Lambing Day at Meadowood Farms

This weekend we headed up to Meadowood Farms for their annual Lambing Day celebration! Check out some gratuitously cute pictures of lambs and click here to read more about Meadowood Farms, sheep cheese, and Lambing Day.


Meadowood Farms is located in Cazenovia, New York, a historic upstate hamlet just outside of Syracuse. Established in 1911, it was said of the original farm owners, the Walter Chard family, that “They therefore chose a site in the midst of a fine country and commanding a superb view of the full length of Cazenovia lake, a site in the center of a farm which they hope in time to make a model of cultivation and thrift.” The original farm was home to a wide variety of agricultural enterprises including an apple orchard, a flock of 4,000 chickens, white Cheshire pigs, and a herd of 50 milking Holsteins. The farm was a thriving business up through the 1950’s, when burgeoning big ag industry and science began to erode the sustainability of small and mid-sized farms. Over the decades the farm atrophied, and by the 1980’s it was all but derelict – the town even considered tearing down the historic Chard mansion.

The current owners, Marc Schappell and Tom Anderson, stumbled across Meadowood Farms in 1995 while visiting Cazenovia for a wedding. They fell head over heels for the farm and have spent the last 20 years restoring the farm lands and farm buildings to their original glory. Meadowood Farms now encompasses over 200 acres and is home to a flock of pure bred East Fresian sheep used to make their award-winning lineup of cheese, and Belted Galloway cattle – used both for showing at agricultural fairs as well as for beef.

Every spring Meadowood Farms hosts a Lambing Day celebration – kicking off the spring and the start of the sheep cheese making season. Sheep are seasonal in their milk production – they give milk for a 5-6 month period after their lambs are born in the late winter/early spring. Veronica Pedraza, the head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms, has been making cheese for two weeks this season, and in another 2-3 weeks, we’ll have the distinct pleasure of bringing you those young, fresh sheeps’ milk cheeses! The first cheeses of the season are Strawbridge – a creamy bloomy rinded cheese that tastes of hazelnuts, cultured cream, and tangy yogurt, and Ledyard – a leaf-wrapped sheeps’ milk cheese that is yeasty, barnyardy, and honeyed in flavor. Look out for these two behind the counter at Saxelby Cheesemongers in the coming weeks – we can’t wait to dig in to them ourselves!

Veronica Pedraza, head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms, dreamed of making sheep cheese for years before finding the right farm for her. She honed her skills making cows’ milk cheese at Sweetgrass Dairy in Georgia and at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, two of the country’s top cheese producers. She has quickly created a lineup of delicious sheeps’ milk, mixed milk, and cows’ milk cheeses named after local people and places in Cazenovia. Driving around over the weekend we saw cheese names everywhere we looked – Rippleton Road, Ledyard Street, Lorenzo, Cazenovia’s historic mansion, and Juvindale Farm – the local dairy that Veronica buys her cows’ milk from. But sheeps’ milk cheese is her true passion – the milk is higher in fat than cow or goats’ milk, and has a unique, nutty, sweet and slightly wooly flavor that imparts wonderful flavor notes to the finished cheese.

 

Now back to the sheep – farmer and flock manager Bee Tolman is one of the pre-eminent experts on sheep and sheep dairying in the US. Unlike the cow dairying industry, in which Bee says there is ‘little to nothing new to discover’, the sheep dairying business is a veritable black hole of information in comparison. Sheep dairying is very common in Europe, but the secrets to success (including the genetics for the animals themselves) are locked in regions like the Pyrenees in France, the arid planes of Thanks to farmers like Bee, La Mancha in Spain, and in various regions of Italy. However, Bee has made it her life’s work to educate herself, chipping away at the secrets and paving her own way to a phenomenal operation at Meadowood Farms.

This year the farm is producing more milk than ever thanks to an innovative system of leaving the ewes and lambs together for 12 hours at a time and then separating them for 12 hours. This allows the lambs to be with their mothers and nurse, and also allows the ewes to produce the maximum amount of milk. Sheep reach their peak of milk production just 30 days after giving birth, so this period of early spring is crucial to the success of the cheese making side of the business. The spring milk is also the richest at this time of year, making for some super tasty cheese.

The sheep are grazed all summer long – another tremendous effort for Bee and her farm team. Talking about the farm, she said that milking sheep was already tough enough without adding the ‘dark art’ of rotational grazing. It’s basically a big grass gambling operation – Bee goes out and surveys the farm’s ample pasture and decides which patches she thinks will be ready to produce the best grass three weeks out. She then mows the fields and prays, crosses her fingers and toes, and invokes any other superstition available to her to ensure that there’s not a drought, not too much rain, and that in three weeks time the grass is young, tender, and appetizing for the sheep. Contrary to popular belief, sheep (and all other grazers) won’t eat just any grass, they like the softer, younger shoots. Once it grows above a certain height, it becomes too fibrous and woody, no longer appealing to them. Many of our dairy farmers half joke that they are actually grass farmers – which is not a stretch when you consider how important the animals’ diet is to the finished product!

So when the season’s first sheeps’ milk cheeses from Meadowood Farms arrive a few weeks from now – one bite will tell you all you need to know about the goodness of the farm. Till then, stay tuned and ready to savor!

Essex Market History in a Nutshell

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Essex Market 1818-2018

We’re about to celebrate Essex Market’s 76th birthday with a blowout block party bash (Save the date! May 21st is fast approaching!) but this week’s post is here to tell you that Essex Market has been a Lower East Side institution for far longer than its 76 years in its current home.

Records of Essex Market date back to 1818, when food shopping in NYC was quite a different scene. Groceries did exist – but they were all located uptown, not downtown where most of the population was quite poor. There were ‘grog shops’ on the Lower East Side, but they were places where working men would go for provisions and a hard drink, so as one could imagine, the emphasis was not really on the food.

The Essex Market’s first home was actually in the center of Grand Street between Essex and Ludlow. Though no photographs of the early incarnations of the market exist, we can surmise that like other markets in the city, it was likely an outdoor covered shed, meant to give just enough shelter for vendors to sell their wares. It eventually moved to a proper brick building that is now the site of Seward Park High School. It’s also notable to say that back in that day, the market being run by the ‘city’ meant the market was actually run by Tammany Hall, and consequently home to much corruption.

Most of the residents of the Lower East Side in those days were poor immigrants, either single men working to earn a living and start a family, or families struggling to get by. Either way, in that era, it was the men who were supposed to do the provisioning for the family – and a good thing too because as mentioned before, a Tammany market hall was probably no place for most women to hang out. Suffice it to say that the market in those days was mostly full of butcher stalls – the majority of these working men wanted a grilled piece of meat and a drink, and that was that.

As the ranks of the Lower East Side swelled with the huge waves of immigrants arriving in the late 1800’s and 1900’s, merchants took to the streets and sold their wares from thousands upon thousands of pushcarts. The pushcarts were basically the city’s form of welfare at that time – not technically legal, but selling cheap food for the poor, and so the city turned a blind eye and did not get in the way. And the pushcarts did not only sell food – pretty much any kind of goods you could imagine could be bought at a pushcart.

The pushcarts also allowed for something not typically done at other types of markets – haggling. Back in the day, when an extra penny meant being able to buy some other crucial item for the family (milk for the baby, medicine, etc) haggling ruled the day. In those days most of the shoppers were women, and they were expert hagglers. Adam Steinberg, chief educator at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, recalled the tale of an Italian-American woman living on Orchard Street who made it a point to be the first in line each morning at the pushcarts. Not only would she have the pick of the best merchandise, but the merchants – being superstitious – would do anything to get the first sale of the day, thereby affording her the best bargains.

As time went by, the pushcarts came to be seen as a blight on the city – a symbol of the squalor and poverty on the Lower East Side. They clogged the streets, were not properly regulated, and lacked basic sanitary measures to ensure the products that they sold were safe. The reformers, progressive people who wanted to assimilate the immigrants into American life and lift them out of poverty through government programs, settlement houses and the like, wanted the pushcarts abolished. By the 1920’s and 1930’s, the rise of the automobile gave the city one last bit of ammunition to get rid of them – the traffic in New York was abominable.

In 1939 Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia opened the Essex Market with what was called the shortest dedication ceremony of all time. Contrary to other public market dedications that were quite grand – the opening of the Fulton Fish Market was a stark contrast with banners and flags and speeches and public officials parading about – the market’s beginnings were humble. After all, it was the poor immigrants’ market, not a beacon of civic pride like the Fulton Fish Market.

Due to the building of the IRT line (now known as the F train) a number of buildings were demolished along Essex Street – leaving a long thin parcel of land on which to build Essex Market. The market was originally four buildings – One between Broome and Delancey – the future site of the Essex Market slated for completion in 2018, the current facility between Delancey and Rivington, as well as another two other buildings between Rivington and Stanton. The original market was home to 475 stalls selling everything from meat to fish to socks and undergarments.

Throughout the 1940’s the market prospered. There was even a weekly news show on NYC public radio hosted by Frances Foley Gannon and the NYC Department of Markets called ‘the market report’ to advise housewives on how to shop and cook thriftily in New York’s thriving public markets. There were kosher cooking classes and canning classes to encourage housewives to put up fresh fruits and vegetables during the second World War. But the rise of the supermarket combined with the economic woes of New York City in the 1960’s and 1970’s left the market in hard times.

Despite all the hardship, the market managed to weather the storm, always an anchor for Lower East Siders in search of affordable fresh food. In the 1990’s the market was taken over by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) who continues to manage it today. In addition to Essex Market, there are three other LaGuardia-era public markets that have survived through the decades – Moore Street in Brooklyn, Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, and La Marqueta in Harlem. These public markets are true gems that hearken back to a different time and place in New York City, when markets were representative of civic pride, and seen as a necessary public service. They are also TRUE markets. In New York City today, when a new food hall seems to be popping up around every corner, these markets are the genuine article – fresh food sold by mom and pop businesses.

Now to Essex Market’s future – which also is intricately woven in it’s history. In 1967 in the name of urban renewal, swaths of tenement buildings were razed on the Lower East Side to build newer, affordable housing for New Yorkers. The scale of the neighborhood was forever changed – you can see the towers of large, blocky housing that was built stretching along the East River all the way from the border of Chinatown up to Stuyvesant Town on 14th Street.

The vacant lots on the south side of Delancey Street stretching from Essex all the way to Clinton Streets – the Essex Market’s future home – have been vacant since 1967 – deadlocked in a neighborhood battle over what should be built there. The residents were promised affordable housing, but many development proposals that came and went over the years were anything but.

In 2008 Mayor Bloomberg, eager to see this unused land turned into something more useful for the neighborhood, worked with Community Board 3 to pass a set of guidelines as to what the neighborhood wanted in a new development. Luckily for Essex Market, the neighborhood rallied behind it and demanded that a new home for the market be included in the new development. In 2012 an RFP was issued (city speak for requests for developers to submit proposals) and in 2013 Delancey Street Associates was awarded the contract to build Essex Crossing.

Which pretty much brings us up to the present day – the market is slated to move across the street in 2018 (to a former Essex Market building site – what goes around comes around!) to a new, state of the art facility almost twice the size of the current market. The current Essex Market building will continue to be open and serve New Yorkers until the new facility is completed. And when it’s time for the move, the plans call for it to take just a few days, so there will be virtually NO interruption in business for vendors.

For nearly 200 years, Essex Market has been a pillar of the Lower East Side’s economy and cuisine. We look forward to beginning the next hundred years of business in Essex Market’s new home!

This Week Only At Saxelby Cheese

Grey Lady Grilled Cheese Takeover!

This Week’s Special Sandwich – Tuesday 4/19 to Sunday 4/24
Smoked Bluefish Melt with Reading Raclette on Pain d’Avignon Pullman

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Saxelby’s Raw Milk FAQ’s

jasper hill Cows1_DennisCurran950pxQ: What is raw milk?

A: Raw milk is milk that has NOT been pasteurized. Pasteurization is a process in which milk is heated in order to kill potential pathogens before being rapidly cooled down again. In the case of cheese, milk is usually pasteurized by heating to 145 degrees and holding it at that temperature for 30 minutes before cooling. For larger, commercial fluid milk operations, the temperatures are usually higher and the duration of pasteurization is shorter.

Q: Is selling raw milk legal?

A: In some states, yes. In most states, no. In New York State, if you want to purchase raw milk, you must buy it directly from a farm that has a license to sell it.

Q: What about raw milk cheese?

A: There is a federal law that governs how raw milk cheese must be produced and sold. Raw milk cheese is legal to sell so long as it has been aged for a minimum of 60 days. That means that most young, soft cheeses are made with pasteurized milk. It is more common to find semi-firm and firm cheeses that are made with raw milk, as those cheeses are designed to withstand longer aging times

Q: Is raw milk cheese better?

A: In our totally biased opinion, yes! This is not to say that you can’t make very tasty cheese with pasteurized milk (you can) but raw milk is full of microflora unique to each farm that imparts distinctive and complex flavors to the finished cheese.

Q: Is raw milk safe?

A: When produced in a safe manner, absolutely! By safe we mean that the environment where the animals are milked is clean, that all milking equipment and storage tanks are properly cleaned, and that the animals’ health is good. We’ve been to visit nearly all of the farms that we work with and can say for certain that the raw milk cheeses we sell are produced on farms that adhere to the highest standards!

Q: Is raw milk good for you?

A: Yes! Again, when produced in a safe manner, raw milk is full of beneficial microflora and enzymes that promote good gut health and promote easier digestion of dairy products. When you eat a raw milk cheese, you’re turbo charging your gut biome (thanks Michael Pollan for that useful phrase!) and enjoying one of humankind’s oldest delicacies.

Contra Grilled Cheese Takeover! This Week Only at Saxelby Cheesemongers

Talk & Taste at ESM + SaxelThrees Beer & Cheese

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Chef Jeremiah Stone Presents Pickled Pineapple
and Nduja Spread with Ascutney Mountain

This week only – from Tuesday 4/5 to Sunday 4/10 – stop by Saxelby Cheesemongers for the grilled cheese experience of a lifetime!! Chef Jeremiah Stone of Contra and Wildair has crafted a tart, spicy and savory sandwich filled with pickled pineapples, spicy nduja, and robust Ascutney Mountain cheese! Trust us – it’s worth the trip.

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In Honor of Grilled Cheese Month Saxelby Cheesemongers has joined forces with some of our favorite chefs at Contra, Ruffian, The Grey Lady, and Clocktower restaurants to feature a different special grilled cheese sandwich each week. Be sure to pick up your Grilled Cheese Marathon Card for this butterfat-filled celebration – when you buy 5 sandwiches, the 6th is on us!

April Grilled Cheese Calendar

April 12-17
Ruffian / Chef Andy Alexandre
Cabot Clothbound Cheddar with Tomato Chutney & Spiced Yogurt
on Pain D’Avignon Pullman

April 19-24
Grey Lady / Chef Gavin McLaughlin
Reading Raclette with Smoked Bluefish Spread
on Pain D’Avignon Pullman

April 26-30
Clocktower / Chef Brian Yurko
Shelburne Cheddar on Tomato Brioche

April Happenings!

SaxelThrees Beer & Cheese
At Threes Brewing

Thursday 4/21 – 6:30-8pm
For tickets ($40) click here

Join Saxelby Cheesemongers for a pairing extravaganza featuring four mouthwatering cheeses and four expertly brewed craft beers. A Sunday evening munching and sipping in the backyard at Threes?! Yes please!

Talk & Taste – Pickles & Pastries
At Essex Street Market

Thursday 4/14 – 6:30-8pm

Join us for the first installment of Talk & Taste — a series of free talks at Essex Street Market, where we invite you to join us after regular Market hours to learn — and, of course, sample food — from Essex Street Market vendors. Tickets are free but RSVP is required.

Pickles & Pastries: The Evolution of NYC’s Public Markets

Market purveyors of yore would likely not even recognize today’s glitzy food halls and “lifestyle markets.” Yet institutions like Essex Street Market have bridged the gap between history’s street peddlers and modern-day food vendors. Who ultimately determines such markets’ future and why should we care if they disappear forever?

New Amsterdam Market founder Robert LaValva shares his expertise on the past, present, and future of public markets in a dialogue with Anne Saxelby, owner of Saxelby Cheesemongers.