makers, and they lease land that houses the vineyards and winery for Shelburne Vineyards, organically cultivating climate-appropriate grapes to make high quality Vermont wines.  The herd of 200 purebred Brown Swiss dairy cows are grazed rotationally, meadows maintained without the use of chemical inputs and minimizing run-off; the cheese is even Humane Certified, making them just the third cheesemaker in the US to obtain the designation.

Okay, that’s all wonderful you say, but how does it taste? The cheddars are creamy, sharp and flavorful. The smoked cheddar had just enough smoke to lend flavor without overwhelming the sweet creamy cheddar base. The 2-year-cheddar was sharper, but again not overwhelmingly so; just enough bite to balance the creamy, nutty flavors. The cheeses are clearly a favorite of the locals, we spotted this display (above center) at Burlington’s Cheese Traders shop. It was a little early for apple season that far north — the u-pick blueberry patches were still open on our drive up — but if you have a chance to pick up Shelburne’s cheddar, I feel comfortable guaranteeing you’ll enjoy it on a grilled-cheese-and-apple sandwich this fall. It certainly went well with the Harpoon hard cider we sampled at the festival.

As you might expect, it’s Vermont Cheese Week here on Cheese + Champagne, and the first virtual postcard from Vermont comes from Blue Ledge Farm in Salisbury, in the southern end of the Champlain Valley. We drove through the valley en route to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and it was breathtakingly beautiful even with the on-and-off rain showers.

This was one of the last cheeses I sampled at the festival, and I was delighted to find Hannah Sessions of Blue Ledge Farm tucked into the back corner as their Lake’s Edge is on our Wine Spectator list and had proven hard to find further south. This cheese is similar to Humboldt Fog, in that it is an aged goats-milk cheese with an ash layer and bloomy rind, but its taste is markedly distinct. It is fresher, with that sweet, clean taste of fresh chevre; the jet-black line of ash adds an earthy tang that awakens the palate. The pure milk taste distinguishes Lake’s Edge from more sour goats-milk cheeses, making this cheese approachable without compromising on flavor.

Blue Ledge Farm has a mixed herd of Alpine, Nubian and Lamancha goats, milked in season (February through November) and rotationally grazed on organically-maintained farmland. In keeping with the cheese’s name, we ate this cheese for lunch on the shores of Lake Champlain — by hand, improvising with dried banana chips as knives. My sister-in-law and I literally had to fight my 3-year-old for the last bites.

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