Community Rocks

Greetings and salutations this Monday morning from Saxelby Cheesemongers! Today’s email isn’t about the latest and greatest American farmstead cheeses, rather it aims to pay a bit of respect to the community of people who make this crazy cheesy world tick. From the farm to the table, there are a myriad of people at large in this community called cheese that make my life, and I’m sure many of yours too, very special. I’m going to aim to illustrate some of those concentric circles of community, in a much less elaborate (and hopefully more whimsical way) than Dante did.

The first and most important ring in that equation is you. Yes, you. Without cheese lovers out there willing to test their waistlines and brave the potential cholesterol-ic consequences of delicious dairy products (though I am not sure how heartily I believe any of those doctors claims… remember all those demonizing things they said about eggs back in the 90s?) my job would be pretty dang boring. The Essex Market is a testament to community that I live and breathe every day. And let me tell you, sometimes the trade winds are gentle and fresh smelling, and sometimes they are rife with pungent and unsavory storms. No matter what the weather, no matter what the mood, the market is a fantastic place to carry out our day-to-day cheesing. And you all make up the fabric of the shop, weaving together our collective dairy obsession. It’s a good club to be a part of. And much tastier than a knitting circle.

Another spherical line can be drawn around our restaurants and chefs. Without their reverent support of farmstead cheese, American cheesemakers wouldn’t be nearly as far along as they are today. Because chefs are willing to slice our native fromage up there with the best of the world, cheesemakers and their labors are given their just desserts. Where once it was rare to see an American cheese grace a cheese plate or roving cheese cart, it is now a common occurrence, and thankfully so. We should also thank them heartily for their non-cheese related work too… I for one, would live a much more ascetic life were it not for all the incredible edibles here in New York.

And now we come to the cheesemakers! Duh. The most obvious and crucial circle must be right on the farm. And I’m not talking crop circles. I’m talking groups of people like the Vermont Cheese Council and the New York State Artisan Cheese Guild, bodies that bring cheesemakers together to support one another, troubleshoot, and elevate their craft to new levels of gastronomic delight. Farms like Jasper Hill have taken their love of cheese to astounding heights, going so far as to build infrastructure (read: giant cheese caves) help develop and nurture the craft of cheesemaking through special on-farm workshops, enable young cheesemakers to get into the game, and to take care of the aging, packing and selling of some of Vermont’s finest farmstead cheeses. This week on ‘Cutting the Curd’, my show on the Heritage Radio Network, I interviewed Mateo Kehler, owner and cheesemaker at Jasper Hill Farm about the vision and mission of this burgeoning bovine (ok, ok, and ovine, and caprine) community in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.

Last but not least, there is the community of cheese sellers across the world. We were lucky enough to spend some time with many of them this past September at the Slow Food Cheese fest in Bra, Italy. Institutions like Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, Herve Mons’ caves in France, and the Cravero and Guffanti families in Italy are all working toward a common, singular goal: to keep good cheese coming to market, and to promote the agricultural patrimony behind that cheese. We may be the merchants, but I hope that we can also act as translators between the worlds and experiences between the pasture and the plate.

Till next week, love your community. It’s where you’re at!

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