Bred for Deliciousness! Sample Five Cheeses From Five Different Dairy Cow Breeds!

CowBreedsWhen we picture a dairy farm, most of us (Americans anyways) picture the iconic red barn-silo duo and black and white spotted cows happily chewing their cud in the midst of bucolic pastures. What most of us don’t realize is that there are hundreds of breeds of dairy cows in the world, all hailing from different places, and bred for specific purposes. And does the breed of the cow influence the flavor of the cheese, you ask? Heck yes!! The breed of cow (in concert with how they are raised and what they are fed) has an indelible impression on the finished cheese – from flavor to texture, and even (yes) the color!

Read on to learn more about the rare and diverse breeds of cows favored by our farmers, and treat yourself to a taste of cheese from five different breeds with our ‘Cow Breed Quintet’

mollycaitJERSEY
Spring Brook Tarentaise

Jersey cows, long prized for their capacity to produce milk chock full of butterfat, originally hail from the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel just off the coast of France. Characterized by their caramel color, sweet dispositions, and toupee-like hairdos, these cows produce more milk per pound of their own body weight than any other! They are also terrific grazers, thriving in the intensive grazing programs that many of our cheesemakers employ. The color of their milk is astonishingly yellow – this color comes from the carotenes in the grass they eat, making the old adage ‘you are what you eat’ totally apparent – and true! Spring Brook Farm has one of the country’s top herds of registered Jersey cows, and their Tarentaise shows off just how special the milk is.

unnamedDUTCH BELTED
Weybridge

Dutch Belted cows are like the Oreo cookies of the cow world – their glistening black coats boast a broad white stripe encircling their ample bellies – in fact, they might be more aptly called Dutch Cumberbunded. The first Dutch Belted cows were brought to the United States in 1838, and were quickly adopted by circus magnate PT Barnum who featured these rare and beautiful cows in his traveling shows. The Dutch Belted cow nearly became extinct in the 1970’s, but thanks to a handful of stalwart farmers and breeders, the breed is back in business! Patty and Roger Scholten of Scholten Farm in Vermont chose the Dutch Belted breed because ‘they look great’ (Patty’s quote – our cheesemakers are aesthetically-minded too!), produce milk with good butterfat, and their legs and hooves are well suited to being out on pasture. Weybridge, the diminutive disc of soft cheese made from their milk actually tastes a bit like a cow pie! (And we mean that in the most complimentary way!)

Marieke Gouda Cows EatingBROWN SWISS
Shelburne Cheddar

The Brown Swiss cow is one of the oldest dairying breeds in the world (some historians claim they date back to 4,000 BC!) and originally hail from the mountains and valleys of Switzerland. Brown Swiss cows are large in stature but sweet in temperament, making them ideal cows for milking. In fact, the folks at Shelburne Farms say that they can shave about a quarter of the time it would normally take to milk a herd of their size off just due to the fact that the cows are so darn cooperative. The Brown Swiss breed is known for being hardy, able to produce great quality milk from a diverse source of forage (the pastures of the Champlain Valley are a piece of cake to graze compared to the Swiss Alps!), as well as for their longevity. The registered herd at Shelburne Farms now numbers 120, and was started by Derick Webb in the 1950’s.

jasper hill Cows1_DennisCurranSMAYRSHIRE
Bayley Hazen Blue

The Ayrshire cow is a Scottish breed known for its red and white spotted coat and also for the unique fat composition of its milk. While most dairy cows produce milk with large globules of fat (making it easy to skim off cream and make butter) the Ayrshire cow’s milk is almost naturally homogenized, meaning that the fat globules are smaller and the milk does not separate quite so easily into cream and skim. To call the Ayrshire tough and sturdy would be an understatement. In 1929 two Ayrshire cows were walked from the Breed headquarters in Brandon, Vermont to St Louis Missouri for an agricultural show. Not only did both cows survive the trip, they went on to have healthy calves and reach record milk production! Mateo and Andy Kehler of Jasper Hill Farm were drawn to the Ayrshire cow because of the smaller fat globules in their milk and their ability to hang even through the harshest of Vermont winters!

Rolf and Marieke with calfHOLSTIEN
Marieke Truffle Gouda

The Holstein cow is the quintessential black and white spotted dairy cow, but it wasn’t always so! The Holstein (or Holstein-Friesian if you want to be super nerdy about it) rose to prominence in America in the 20th century due to its ability (through lots of selective breeding) to produce literally TONS of milk. Holsteins are the preferred breed of cow for farmers producing fluid milk because they are paid by the pound. A Holstein cow can make upwards of 70 pounds of milk per day – That’s a whopping 8.5 gallons per cow!! The breed was originally developed in Holland, and as Rolf and Marieke Penterman are of Dutch descent (and now natives of Wisconsin – a land well known for its black and white cows) it only seemed right to have Holsteins on the farm!

Bone Char Pearl – Exclusive Limited Edition Cheese Release!

170527_BoneCharPearlSaxelby Cheesemongers is thrilled to announce the arrival of Bone Char Pearl – a brand new cheese that is the fruit of a collaboration between our friends at Blue Hill Stone Barns, Seal Cove Farm, and Crown Finish Caves! Bone Char Pearl is a mixed milk cheese (fifty percent cow and fifty percent goat) from Seal Cove Farm in Maine. The young cheeses are dusted with a fine coating of bone ash produced by Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and aged by the expert affineurs at Crown Finish Caves until they reach three weeks of age and are ripe and ready to eat! Bone Char Pearl is tangy, fudgy and distinctly earthy with a tannic and mineral finish imparted by the bone ash.

Bone Char Pearl will be released in limited edition micro-batches – Be sure to get yours today!

Saxelby Cheesemongers is thrilled to announce the arrival of Bone Char Pearl – a brand new cheese that is the fruit of a collaboration between our friends at Blue Hill Stone Barns, Seal Cove Farm, and Crown Finish Caves! Prior to this launch, the only way to savor this cheese was to dine at Stone Barns and hope that it made its way into your tasting menu rotation of farm-fresh delights. Now for the first time ever, you can purchase this cheese directly from Saxelby Cheesemongers and enjoy it in your own home!

Bone Char Pearl is a mixed milk cheese (fifty percent cow and fifty percent goat) that is made at by Barbara Brooks at Seal Cove Farm in Maine. The young buttons of cheese are dusted with a fine coating of bone ash produced by Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and aged by the expert affineurs at Crown Finish Caves until they reach three weeks of age and are ripe and ready to eat! Bone Char Pearl is tangy, fudgy and distinctly earthy with a tannic and mineral finish imparted by the bone ash.

Bone Char Pearl is a cheese conceived by chef Dan Barber and his team up at Blue Hill Stone Barns as a part of their crusade to cook the most delicious food imaginable using the most sustainable means of farming, production, and harvest possible. One of their imperatives is to not waste anything that comes out of their kitchen – vegetable scraps are thrown into a compost pile that in turn sous-vide cooks signature dishes, bones left over from stock-making are carbonized in a special high-heat, low-oxygen environment and then used as charcoal that imparts a smokier, fattier, gamier flavor to anything cooked on the grill.

Chef Barber wanted to see if the ash from the ground up bone charcoal could be applied to the surface of the cheese, like the famed ashed goat cheeses of the Loire Valley, and if so, what flavors would it impart? Enter Saxelby Cheesemongers, Seal Cove, and Crown Finish Caves. Saxelby Cheesemongers is Blue Hill’s trusted partner in crime when it comes to their cheese selection. We tested out a few different cheeses for this project, and landed on the Pearl because of it’s crisp, tart-yet-buttery, and slightly yeasty flavor profile.

Crown Finish Caves completes the final, and most crucial part of the puzzle for this fabulously unique cheese. Their temperature and humidity controlled caves – old lagering tunnels located deep beneath the streets of Brooklyn – provide the ideal environment for these little cheeses to mature and develop flavor. The Pearls arrive at Crown Finish Caves when they are one week old – fresh, young, and rindless. The cheeses are then dried in a special ‘sechoir’ or drying fridge, to prime the surface of the cheese to grow the right kind of rind. The cheeses are then dusted with the bone ash and moved into the caves to grow their supple bloomy rinds.

The finished product is a thing of beauty – both in looks and flavor! Bone Char Pearl is one of the tastiest morsels of culinary innovation we’ve ever laid our hands on, and we can’t wait for you to try one for yourself!

Shop Bone Char Pearl Now!

Flavor and Species: Delving into Milk Chemistry!!

On the surface, there are few things more boring than a plain old glass of milk. But of course, being cheese people, we see nothing but a world of potential there. While what milk eventually becomes is the object of our affection, milk in its liquid state tells a story all its own and reveals how our favorite cheeses get to be themselves and develop their own unique character.

In order to understand how differences in milk equate to differences in cheeses, outlining how the milks of different species are unique from one another provides a great  jumping off point.

Milk is, essentially, a whole bunch of solid nutrients packaged into a convenient delivery system: water. Liquid milk is about 90% water by weight, which enables it to be ingested easily by a newborn animal and also provides them with the hydration that they need. The other 10% is where the nutrition lives, and as cheese folks this is the part that we’re most concerned with. That 10% consists of proteins, fats, minerals and sugars, all of which have their own unique role to play when milk gets turned into cheese.

Arguably the most important component at play here is the protein. Protein is what makes up the physical structure of the cheese and, when it is broken down by enzymes during aging, contributes the most distinctive flavors to the cheese. The main protein in milk, known as casein, exists as tight bundles of smaller protein particles (called micelles) held together with calcium. These micelles can be pictured as a sort of koosh-ball shape: a single particle surrounded by tons of tiny filaments. All of these projections on the outside are known as kappa caseins, and carry a negative charge, which causes them to repel one another when they collide. This is what enables the solids in milk to be suspended evenly throughout the liquid component, giving milk its opaque appearance. When a cheesemaker makes cheese, they are essentially working to undo this negative charge on the micelles in order to cause the proteins to stick together, forming a curd and pushing out water (aka whey) in the process.

In addition to the proteins, milk contains an abundance of fat, which is of the utmost importance to the cheesemaking process. The fats in milk are referred to as butterfats, which consist of a specific type of fat called triglycerides. These molecules, called globules, are made up of several smaller fatty acids (basically just chains of carbon atoms) stuck together and (continuing with the toy comparisons) are shaped like tiny beach balls, with a thin negatively charged membrane surrounding the outside. When curd is formed, the globules are swept up into the coagulating proteins and trapped within the curd structure, trapped in a sort of protein net.

The rest of the solids in milk consist of minerals (most of which is the calcium holding those protein micelles together) and lactose, the sugar component of the milk. Lactose provides much needed energy that the newborn animal will use to grow rapidly, but in the cheesemaking process lactose is important mostly in that it is turned into lactic acid by starter culture bacteria, which prepares the milk to be curdled.

So, with the basics in mind, how does cow’s milk differ from goat’s milk, and how do these differ from sheep’s milk?

Since humans settled down and started farming, cows have been selectively bred to be the most efficient and productive milk machines that they can be. Cows are able to produce up to 5 gallons of milk per day, and are able to be milked about 300 days out of the year.

The milk that they produce is very balanced, with solids making up about 12.7% of the overall volume of their milk, and with fat and protein taking up 3.7% and 3.4%, respectively. The consistency of their milk, combined with the sheer volume that they can produce throughout the year, makes cows the animal of choice for most cheesemakers looking to produce cheese on a larger scale year-round.

Sheep, on the other hand, represent the opposite extreme. Their milk is far and away the the richest in solids, with proteins, fats and other solids making up 19.3% of the overall volume of the milk (with a whopping 7.4% being pure fat). This translates to a much higher cheese yield from the milk, meaning that, say, 10 gallons of sheep’s milk will make more cheese than 10 gallons of cow’s milk.

While this might make the humble sheep sound like quite the efficient cheese machine, a ewe will produce far less milk per milking that a cow or a goat. In fact, over their entire lactation cycle (meaning the amount of days per year that the animal is producing milk), a sheep will only give about 12% of the milk that a cow would over the same amount of time. This, combined with the fact that, like goats, sheep are seasonal breeders and can only be milked for about 180 days per year, means that a sheep produces a comparatively tiny amount of milk. And while the milk that they do produce makes quite a bit of cheese, a farmer raising sheep will still end up with only a fraction of the cheese yield at the end of the day than they would if they were milking cows.

Right in the middle of the road we find our friends the goats. Goats’ milk is very similar in composition to cow’s milk, with 12.4% overall solids and comparable amounts of fats and proteins. However, like sheep, goats are also finicky seasonal breeders and only produce milk for about 8 months out of the year. During those 8 months, goats produce quite a bit more milk than sheep do per milking, meaning the overall volume of milk produced during their lactation cycle will be more than a sheep but less than a cow.

With all of these differences in mind, there is of course the questions of just why cheese made from each species milk taste different from one another. While the base ingredients are all the same (protein, fat, minerals), the makeup of each of these components varies greatly between types of animals. For instance, sheep’s milk contains fat globules that are massive compared to the size of the fats in goats milk. When cheese is made from sheep’s milk, this will lead to the fats dominating the flavor more, giving a stronger herbal, earthy and peppery flavor once these break down during aging.

Similarly, the chemical makeup of these elements (not just the size) can determine differences in flavor as well. Goat’s milk, for example, contains a higher proportion of a particular type of fatty acid in its fat globules that is quite volatile and breaks down very quickly and easily during aging. This leads to the distinctively “goaty” aroma that is so familiar in an aged goat cheese, and explains why that particular flavor can’t be found elsewhere.
Finally, even within species, the milk composition (and therefore the flavor of the cheese) can differ greatly between breeds. Holstein cows (the ubiquitous black and white cows that dot the highways of the USA) produce a relatively mild milk due to the balanced nature of the nutrients, while Jersey cows (a breed developed in the British Isles for buttermaking) produce a milk much higher in butterfat, making for a more aggressively and distinctively flavored cheese.

The Silver Fox Extra Fancy Baller Toasted Specatacu-Cheese-O-Rama!

8BA83BFC-7CC2-43EE-A498-A303FEA3FF25In honor of Grilled Cheese Month, we’re celebrating all things melty by teaming up with our favorite NYC restaurants to get their take on the best way to enjoy the ultimate comfort food!

This week, cheese lover John Winterman of Michelin-Starred restaurant Batard puts Cabot Clothbound Cheddar at center stage for a luscious sandwich that is equal parts grilled cheese and Welsh rarebit. Cabot’s brothy and savory character is highlighted by cooked leeks, while the subtle fruit flavors are accented with a touch of nutmeg.

John Winterman’s Grilled Cheese

– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1/4 cup flour
– 2 cups milk
– 1/2 pound Cabot Cheddar (cubed)
– black pepper to taste
– pinch fresh grated nutmeg
– 1/4 cup melted leeks
– pickled red onion

Melt butter in pan, add flour and whisk to combine. When blended add milk, slowly, but whisk rapidly as milk is combined and thickened. Add cheese slowly, over low heat, until melted – do NOT cook further.

Fold in black pepper and nutmeg. Fold in melted leeks.

Ooze mixture onto two slices of toasted bread and place in oven which you cranked to 400 degrees F. When bubbling, remove from oven, top with pickled red onion, and close the sandwich

Baller move: mix in a little Newcastle Brown Ale into the sauce.

 

Crafting the Perfect Grilled Cheese… With Science!!

Right on the cusp of spring but still chilly, gray and rainy, it’s no wonder that April has the unique honor of being designated National Grilled Cheese Month!

While we of course celebrate year round, we thought that the occasion presented a perfect excuse to address one of the most common questions a cheesemonger gets: what’s the best cheese for a grilled cheese sandwich?

As with anything else, asking someone obsessed with something a question about that very thing will provoke a response way, way longer and more involved than the asker bargained for (or even wanted). Never ones to disappoint, we’ve decided to take a deep dive into what exactly it is that makes a cheese worthy of being melted between bread!!

What it all comes down to in the end is the chemical makeup of the cheese and how different cheesemaking techniques result in very different behavior in the final product. We thought the most useful way to go about explaining this would be to point out the differences between how a few common melting cheeses (cheddar, Swiss-style and mozzarella) are made and how their production process affects how they melt. Get ready for some serious curd-nerding!!

While cheddar is often thought of as the go-to cheese for most melting applications, its reputation is, in truth, somewhat unearned. Since the term “cheddar” is not in any way protected in the USA, just about any product that vaguely conforms to customer’s expectations of a typical “cheddar” flavor, texture and appearance can label itself as cheddar cheese. In absence of any regulation, a typical supermarket will stock a dizzying array of products all sporting the name “cheddar”, even though sometimes not a even single one of them is made according to the traditional process.

Having been produced differently, these cheeses are chemically different and, as a result, will behave differently in the presence of heat.

One of the things that separates a true cheddar from the herd is, apart from its make process, the pH levels at various stages in its life cycle and the effect this has on the cheese’s physical makeup. Cheese is made up of milk protein, aka casein, molecules that have stuck themselves together (forming curds) and pushed out moisture (whey), trapping fat and minerals in the process. These casein molecules are made up of small protein particles held together by calcium phosphate, which acts as a sort of glue. This “glue” dissolves in the presence of acid, weakening the structure of the casein and, as a result, the structure of the cheese overall.

When traditional cheddar cheese is made, the milk is left to a reach a medium-low pH before the curds are formed, creating a higher-acid environment that eats away at the calcium glue holding the protein structures together. Additional acid is produced in the cheese during aging and storage, and by the time it’s ready to eat a well-aged cheddar will have lost much of its resilience. Since the structure of the cheese has been weakened, it will tend to collapse when heat is applied, separating from the fats and resulting in a gritty, oily texture. (Side note: this is true when talking about traditional, English-style aged cheddars. If you’re looking for melty cheddar goodness, a younger, higher-moisture cheddar will serve your needs perfectly!!)

By contrast, alpine-style cheeses such as Emmental or Gruyere (or domestic favorites like Alpha Tolman and Reading Raclette), which have a lower-acid environment during their make process, will melt more smoothly and evenly. The higher pH ensures that less calcium is dissolved, making for stronger protein bonds, which in turn protects the structure of the cheese and keep other solids like fats and minerals trapped snugly within the curds even when heat is applied. This leads to the coveted silky, ropey texture we’ve come to look for in dishes like raclette and fondue.  

Apart from the chemical processes at play, the physical handling of curds in alpine cheeses also contribute to their superior meltability. Whereas in cheddar making the curds are separated from their whey, pressed into blocks which are then stacked onto each other, then run through a mill to break them up, curds destined to become Comte or Appenzeller receive a more delicate treatment. The curds are left in the vat with their whey, where they are gently cooked and cut down into pieces no bigger than a grain of rice. Then, either by hand in the vat or via mechanical pump, the curds are pressed together and formed without ever having the whey drained off in a process referred to as “pressing under the whey”. This enables the curds to knit together without ever being exposed to air, eliminating cracks, fissures and pockets in the cheese. The result is an extremely smooth, “closed” texture and a low “friability” (aka ability to be crumbled) factor in the final cheese, which helps it hold together tightly during melting.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is of course what may very well be the world’s most famous melter: mozzarella. And though it’s notoriety comes most often from its role atop pizzas, to dismiss it as a grilled cheese ingredient would be a big mistake.

Mozzarella is part of a family of cheeses known as “stretched curd” or pasta filata. This style of cheese is named for the fact that the curd, immediately after forming, is cut and then kneaded by hand like dough. The cheesemaker repeatedly stretches the freshly formed cheese, folding it over onto itself before each pull. Much like layers in croissant dough or puff pastry, this process creates thin layers of protein, which are stacked on one another over and over again throughout the kneading, reinforcing one another. The result is the familiar bouncy, stretchy and snappy texture that makes melted mozzarella so universally beloved.

So, with all this in mind, our original question still stands: what type of cheese makes for the best grilled cheese?!

Given that each type brings something different to the table, our professional opinion as cheesemongers and disciples of hot cheese is that the best route to go is a blend. We recommend playing with proportions to meet your individual tastes and needs, but a typical winning combination should go something like this: a good cheddar for acidity and salt, an alpine style for sweetness and body, and a fresh or pasta filata cheese as a binding agent.

As always, the preference of the person doing the grilling is the most important factor in crafting the perfect grilled cheese. But, armed with a little science, we hope you’ll experiment often and freely!

Women in Cheese – A 5 Minute History

The Future (and Past!) of Cheese is Female

Throughout history, women have played a crucial role in cheesemaking. From European cheesemaking traditions spanning many centuries to our nascent artisan cheese boom here in the United States, the role of women in cheese cannot (and will not) be understated! In honor of Women’s History Month, Saxelby Cheesemongers is celebrating women in cheese – past, present, and future!

In Europe, the making of many traditional cheeses was seen as women’s work. The division of labor on the farm was simple – men performed the ‘outside’ labor – caring for the animals, the land, and the farm’s facilities and equipment. Women did more of the ‘inside’ work – which consisted of homemaking, child rearing, and in the case of dairy farms, cheesemaking. Of course there were (and are) exceptions to that rule – shepherds high in the Pyrenees and Alps milked their animals in the field and made larger-format traditional cheeses like Pyrenees Brebis and Comte, but many of Europe’s most famed cheeses are the work of women’s hands.

In America, women were the force behind the artisan cheese movement, which began in the 1970’s as a drop in the proverbial pond. Over the past 40 years that drop has swelled to a tremendous wave of delicious cheese that can rival the best of the best from Europe or anywhere else. Those early American tastemakers have been affectionately dubbed ‘the goat ladies’ – and include icons like Laura Chenel and her famous chevre, Mary Keehn of Humboldt Fog fame, Judy Schad of Capriole Dairy, Alison Hooper of Vermont Creamery, Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm, Barbara Brooks of Seal Cove Farm, Jennifer Bice of Redwood Hill Farm, and Paula Lambert of the Mozzarella Company. Their reasons for making cheese ranged from wanting to provide their families with healthful and wholesome foods – an extension of the ‘Back to the Land’ movement, to a desire to replicate and further the reach of fabulous goat cheeses tasted while traveling, to a love of goats and goat breeding, or some happy combination of all three.

Starting with zero in terms of resources – they shared information, bootstrapped their young businesses, and conjured a goat cheese revolution out of thin air. Back in the seventies and eighties there were hardly any decent milking goats available, much less the milking equipment and cheesemaking supplies necessary to make goat cheese. All of the country’s top dairy minds had been focused for more than a century on a different dairy animal – the cow – and how to optimize breeding, milk production, and equipment. Through sheer willpower and and a LOT of elbow grease, these ‘goat ladies’ pioneered the craft of making great goat cheese here in the US, and inspired generations of cheesemakers to follow!

Chefs were the first to gravitate towards these fresh goat cheeses – Alice Waters and Thomas Keller were some of Laura Chenel’s first customers. Allison Hooper of Vermont Creamery made her first batches of chevre for chefs in Vermont and Boston who craved it but had no source for it. Chefs paved the way for the ‘civilians’, regular folks who might not have travelled abroad and tasted goat cheese before, but who trusted the chefs and restaurateurs who demystified this delicious cheese for the American palate.

Today, some of the finest minds (and hands) in the American artisan movement are female. Check out a few of our favorites below and read up on women making their mark in the American artisan cheese world!

Grayson – Helen and Kat Feete

Grayson is made by a dynamic mother-daughter team in Galax, Virginia. Helen was the first cheesemaker in the United States to make a supple, stinky, washed rind cheese, and was told by a few along the way that she couldn’t do it! After some tutelage from European cheesemakers, particularly Giana Ferguson of Gubbeen cheese in Ireland, Helen perfected her craft.

Ascutney Mountain – Jeannine Kilbride

Ascutney is made at Cobb Hill Farm, an intentional community conceived by Donnella Meadows, a thought-leader in the world of systems thinking and ecology. This community is dedicated to sustainability, and cheesemaking is one of their communal pursuits. Today Ascutney is made by Jeannine Kilbride, a talented cheesemaker in her own right!

Burrata / Mozzarella – Johann Englert

Maplebrook Farm was started by Johann Englert, a woman with good taste and a lot of gusto! After tasting some of Mike Scheps’ mozzarella in his Manchester, Vermont store, Johann decided to launch a business to distribute his cheese to shops in the Boston area in a newly purchased Chevy Tahoe. Johann and Mike joined forces and now produce award-winning mozzarella and burrata from the milk of Vermont family farms.

Kunik – Sheila Flanagan and Lorraine Lambiase

Sheila and Lorraine purchased Nettle Meadow Farm after deciding to ditch their ‘normal’ jobs in favor of farm life. Kunik, their signature cheese, is truly one-of-a-kind. It is a triple-creme blend of goat’s milk from their farm, and cow cream sourced by a neighboring farm. Nettle Meadow Farm is unique because in addition to being a working dairy farm, it is an animal sanctuary where Sheila and Lorraine can care for animals – both retired dairy goats of their own as well as other animals who need a good home.

Cremont / Bonne Bouche – Allison Hooper / Adeline Druart

Allison Hooper, co-owner of Vermont Creamery, spent time in France learning the rudiments of cheesemaking, and in 1984 launched her business with Bob Reese. For years Vermont Creamery stuck to making fresh cheeses, but when Adeline Druart, a young dairy science intern from France, joined the team, she decided she wanted to up the ante and produce mold-ripened goat’s milk cheeses in the French style. Adeline, Allison, and Bob’s passion has yielded a stellar lineup of soft goat and cow’s milk cheeses that rival anything from across the pond.

Noble Road / Elsa Mae – Emily Montgomery

Emily Montgomery got bit by the cheese bug after working as a dairy science consultant to some of America’s biggest dairy companies. Her family’s 6th generation dairy farm in Wayne County Pennsylvania was ailing, so she came up with a plan to add value to the farm’s top quality milk by turning it into cheese! Now Calkins Creamery is thriving and produces a lineup of award-winning cow’s milk cheeses that Saxelby is proud to serve.

Marieke Premium Gouda – Marieke Penterman

Marieke and Rolf Penterman emigrated to the United States to start a dairy farm in Wisconsin. The cost of land in their native Holland was just too high, and their love of dairy farming was so great that it lured them across the sea! Rolf quickly established a thriving dairy herd, but Marieke missed the cheese from back home. She began making Dutch-style raw milk gouda from the herd’s milk, and a new business was born!

Tres Bonne – Anne and Susan Gervais

Sisters Anne and Susan (maiden name Gervais) are two of fifteen children in the Gervais family. The family has farmed in the northwestern reaches of Vermont since the 1960’s, and in 2007 Anne and Susan launched Boston Post Dairy to convert the farm’s cow and goat milk into top quality cheese.

Pawlet – Angela Miller / Leslie Goff

Angela Miller, a successful literary agent, and her husband Russell Glover purchased Consider Bardwell Farm with the dream of restoring it to its cheesemaking glory. Consider Bardwell is the site of Vermont’s first cheesemaking cooperative, and carries on that tradition today, sustaining the farm’s herd of milking goats, plus cow’s milk from two neighboring farms in town. Cheesemaker Leslie Goff has been working at Consider Bardwell since she was 15 years old, and learned the craft of cheesemaking from Peter Dixon. Today she is the force behind the farm’s cheeses, and is in our humble opinion, a bit of a badass.

Weybridge – Patty Scholten

Patty Scholten (one half of the dynamic duo behind Scholten Farm – the other half is her husband Roger) came up with the idea of turning her farm’s superior quality milk into farmstead cheese. In 2007 they sold the herd of cows that had come with the farm and replaced them with a herd of organic Dutch Belted cows. This bright & cheesy idea lead to a partnership with Jasper Hill Farm, who now age their diminutive discs of Weybridge cheese to fudgy perfection.

Buying Time

20150814_cheese_details_ii_03_lg_600pxWhen most of us see a piece of moldy fruit on the countertop, or a piece of cheese gone to seed in the crisper, or glimpse a bit of half-blue bread in the breadbox, we’re instinctively annoyed, let down that our food has gotten away from us and started keeping company with wild, fuzzy, multihued molds. We live in a microbe-phobic world, with expiration dates and best by dates and sell by dates and use by dates slapped upon just about every edible product we come into contact with. The clock is ticking on every bit of food we buy – onwards towards a moldy fate! However, we cheese folk like to take a kindlier view towards the molds and yeasts and all the other little un-seeable forces that have the power to alter our food for the better (through fermentation) or for the worse (just plain old spoiled).

Wintertime is the doldrums for most food production (cheese included) in this part of the world, and it seems apropos to think about time, and its relationship to the food that we eat.  The days are short, the produce at the farmer’s markets is scarce, the air outside is cold. The shelves at the supermarket are full; however, that is a relatively recent convenience bestowed upon us by the many scientific and technological and political forces that make up our postmodern food-scape. These are the same forces that gave birth to the bevy of sell by dates, use by dates, and best by dates that now crowd themselves onto every package-able surface of every packaged food product.

The art of fermentation is certainly one of man’s greatest achievements – nutritional, gustatory, and otherwise. Fermentation allows humans to harness the passage of time and, with the help of friendly microbes, use it to their advantage rather than battling against it. Through fermentation the farmer (or chef or home cook) can transform fresh, highly perishable foodstuffs into delicious, living, stable products that can be eaten over the course of the year. It is the stockpiling of sunshine and all the nutrients that go along with it. Fermentation is at its base a manipulation of spoilage. It is intentional, controlled rot, and it has yielded some of the best and most interesting foods in the canon of gastronomy: cheese, pickles, bread, beer, and wine, to name a few.

photo-jan-07-2-04-28-pmBack in the day, winter meals were rife with preserved and fermented foods. Foods in jars and earthenware pots with the most basic of labels – perhaps what was inside and the day that it was made. People ate the preserved bounty of the summer months when there was little else to eat. They put in the time when the harvest was plentiful, and reaped the rewards come winter.

For our cheesy purposes, we’ll now turn our attention towards milk. Dealing with fresh, fluid milk is perhaps one of agriculture’s greatest battles against time. To begin, the frequency of the cows’ milking is a function of nature and time. Cows (or goats or sheep) on most dairy farms are milked twice daily – once in the early morning and again in the evening – the milking schedule is like bookends to each day. Were the farmers to wait any longer between milkings, the animals would become quite uncomfortable, and would also begin to produce less milk, as their bodies produce only as much as is required of them… i.e. taken out of them, be it by farmer or by calf.

As soon as the milk leaves the udder, the clock is ticking… There are natural microbial forces present within the milk itself and from the environment (the cows’ udders themselves, the air in the barn) working to gobble up the lactose, the sugars present in milk, and sour it. Nowadays with the aid of refrigerated bulk tanks to cool and store milk, farmers can afford to wait a day or two before transforming fresh milk into cheese. The colder temperatures considerably slow the growth of acid-producing bacteria, buying the cheesemaker a bit more time. But in the days before refrigeration, cheesemakers made cheese twice per day – once after the morning milking and again after the evening milking, to keep the pace with the bacteria in the milk.

Finally there is the cheese itself, and its very particular relationship to time. When cheese is being made, the cheesemakers don’t measure in minutes – they monitor and measure when certain changes take place within the milk and the curd. They measure the temperature and acidification of the milk to gauge how well their microbial friends are getting on in their conversion of lactose to lactic acid.

Flocculation is the measure of when the enzymes in rennet (one of the four main ingredients in cheese – milk, culture, rennet, and salt) have begun to rearrange the proteins in the milk to transform it from a liquid into a gel-like curd. The extremely scientific way to see if flocculation is taking place is not by stopwatch, and not even by the changing PH of the milk. The cheesemaker simply spins a flat-bottomed plastic cup on top of a vat of milk and see how long it takes for it to stop spinning. When it doesn’t spin very much at all, coagulation has begun. From that point, it’s a short time until the curd is cut and transformed into a wheel of cheese.

Throughout the making and maturation of cheese, countless thousands of microbes live and die, assisting in flavor development. They are all on their own timetable, dictated not by seconds or minutes, but by the changes taking place within the milk, within the paste of the cheese, and on the rind. When conditions are favorable for them to move in and do their work, they do it. When they have no more work to do, or when the environment of the cheese has changed and there are no more nutrients for them to consume, they die off and release flavor compounds that whether we like to think of it or not, influence the texture and taste of the cheeses we love so much.

As a young wheel of cheese matures, its readiness for eating is cannot be dictated by a predetermined number of days. The affineur (or cheese maturer) measures ripening, and readiness for eating, by touch, by smell, and by taste. The closest we get to a numeric formula for cheese aging is the 60-day aging rule we have here in the United States, an archaic and scientifically wrong measure of how long to age raw milk cheese in order to make it ‘safe’. Aging cheese is like tending a garden. Each variety of cheese has its own arc of maturation, and it is the affineur’s job to notice when the cheese’s needs are changing, care for them accordingly, and then release them for sale when the cheese is at its peak.

In the middle of winter, when the days are short, and in our digital world, when time is at such a premium, it is heartening to think of these things. Some things cannot be timed. You simply have to wait, watch, and taste for them to happen.

 

Of Hastening and Freshening and Rumen Ecology – Things Learned On Our Visit to Vermont’s Cheesemakers

The Saxelby Cheesemongers team just returned from a weekend in Vermont where we were lucky enough to visit six of our cheesemakers – Consider Bardwell Farm, Twig Farm, Shelburne Farms, Jasper Hill Farm, Grafton Village Cheese, and Vermont Shepherd. When we first opened the store in 2006, our mission was to be the bridge between the cheesemaker and the cheese lovers out there who come to us to taste America’s finest cheeses. Trips like us allow us to keep that connection alive – meeting with the cheesemakers, seeing their animals and cheese caves, talking about the weather, the season, small changes made in their cheesemaking process and how their cheeses are aging illuminates this world of curds and whey that we daily inhabit.

One of the most wonderful things about cheese is this – the more you think you know about it, the deeper you dive into learning about it, the more you are humbled by the vast and infinitely complex universe that cheese inhabits. The finished wheel of cheese is a bit like the sun – the brightest thing radiating in the center, tantalizing you with a complex and infinitely colorful palette of flavors. It’s only when you start to learn about the planets, stars, comets, satellites and other galaxies around, and how they all affect and influence one another, that you scratch your head and say well, I guess we’ll just have to take this one step at a time.

This cosmos of curds and whey begins with the animal making the milk – their diet, digestive processes, environment, comfort, and their overall health – all of which impact the most important raw ingredient in the cheesemaking process. Then there is the chemistry and science of the making cheese – controlling the beneficial bacteria that acidify milk and build flavor in the wheel of cheese throughout the course of its life. Finally there is the environment where the cheese is aged – where other microbes enter the picture and (with the help of humans acting as affineurs) add their signature to the finished wheels. All of these processes owe their successes (and occasional failures) to things we cannot even see – microbes. From the soils and the grasses grown there to a ruminant’s digestive tract to milk to the finished wheel of cheese, we have untold billions of friendly microbes helping the cheese along.

Here are a few cheesy vocab words that we picked up on our trip, and what they mean to the cheeses we eat:

Freshening – Now we’re not talking about gum, or deodorant, or some other barn cleaning device here. Freshening is farm-speak for when a cow, goat, or sheep gives birth. When she freshens, her milk production kicks into gear again so that she can feed her babies, and so the farmer can (after a week or two) begin to use her milk for making cheese. The first milk that comes from an animal after giving birth is called colostrum – it is rich, super fatty milk that is loaded with antibodies that act as the babies’ crucial first boost to their immune systems. After the colostrum has all been consumed, the milk returns to a more normal consistency and can be used for cheesemaking. Most calves, kids, or lambs are bottle fed with milk from the herd until they are ready to go out on pasture and begin eating grass.

Hastening – A very romantic sounding word (in our opinion) that refers to a newly made cheese forming its rind. Young or green cheeses are put into certain environments to hasten for a few days before being moved on to their final destinations in the aging cellar. Rind formation is crucial to the finished cheese – not only does it provide flavor, it also protects the exterior of the cheese during aging. In order for a cheese to hasten properly, the environment must be a bit warmer than a normal cheese aging cave (60-71 degrees) and have a high level of humidity. This environment allows yeasts to flourish on the acidic surface of the cheese, consuming lactic acid and paving the way for future bacterial growth that will become the cheese’s rind.

Rumen Ecology (a layman’s attempt to describe a cows’ digestive system) – If cheesemaking is its own universe, then a cows’ digestive tract is another unto itself. Unique among ruminant animals (those that eat grass) cows have four stomachs operating in concert to convert grass, fibrous plant material, into milk and energy to support their 1,000 pound plus bodies. The first chamber, the rumen, is where most of the magic happens.

The rumen is like a giant fermentation chamber – the cows eat grass almost without chewing, the grass passes to the rumen where billions (yes, billions) of microbes ferment it, producing components that the cows can use for energy. Within each millimeter of the rumen, there are between 10 to 50 billion bacteria, 1 million protozoa, and variable numbers of yeasts and fungi. Whoa. The most interesting thing that we learned on our trip was that grass is not actually the cows’ food… The microbes ferment the grass to produce energy and proteins the cows can metabolize and then die, so what the cows are actually digesting is the spent bacteria from their rumen!

Here at Saxelby Cheesemongers, we are so thankful to our cheesemakers for the work that they do, and thanks to the crash course in microbiology we received over the weekend, we’re even more thankful for all of our microbial friends too!