Pasta Filata Cheese

Pasta Filata cheeses are among the world’s favorite cheeses – mozzarella, burrata, and provolone are just a few. This unique family of cheeses rose to prominence in Italy and have been winning over hearts and bellies for centuries.

Pasta filata means ‘stretched curd’ in Italian, which is the feature that makes these cheeses so special. Somewhere along the line, cheesemakers discovered that if they worked the curd within a certain narrow ph range (5.1-5.4), the casein, or milk proteins, present in the curd would elongate drastically, allowing the curd to be stretched.

Pulling-mozzarella

Typically hot water is poured over the curds, which are then pulled and stretched to give the cheese it’s signature texture. Once the curd is stretched, it can be formed into any style of pasta filata cheese and sold fresh or aged. Here are just a few varieties of  pasta filata cheese:

Mozzarella – from the Italian ‘mozzare’ or ‘to cut’ these ball shaped cheeses are cut and squeezed from larger masses of curd. There is also Ciliegine (cherry-sized balls) Ovoline (egg-sized balls) and Perline (tiny pearl-sized balls).

Stracciatella – strings of mozzarella that are soaked in heavy cream.

Burrata – a purse-shaped shell of fresh mozzarella stuffed full of stracciatella.

Provola – a salted, aged pasta filata cheese that can be aged anywhere from a few weeks to a few years!

Scamorza – slightly aged mozzarella that dries out and forms a firmer crust and chewy interior.

Pasta filata cheeses are incredibly versatile in the kitchen, so grate, slice, and melt away!

Cheddar – It’s a Noun, a Verb, and The World’s Favorite Cheese!

Cheddar originated in the town of Cheddar, in the county of Somerset, England, and is now one of the world’s most revered cheeses!

The word cheddar refers to the cheese itself, but it also refers to what’s done to the curds during the cheesemaking process. To ‘cheddar’ curds, the curds are left to sit at the bottom of the cheese vat so that they mat together and form slabs. Those slabs are then stacked on top of one another, flipped, and re-stacked over the course of a few hours in order to build acidity. This acidity is what translates into sharpness the longer the cheese is aged. The slabs are then milled into smaller pieces (that’s what fresh cheese curds or squeaky cheese is!), sprinkled with salt, and then those pieces are packed into larger blocks or wheels, pressed, and aged.

GraftonCheese_Cheddaring2
Slabs of cheddar curd being flipped.

Due to the fact that cheddar is so high in acid and so low in moisture, it was an ideal cheese to transport from rural areas to urban centers in the days before refrigeration. Cheddar was also the first cheese to be mechanized in production… the first cheddar factory opened in Rome, New York, in 1851. From there, production of cheddar in the U.S and beyond skyrocketed, making it the behemoth of the cheese world we know today.

There are many different varieties and designations of cheddar – extra sharp, cave-aged, clothbound, smoked, and on and on! No matter what variety you get your hands on, if you can find a farmhouse, artisan, or farmstead cheddar, you’ll be rewarded with more flavor and nuance than the commodity fare found in most supermarkets.

What Makes a Cheese ‘Triple Cream’?

nancy's camembert side angle close upIf you’ve spent any time lingering around in cheese shops (and we suppose you have!) you’ve likely heard the term ‘Triple Cream Cheese’ tossed around by the cheesemongers behind the counter.

What makes a cheese qualify for Triple Cream status? It all starts with the milk. Triple Cream cheese is made from whole milk with cream added to it; the finished cheese must have a minimum of 75% butterfat in it. And before you clutch at your heart after hearing that number, take into account that the amount of butterfat in cheese is measured in the fat in dry matter (or FDM), which for young, creamy cheeses is lower than in hard aged cheeses. Most triple cream cheeses are about 50% dry matter and 50% water, so of the 50% that is ‘dry matter’ 75% of that is butterfat.

Triple Cream cheeses are luscious, spreadable, creamy, and buttery. Some famous European examples are St. Andre and Brillat Savarin. Notable American triple creams are Kunik from Nettle Meadow Farm, Nancy’s Camembert from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. and Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery. Pair triple cream cheeses with champagne or other dry sparkling wines. The butterfat and bubbles work in perfect harmony… rich creamy cheese tempered by acidity and effervescence.

What is Burrata?

Burrata – it’s the stuff cheesy dreams are made of. We all know we love it, but what makes it so spectacular?

Burrata, literally ‘buttered’ in Italian, refers to fresh mozzarella curd that is stretched into a pouch-like formation and then stuffed full of stracciatella, or strings, of mozzarella that have been steeped in salted heavy cream.

The tradition of burrata making began in a town called Andria in the Apulia region of Italy. Everywhere across the Italian peninsula, people make ‘pasta filata’ cheeses. These ‘stretched curd’ cheeses take many forms… balls (mozzarella) braids, and knots (nodini). In Andria, the local pasta filata shape was nodini, however, in true Italian purist form, if the cheese was not sold the day it was made, it was no longer deemed fit for sale.

So what did these thrifty and enterprising Italians do? They pulled the knots apart into strings, soaked the strings of mozzarella in salted heavy cream, and stracciatella (strings) was born. Now they just needed a vehicle to get that glorious stracciatella into people’s bellies! Enter burrata… They reasoned that if they made a pouch of mozzarella curd, they could stuff it full of stracciatella and it would be amazing. And boy were they right!!!!

They say that necessity is the mother of all invention. In this case it’s also the mother of one of the best cheeses known to man!

Click here to purchase Maplebrook Farm burrata from Saxelby Cheesemongers online!

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Fonduel Champs!

This fall, we were tickled to be invited to compete in the annual FONDUEL competition hosted by the Barnyard Collective in Long Island City.  Yes – this event is exactly what it sounds like – a bunch of cheese nerds facing off (in a very friendly way of course) to try and create a superlative fondue. And yes – it is open to the public too… 80 or so fondue-loving individuals attended the event and ranked each of the fondues on offer to determine a winner.

PSA break – if you’re interested in doing a deep dive into cheese nerd-dom, follow The Cheesemonger Invitational (the same brains behind the Barnyard Collective) for some of the most incredibly cheesy events in the world!

IMG_9307Pictured from left to right – Anne Saxelby, Adam Moskowitz, and William Sido.

As first time participants, we were humbled and totally stoked to take home 1st place honors in this year’s FONDUEL!! Our fondue game was a simple one – no fuss, no frills, just great cheese and a shot of Kirsch (which as it turns out is a ringer ingredient in a great fondue!) We used a blend of Calderwood, our exclusive collaboration cheese made for us by Jasper Hill Farm, and Reading Raclette – a perfect melter from Spring Brook Farm in Vermont. The bold tropical fruit and toasted nut flavors of the Calderwood and the soft, buttery, and creamy flavors of the Reading Raclette made a perfect melty marriage. Here’s our recipe – try it out yourself and see what you think!

 

SAXELBY’S FONDUEL-WINNING FONDUE RECIPE – SERVES 4

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, halved crosswise

1 1/2 cups white wine

2 tsp Kirsch

10 (ish)* ounces Calderwood

20 (ish)* ounces Reading Raclette

(You basically need a two to one ratio of Reading Raclette to Calderwood, and you need about 8 ounces of cheese per person for fondue, so you can fudge the quantities up or down a bit depending on how many people you’re serving.)

freshly grated nutmeg

freshly ground pepper

1 baguette (or your favorite bread!)

fruit and vegetables to pair (our favorites are cornichons, apples, pears, carrots, and cauliflower)

Directions

  1. Rub inside of a saucepan pot with garlic and then discard. Pour wine into pot and heat over med-low heat on the stove. When liquid starts to bubble, start adding cheese by the handful, stirring until melted and combined.
  2. Whisk continually to keep the cheese from separating. If it does, don’t freak out! Just add a bit more cheese to thicken the mixture a bit, or thin out with a bit more wine if it’s too thick.
  3. Add the Kirsch and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and bubbling slightly – about 5 minutes. Season with nutmeg and pepper.
  4. Transfer the mixture to fondue pot on the table and keep warm over the warmer. Serve with bread, fruits, and vegetables.

 

First Cut – Summer Cropping Report

The solstice has come and gone, it’s officially summertime, and if you’ve ever driven through the countryside in June, you know that summer means fields of green hay swaying in the breeze. Or it should anyways. 2019 has been a challenging year for cropping in many parts of the country. We talked with some of our cheesemakers this year to see what the cropping season has looked like so far for them.

Hay might not be the first ingredient you think about when you think about cheese, but good quality hay is the foundation of great cheese. The old adage you are what you eat applies to cows as much as it does to us. The vitamins, minerals, sugars, and starches in hay all contribute to the cow’s health and well being, and ultimately to the flavors found in cheese.

handful of hay

Jasper Hill Farm:

The beginning of June brought the first four day window of consecutive sunshine to Vermont’s northeast kingdom in 200 days. The crew at Jasper Hill Farm worked around the clock to crop 600 acres of hayfields in a span of four days while the sun was shining.  In order to make good dry hay (an essential ingredient for raw milk cheesemaking) the fields must be mown when the grass is dry, and it has to stay dry while it is rolled up into round bales.

Jasper Hill Farm invested in the first hay dryer in the United States, the Calderwood Cropping Center, which allows them to dry bales of hay in a matter of 5-6 hours versus leaving the hay to dry in the fields which takes 4-5 days. The hay dryer was running around the clock this year as the crew scrambled to get the first cut in. Since the first cut happened a few weeks later than usual, the quality of the hay will be slightly different. The stalks of grass become woodier and more fibrous as they grow, which leads to feed that is high in fiber for the cows but lower in nutrients. Regardless, Jasper Hill’s industriousness in ‘making hay while the sun shines’ has allowed them to get a good start on winter feed for their herd, and for the production of Calderwood, our exclusive hay-ripened cheese.

Uplands Farm:

Cheesemaker Andy Hatch was lamenting the cold, wet spring in southern Wisconsin this year. In the late spring there were tremendous rains when the ground was still frozen, leading the rain to run off the ground and flood low lying areas – including large swaths of Nebraska and Iowa. The rain continued through May, and regular agricultural milestones got shifted back to later dates than usual. In Wisconsin, corn is usually in the ground by Mother’s Day and the first crop of hay is usually cut by Memorial Day. This year, everything was a few weeks behind, and the first cut of hay did not happen until June 10th. When they did get it cut, the quality of the hay was not great as it had already gone to seed. For seasonal cheesemakers like Uplands, who only make cheese when their cows are out on pasture, it’s not such a big deal. This hay is only fed to the cows in the wintertime when cheese is not being made. But for cheesemakers who rely on this hay to make cheese with, it can have adverse effects on cheese quality.

On the bright side, the pastures are growing slowly and consistently, which is great for Uplands’ rotational grazing practices. The cows also love the cooler weather, and will make more milk when they are not too hot and not stressed.

Meadow Creek Dairy:

The Meadow Creek crew mowed their first hay on June 14th. They look at hay slightly differently as they use it as a tool to harvest surplus pasture and improve pasture quality for the next grazing round. The pasture is the most important thing to Meadow Creek so they don’t milk off hay but use it to feed the cattle during the dry period when they are not producing milk.

That said, so far this year the weather in southwestern Virginia has been pretty good weather for hay. Their first cut happened in mid-May, which was earlier than usual, as they had a run of hot weather with not a lot of rain. In June there has been more rain so they started making hay again, though they did lose three to four acres of hay to rain, as happens every year, but is not a make or break situation. Since purchasing a second farm a few years back Meadow Creek has been able to produce enough hay (700-800 round bales at 750lbs each) to feed their cows year round without buying in anything extra from the outside!

Cheese & Honey -One of Nature’s Perfect Pairings!

It goes without saying that cheese and honey go together – like pancakes and maple syrup, like peanut butter and jelly, or like two strips of velcro. The flavors found in one harmonize with the other to create a perfect, complex mouthful comprising the best mother nature has to offer.

As cheese nerds, we’re deep into the science of what makes cheese delicious. From just four humble ingredients – milk, cultures, rennet, and salt, we’re able to coax millions of flavors and textures of cheese.

Honey isn’t so different. Bees forage nectar and pollen from a multitude of flowers and plants and convert it into honey – a super concentrated, super sugary, superfood that can sustain a hive for years. Bees typically forage within a five mile radius of the hive, and their sources of food change over the course of the year with the seasons. Incredibly efficient and incredibly strong, bees are able to carry their own weight in nectar when they fly. Protein-rich pollen gets stuck to the small hairs on their body and is transported back to the hive where it is processed and stored for food.

Once the bee returns to the hive, the nectar is passed from bee to bee, concentrating and evaporating as it goes, until it loses enough moisture to become honey. It is then sealed in the comb with a cap of wax until it is needed by the colony, or by the beekeeper for spinning into honey.

Claire Marin, founder of Catskill Provisions in Long Eddy, New York, believes that happy bees make better honey. She started off as a hobbyist beekeeper, and now tends over 300 beehives in Delaware, Sullivan, and Madison counties. Catskill Provisions honey is raw, meaning that it is not heated for processing, leaving all the inherent goodness of the honey intact. The pollen, propolis, and beeswax found in her raw honey has many health benefits for humans as well as bees! Claire takes care to always leave enough honey inside the hive for the bees to not become stressed, part of her commitment to keeping the bees happy.

So why do cheese and honey go so well together? It is a fact that for a good pairing, whether we’re talking wine, cheese, honey, or any combination of ingredients in a recipe, you need to strike a balance between sweetness, acidity, salt, and fat. Cheese is fermented, meaning the milk is soured in the process, and has varying degrees of acidity depending on the style. Milk, the most important ingredient in cheese, is made from ruminants – i.e. animals that eat grass and convert that grass into energy. The types of grasses that the animals eat have a direct impact on the flavor of the finished cheese. These flavor notes (grassy, floral, herbaceous, nutty) harmonize extremely well with all the subtle flavors found in honey. Finally, cheese is rich, salty, and high in fat, so it can always benefit from something sweet to round out the complex flavors.

The next time you’re planning a cheese plate – be it for a dinner party or just for you, be sure to include some raw honey and experiment with different styles of cheese to find your own perfect pairing!

Lazy Lady Farm Profile

laini back in the day!

Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm has been making goat cheese in the hinterlands of northern Vermont since WAY before artisan cheese was on anyone’s radar, let alone cool! Laini fell in love with cheese and goats while interning on different farms around France. After her visa expired and she was ‘kicked out’ of France (her words), she decided to try her hand at making goat cheese in Vermont.

You can try Laini’s cheeses in our Lazy Lady Farm Collection.

Let’s start with the fact that the name ‘Lazy Lady’ could not be a more ridiculous moniker for Laini Fondiller. On Laini’s farm, the Lazy Ladies are the goats, who bask in the luxury of a warm, clean barn, listen to NPR, and who are taken out for long walks every Monday afternoon to forage for sapling trees, shrubs, and other tasty browse in the surrounding woods. Laini is basically a one-woman show – doing the work normally divided between several people on a farm – milking the goats, tending the goats, making the cheese, aging the cheese, and selling the cheese at farmer’s markets and to lucky folks like us!

When Laini started making cheese in the early 1980’s, it was basically the dark ages for artisan cheesemaking in the U.S. There were virtually no resources available – no cultures, no equipment, and hardly any dairy goats either! Luckily for us, artisan cheesemakers tend to be a bit nutty (in all the right ways) and seem to love to do things the hardest way possible. Not only did Laini and her partner Barry have to build the cheese house, cave, and barn from scratch, they decided to go 100% off the grid and constructed their own wind turbine and solar panels to provide all the farm’s energy needs.

Barry built Lazy Lady Farm’s first ‘pasteurizer’ from a steam kettle because there were no small pasteurizers available for small-scale cheesemakers to purchase, and Laini taught herself to make the delicate, bloomy-rind goat cheeses she loved from France by reading books on the subject. Her cheeses quickly gained a following, especially in New York where chefs were hungry for delicious and unique goat cheeses from America and abroad.

Laini now makes over thirty different kinds of cheese from her goats’ milk as well as from purchased cows’ milk in the wintertime when her goats are dry and waiting for their kids to be born. Laini’s playful and witty spirit comes through in the names of her ever-changing roster of cheeses – Thin Red Line, Marbarella, La Roche (‘The Rock’ in French) Fake Cheese, Bonaparte, and Sweet Emotions are of some our recent favorites.

Over the years, Lazy Lady Farm has been equal parts cheese maker and goat breeder, supplying dairy goats to many up and coming farms across America. In fact, if you visit her website (and we encourage you to do so!) the first thing you see is Laini’s meticulous notes detailing how her goats are bred, birthed, and raised. Her goats have been certified organic since 1987 (again… WAY ahead of the curve!) and Laini thinks of them as family.

Laini Fondiller is a true pioneer in the annals of American artisan cheese. Saxelby Cheesemongers celebrates Lazy Lady Farm and Laini’s amazing cheese!!

What is a Lazy Lady Cheese? – by Lauren Gitlin

Lazy Lady Farm cheese is the culmination of an enduring reverence for the land, a fascination with Old World cheesemaking traditions and a constant, near-pathological thirst for reinvention. Drawing creative inspiration from music, politics, geography and language, always with a winking sense of humor, LLF has churned out dozens of one-off varieties of cheese in addition to its core lineup of favorites (La Petite Tomme, Capriola, Pyramid, Bonaparte, Sweet Caroline, La Roche), each one sprung fully formed from the mind of the farm’s proprietress, Laini Fonidiller.

Since well before chevre was a commonplace fixture of culinary life in the U.S., Fondiller has been crafting small batches of goat and mixed milk cheeses by hand, winning over palates and inspiring an entire generation of artisan producers to throw their hats in the ring. Drawing from her formative experience farming and making cheese in France and Corsica in the early 1980s, Laini struck out on a path to reinvent the landscape of American cheese with one goat and a dream, and she never looked back.

Decades later, her repertoire of cheese styles is dizzying, and her mad scientist impulses, while certainly more informed than they were when she began, are just as whimsical and far-reaching. Why continue to experiment and invent when so many other creameries choose to focus on one or two or three types of cheese? According to Fondiller, that would be akin to a painter painting the same portrait over and over again. With milk as the ultimate canvas, and so much possibility inherent in its complexity, why would you want to limit yourself?

Fondiller and her farm have always at their core been concerned with pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Is it possible to live lightly on the land and still extract what is needed to create an artisan product? When you insist in living off the grid, electing to get your power from sun and wind and rotationally graze your small ruminants, it is. Is it possible to remain truly small scale when so many other farms feel the pressure to scale up to remain financially viable? When you devote yourself to decades of focused genetics and holistic herd health, it is.

Is it possible to harness the microbiological complexity of cultures and molds, of the techniques of affinage and the seasonal variation in milk and simultaneously reflect an individual vision and perspective in relation to the world at large? Look no further than the Barrick Obama, a beer-washed goat’s milk cheese that’s an homage both to our former president and to a linguistic affectation of the Hoosiers of Fondiller’s native Indiana (where a “brick” is pronounced ‘bahrick’).  Or the Bonaparte, Fondiller’s own interpretation of the classic French cheese Valencay, which according to lore was Bonaparte’s favorite.

Every cheese has a story, some convoluted and some as simple as Fondiller’s relentless restlessness. After thirty-some odd years, one has to keep things interesting. To taste a Lazy Lady cheese is to get a glimpse into the mind of a visionary and to ingest her worldview, from her perch in a rugged corner of the Green Mountains. It’s a sight — and a taste — to behold.