When it comes to comfort, there’s nothing better than butter!

If you can believe it, we love butter almost as much as we love cheese!! Our butter producers take care to use only rich, delicious grass-fed milk and craft each block by hand. Whether it’s gracing a slice of your favorite sourdough or finishing off a dry-aged steak, these butters are sure to turn anything they touch to gold!

Ploughgate Cultured Butter

Salted 1lb ($25)

Ploughgate Cultured Butter

Salted 8oz ($11)

Ploughgate Cultured Butter

Unsalted 8oz ($11)

Trickling Springs Butter

Salted 1lb ($25)

Trickling Springs Butter

Unsalted 1lb ($25)

Trickling Springs Goat Butter

8oz ($14)

 

Advertisements

Shout It From The Mountaintops: Alpine Cheeses for Winter Blues!

180101_AlpineCheeseThe mercury’s been in a downright low position lately, and seems intent on hanging out there for a bit. So rather than whine about the weather, why not warm up by stocking your pantry with some savory comfort-food-ready cheese?

Alpine cheese refers to any cheese that is made using methods similar to those made in the Alps… Think Gruyere, Emmenthaler, Comte and such. These cheeses are characterized by their firm, yet elastic texture, low salt content, and super melt-ability (yes, that’s the technical term). They have a wide array of flavors, ranging from fresh cut grass to chocolate to toasted hazelnuts depending on the forage of the animals (usually cows) whose milk was used to make them.

In the kitchen they’re chameleons, making gluttonous grilled cheese, mac and cheese magic, fabulous fondue, and gratuitously good gratins. Just slice, grate, and add to your favorite dishes for a butterfatty kick in the pants that is sure to banish the winter blues!

Spring Brook Tarentaise – $15 

pleasant-ridge-reserve_580xSpring Brook Tarentaise is a sharp, firm cheese that is sure to please just about any crowd. It is crafted in the Alpine-style, meaning that it follows the tradition of famed cheeses of the Alps like Gruyere, Beaufort, and Comte. Made from rich, raw Jersey cows’ milk in a traditional copper vat, Tarentaise is rich, complex, and full-flavored. Aged for 7 months or more, the texture is smooth and dense, with deep, nutty, and spicy flavors abounding. Hints of freshly cut grass and sweet toasted hazelnuts accent the flavor profile. Please note that all cheeses are cut to order in half pound increments, meaning that there will be a slight variance in weight. Rest assured you’ll never receive less than the quantity you order, but you might score a little bit more!

Calderwood – $12.50

20170725_saxelcheese_101_lg_580xCalderwood is a rich and robust wheel of raw cows’ milk cheese coated in finely chopped fibers of hay. The wheels are washed with brine for six months in the Cellars at Jasper Hill before being coated in hay and sealed in Cryovac. After an additional four months of aging, the cryovac is removed and the cheeses are left to dry and form a natural rind in the cellars. The finished wheels of cheese are firm nutty and complex, with hints of earth, caramel, chestnut honey, and tropical fruit.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve – $16

pleasant-ridge-reserve_580x1One of the winningest cheeses in the history of the American Cheese Society, Pleasant Ridge Reserve has taken home a few blue ribbons: 2001, 2005, and 2010. Cheesemaker Andy Hatch crafts these Alpine-style wheels just 10 weeks out of the year, when the cows are out on pasture. The flavors locked within each wheel of Pleasant Ridge are the perfect expression of the terroir of the low grassy valleys of southwestern Wisconsin in summertime. Each rich and hearty wheel sports a stately coffee brown rind, and tastes of toasted nuts and caramel. Aged between 6 to 11 months. Please note that all cheeses are cut to order in half pound increments, meaning that there will be a slight variance in weight. Rest assured you’ll never receive less than the quantity you order, but you might score a little bit more!

Fondue for You – $60

fondue-for-you_580xWhen the mercury drops and the snow begins to fall – there’s just one thing a true cheese-aholic craves – fondue! It need not be a big to-do, Saxelby’s taken care of all the cheesy details when it comes to crafting winter’s finest melted cheese dish. We’ve chosen three perfect fondue-ready cheeses, and will even throw in our favorite fondue recipe to get things started! All you need to provide is heat!

Gear Up for American Cheese Month With Our Regional Favorites!

170925_RegionalFavesIt’s nearing the most special time of year for us cheeseheads… American Cheese Month!!!

For the entire month of October, retailers, restaurants and cheesemakers around the celebrate the hard work, creativity and ingenuity of America’s artisan cheesemakers. To gear up and show your love, check out some of our curated sets of regional favorites!!

The New Yorker >>

new-yorker_580x

 

The Vermonter >>

the-vermonter_580x

The Cheesehead >>

cheesehead_ala-carte_580x

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.

 

Let’s Fall Into Cheese People! October is American Cheese Month!

creme-de-la-cave-fall-2016It happened just like that. Summer seemed to be lazily extending its yearly visit, and then BAM! The weather turned colder, the skies turned grayer, and the days got shorter. Which is good news for us cheesemongers for TWO reasons – First, the colder weather flips the switch on that tiny internal apparatus that governs our appetites. All of a sudden we go from the ‘mozzarella all the time’ mentality to ‘bring me your stinky, your gooey, your firm and belly-warming cheese’ mode. (yes, those are scientific terms and phenomena.)

Second, October is American Cheese Month! Which means a monthlong cheese-centric party at Saxelby! Stop by the shop for special events, special grilled cheese sandwiches, and deals on your favorite cheese. Take 10% off ALL online cheese purchases for the month of October to help get your belly in top cheese-eating form for winter when you use discount code ‘cheesemonth’.

Check out our brand new Fall Creme de La Cave Selection – We couldn’t think of a tastier way to get started!

Spotlight on Summer Cheeses!

SummerCheese.jpg

Saxelby’s Favorite Ways To Eat Cheese When The Temperature’s Risin’

When the mercury starts to rise and the thought of turning on that oven seems like just about the worst thing on earth, don’t forget an unlikely summer dinner hero: Cheese! With the right cheese, lunch, dinner, or your next picnic in the park can be served without breaking a sweat. Of course our opinion is biased, but there ARE certain cheeses out there that are light, delicious and downright satisfying. Read on for our summertime cheese serving tips and tricks, and stock your fridge before the next heatwave hits!

Salad:

What salad, we ask, is not improved by cheese?! The sky’s the limit here – plop a burrata atop a bed of greens for a creamy and decadent treat, shave or grate your favorite aged cheese (we love Cabot Clothbound Cheddar) for a sharp and hearty kick, or sprinkle some crumbled blue cheese and nuts on a salad for a rich and savory accent.

Stand Alone Cheese Dishes:

Burrata is what comes to mind here… We literally cannot think of an easier way to a delicious summertime dinner. Just grab a loaf of your favorite crusty bread, drizzle a ball of burrata with olive oil, salt and pepper, and go to town. If it’s technically dinner, there’s no shame in eating an entire ball yourself! You can also just buy 3 or 4 choice wedges and turn your cheese plate into dinner with a light salad or fruit on the side!

Soups:

Chilled summer soups are almost always better with a bit of dairy enrichment… Try a dollop of yogurt on top of a cucumber soup or even gazpacho. We’re also huge fans of buttermilk soup using our renowned Animal Farm Buttermilk.

Sauces:

Whether it’s the NY Times or the latest Ottolenghi cookbook, it seems like a good yogurt sauce is never out of place. As an accompaniment to roasted veggies or to a piece of grilled meat, a simple yogurt sauce with olive oil, salt, and your favorite chopped herbs goes a LONG way.

Have a favorite summertime cheese recipe?! Share it with us at info@saxelbycheese.com – we’ll compile our favorites here on our blog!

Spring Has Sprung! Get Ready For Some Serious Kidding (and Lambing and Calving) Around!

IMG_1211.JPGA few weeks ago I wrote a dirge to the doldrums – that deepest winter time of year when all seems frozen and static except for the low hum of cabin fever and vibrations of new life’s impending arrival on the farm.

The days have gotten longer (and quite a bit warmer too!) and mother nature has done her duty. We city dwellers can’t quite feel it the same way that a cheesemaker with hundreds of baby lambs and goats baa-ing and meeh-ing out in the barn can, but we can see it at the cheese counter! All of a sudden, fresh goat cheeses – jewel-like, like budding flowers on a branch, are gleaming betwixt and between the hulking wedges of firm aged cows’ milk cheeses and stinky puddle-y washed rinds in the display case.

If you stop by Saxelby Cheesemongers this week – be sure to ask for the first goat cheeses of the season. Right now we’ve got Pearl, Lake’s Edge, and Sandy Creek –fresh from the farm! One taste of that tart, fluffy, lemony curd, and you’ll be heralding the arrival of spring on the streets of New York! (Well, that might be a bit much, but would make for a good addition to our naturally occurring sidewalk entertainment on Essex Street.)

So what actually happens on the farms to bring all of this good fresh goat cheese to our cheese counter? Lots and lots of births, that’s what. Goats and sheep are very seasonal in their breeding – they breed in the fall when the days grow shorter, and give birth in the springtime when the weather is more hospitable to kids and lambs running amok, and when the growth of fresh pasture is right around the corner to feed both kids and moms. Most of the farms that Saxelby works with follow this natural breeding cycle.

Most goats and sheep (does and ewes for you nerdy types out there) give birth to twins or triplets, meaning that a farm with 100 milkers will have between 200 to 300 babies in the spring! The next time you think about how stressed out you are because of the subway running late, your phone not working right, etc, remind yourself of the fact that at least you’re not bottle feeding 200 baby goats.

Our cheesemakers double as midwives during this time of the year – David Major of Vermont Shepherd sleeps in the barn with his sheep so that he can be at the ready to assist with births. Laini Fondiller of Lazy Lady Farm recounted some wild tales of turning around breach babies, and helping her does through difficult births. For her as for most farmers, the vet is only called in if there’s a particularly tricky situation. Michael from Twig Farm turns his garage into a nursery for the kids – there are little plywood cubicles full of fresh bedding filled with sweet smelling, affectionate kids alternately cuddling, jumping, and testing out their best head butts on one another.

After the babies are weaned from their mother’s milk (this depends from farm to farm) then the cheesemaking begins. Now for a word on spring milk – And that word is DELICIOUS. There is a waterfall of other words I could use too – rich, luscious, fatty, decadent, exquisite, transcendent, etc. Spring milk has a ton of butterfat and protein in it because it’s designed to grow kids and lambs that are strong, fatty, and hungry pretty much around the clock.

A milking doe, ewe, or cow has a lactation cycle just like we humans do. In the early days after being born, the babies need lots of nourishment, but can’t yet eat a lot because their digestive systems are just getting rolling. The mothers produce a sort of proto-milk called colostrum, which is small in terms of quantity, but incredibly high in fat. The colostrum also carries antibodies, which are passed from mother to baby to help jump-start their immune systems. Colostrum is NOT used for cheesemaking.

Just after the colostrum comes the richest and fattiest milk. This milk makes delicious cheese that is different from any made during the rest of the season, and there is a window of just a few weeks per year when cheeses are made from this milk. There is still less of it, again because babies are growing and need less. As the babies continue to grow, and the feed changes over from dry hay and grain to pasture, the milk supply goes way up, and the fat content correspondingly goes down. The mothers make more milk, but it’s not quite as decadent as those first few weeks.

Towards the end of the season (which for sheep is about 5 months, for goats about 10 months, and cows closer to 12 months) the milk production begins to dwindle again, but rises in fat and protein. By this time most of the herd is pregnant again (they get right down to business!) and the milk production drops off the closer they get to giving birth. A few months before the babies are due, the farmers will ‘dry them off’ i.e. stop milking them so that their bodies can fatten up and prepare for the next round of babies!

Stop by the shop this week to taste these first, most delicious, goat cheeses of the season! The sheep will be following suit shortly – look out for those in a month or so. That window of spring milk is already winnowing away, so be sure to snag a slice!

Carpe Caseus – Twig Farm Profile

Now’s the time, ladies and gentlemen, to head to our shop in the Essex Street Market and procure a wedge of fuzzy, firm, or stinky goat cheese from Twig Farm. The end of this year’s cheese season is nigh, and we’re in for a drought that’ll last till early summer. While bittersweet, like the departure of berries from the farmers market, it’ll only whet my appetite for more when they’re back in action.

TwigFarm

Twig Farm makes some of the best cheese in America, and to be honest, the world. Back in 2009 when my business partner and I attended the bi-annual curd-stravaganza called ‘Cheese’ in Italy, Goat Tommes were what we smuggled in our suitcases to share with our European friends to show them just what was going on in cheese stateside.

Michael Lee got started with Twig Farm just around the same time that I opened Saxelby Cheesemongers – sometime around 2006. I found Michael through Laini Fondiller, proprietor of the estimable Lazy Lady Farm, who told me in her signature curt (but warm) way – ‘Go call that guy Michael at Twig Farm. He’s making some great cheese!’

Before he was making cheese, Michael was a painter cum cheesemonger in Boston at the famed cheese shop Formaggio Kitchen. Like so many of the cheesemakers we work with, Michael found a way to translate his love of art to something edible – in his case through raising goats and coaxing their milk into nuanced and complex little wheels of cheese.

For Michael, the process of cheesemaking is very much like art that he created – process-based paintings of lines, repetitive works that reveal their beauty through the humdrum ‘doing’ that makes them whole. Cheesemaking, romantic as it may sound, is actually quite repetitive and technical – ‘the devil is in the details’, or rather ‘the deliciousness is in the details’ sums up what happens from goat to finished cheese wheel months later.

The goats at Twig Farm are pampered, but not too much. Michael loves them, and like a good parent, makes sure that there are parameters around their day-to-day routines. Specifically, Michael is a stickler about the goats having to ‘browse’ for much of their food. On a recent walk about the farm with the goats and one feisty barn cat, we saw the fruits of their caprine snacking labor – what was once a brambly young forest is now a clearing perfect for the goats to mill about and munch on grass, shrubs, and sapling trees in season.

Michael’s reliance on browsing produces milk of a superior quality for making cheese – essences of the resin-y, piney, grassy, toasted, woody, nutty and earthy flavors present in the browse appear in the finished wheels of cheese. A hint of something or other that dashes in and out of our brains – a smell, a memory, hard to pin down, when we cheese eaters munch and ruminate on what we are tasting. When people speak of ‘taste of place’, this is what they mean.

The name ‘Twig Farm’ refers to the patch of land in Vermont’s Champlain Valley where the farm sits. ‘Bony land’ as Michael calls it – full of plate-like rocks that are buried below a thin bit of soil. Not great for farming in the traditional sense of the word, but great for goats. Ten years after starting, Michael (and his goats!) have made much of this Twig Farm, and we the cheese eaters, are the happier for it.

Right now, as we enjoy the last wheels of Twig Farm cheese made in the late fall and winter of 2015, the goats at Twig Farm are kidding – giving birth – which will begin the cycle of cheesemaking all over again this year. The two-car garage at Twig is converted into a noisy nursery, full of feisty young buck and doelings hopping, nuzzling, and careening about, eager to drink milk and grow as big as they can.

After a few weeks, Michael will begin turning this milk into cheese. The first spring milk always produces wheels that are extra special – a bit softer, higher in fat, bright and grassy. In early summer (think mid-June) these wheels will be ready for us to eat. I for one will be counting the days!

For more information on Michael Lee and Twig Farm check out this 2009 episode of Cutting the Curd on the Heritage Radio Network!

Vermont Travelogue

This past weekend, just before the snow descended and pummeled New York City into sleepy submission, the crew at Saxelby Cheesemongers hit the road for a three day visit to some of our cheesemakers in Vermont. What great timing, right?! It was almost as if mother nature conspired to get us the heck out of dodge while New York took a snow day.

I’ve been selling cheese for about 13 years now, and I can still say unequivocally that visiting our farms is the best part of the job. Being able to meet our cheesemakers, their families and their animals, see their operations, and sit in their living rooms, barns, or cheese caves talking about and eating this incredible food that has somehow bound us all together is a gift so great, it’s hard to sum up. In fact, I was feeling a little leery of just how I was going to do that – my brain was so overflowing with gratitude, great ideas, and inspiration for the incredible work that these people do day in and day out, 365 days a year. After all, I always like to say that in this world, farmers work the hardest, chefs are close behind, and then there’s everyone else lined up after that.

This week I’m going to attempt cover the tip of the iceberg of our travels… Stay tuned for future installments where we’ll dive deep and talk about the myriad other facets of farming and cheesemaking – those well known and those more obscure. Thankfully we’ve got time… It’ll give us lots to ruminate on until winter turns to spring.

Our first stop was Greensboro, Vermont, home of Jasper Hill Farm. Brothers Andy and Mateo Kehler started Jasper Hill Farm in 1999 as a farm and social experiment to attempt to revive the ailing agrarian economy of Greensboro. They had spent their summers there as boys, and as they grew up they watched the number of dairy farms shrink to the brink of extinction as low milk prices and the demands of big ag put traditional, small-scale Vermont family dairies out of business.

Their idea was (and is!) bold, visionary, and probably the most ambitious in the American cheese-scape. The Kehler brothers decided that they would re-create a dairying and cheesemaking hub in this remote and economically fragile part of Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom that fosters community, infuses the area with an influx of younger people and their growing families, and makes dairy farming and cheesemaking the economic anchor of Greensboro. Simple, right?! Very funny…

Every time I go up and visit Jasper Hill Farm, I am awed by the pace of change taking place there. With each visit we see old equipment, systems, and methods of production being replaced with newer and more efficient systems as well as a whole host of new projects coming online. While some things stay the same (i.e. their 40-odd Ayrshire cows in the barn milked twice per day with a mobile milking setup) most other things are constantly being tweaked, changed, and improved upon to make better cheese more consistently.

This visit we learned about the fine tuning of the ‘Green Machine’ – Jasper Hill’s custom system that puts the cow manure through an anaerobic digester, allowing for it to be used as a fertilizer more quickly, and harnessing the methane produced to heat the farm’s water and a greenhouse too. We also heard about a new hay drier – the first of it’s kind in America – that will allow them to produce most of their dry hay for feed themselves rather than buying it from other sources. There is a lab on the farm that allows them to analyze and catalog the microbes found in Jasper Hill’s milk supply, on cheese rinds, in their barn, and in the caves.

We spent the day ping-ponging around the farm – from the barn where we chatted with herd manager Nate about the rigors of making great milk, to the steamy cheese house to meet with head cheese maker Nat Bacon and watch the day’s make of Moses Sleeper and Bayley Hazen. We watched the cheesemakers determine the minute that the milk began to flocculate – the first magical indication that it is turning from a liquid into a gel, then eventually watched the curd get cut, stirred, and hooped into forms to drain and be salted.

Our next stop was the Cellars at Jasper Hill, the largest cheese caves in the country, for a tour of the seven vaults where many of our favorite cheeses – Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Bayley Hazen Blue, Winnimere, Oma, Landaff, (and on and on!!) are aged to perfection by Jasper Hill’s team of affineurs. Cheddars are larded and brushed, Winnimere is barked and washed, Bayley Hazen Blue is pierced and flipped – each cheese has its own regimen of care to reach its final state of deliciousness. Jasper Hill’s cave crew is twenty strong – that’s a lot of hands to shepherd the thousands of wheels of cheese that enter the cellars from young and not-so-interesting to the succulent specimens we find on our cheese counters.

After the tour we retired to the classroom space in the Cellars to nosh on grilled cheese sandwiches toasted on locally made polenta bread and tomato soup. Zoe Brickley, a longtime Jasper Hill employee, gave us a class on flavor development in cheese followed by a tasting of all the Cellars cheeses. At the end of the day I felt like a school kid on the first day of class – so totally happy, and also totally exhausted by all the information and sensory overload. In short, a fantastic day.

Our next morning started at Bonnieview Farm, just a few minutes down the road from Jasper Hill in Craftsbury, Vermont. Cheesemaker Neil Urie’s family has farmed the land that Bonnieview Farm sits on for four generations, though he and his wife Kristin are the first to make cheese there. They have a flock of sheep – mixed between the Fresian, Tunis, and Lacaune breeds. When the sheep are not producing milk, they have a small herd of eight cows that they milk for cheesemaking.

Neil and Kristin have a beautiful old farmhouse, and a beautiful family – four children (including a set of triplets!) so the next time you think you’re busy and/or stressed, think again! They treated us to a beautiful breakfast of plate-sized pancakes topped with local maple syrup and preserved currants from their farm garden, mutton sausage, potato and cheese gratin, salad, and of course, cheese!

One of the highlights of our visit was being invited to help name a new cheese that Neil has been working on – an Alpine-style blend of sheep and cows’ milk. After tossing a few names around, we settled on Patmos Peak – a nearby hill, and also the name of a mountain in Antarctica that is named after another mountain in Bulgaria. So there you have it. The cheese is delicious – supple, tangy, and buttery with swissy, lanolin and cultured butter undertones. We’ll have it at the shop while the season’s supply lasts, so come on in for a bite!

We also took a peek inside Bonnieview Farm’s newly constructed cheese cave. After a frigid walk down the road (Neil was of course dressed in a sweatshirt with no hat or gloves while the rest of us New Yorkers shivered like ninnies) we entered the temperate, humid cheese cellar – a cavernous space with high vaulted ceilings buried under a pile of earth just off the roadside. Though it still lacks plumbing and electricity, it should be online and ready for aging some cheese this summer. This fall Kristin and a few other vocally gifted friends held a concert in the cave – singing low and dark dirges that echoed out over the surrounding countryside.

Our next stop was Lazy Lady Farm, located in the tiny town of Westfield, Vermont. You know that saying, ‘if you blink, you’ll miss it?’ – I think that phrase was invented for Westfield. Located just about 20 miles south of the Canadian border, it’s just about as remote as you can get. And Laini Fondiller, who has been making cheese there since 1987, likes it that way.

We literally drove past her road, Sniderbrook Road, four times before we figured out where it was. There was no sign, and it looked like a driveway to a neighboring farm. After slip-driving up a steep-ish hill, and bailing on one of our 2 cars (a Ford Fiesta, subjected to the withering ridicule of Vermonters several times on the trip) we were met by a Subaru going the other direction. ‘Can I help you?’, the woman driving asked. We told her we were looking for Lazy Lady Farm and she responded ‘Oh, the rest of the road is closed in the wintertime because of all the snow. You’ll have to turn around and take Buck Hill Road.’

Laini is a character unlike any other, which is one of the reasons I love her so much. Fiercely independent and fiercely loyal to her goats and her methodologies, she’s a true American artisan cheese pioneer. She started making cheese at the same time as a but mighty wave of female dairy iconoclasts – Mary Keehne, Judy Schad, Laura Chenel, and Alison Hooper, back in the day when there was ZERO information on mold-ripened goat cheese making available in the US. There was also no equipment – not for the milking parlor, no refrigeration systems geared for cheese, no cheese vats, no small-scale pasteurizers, no cheese molds, no cultures – you get the picture. It was the perfect challenge for Laini.

With the help of her partner Barry, they built a small cheesemaking vat out of an old steam kettle, found some cultures, and began making the cheeses that Laini discovered and loved so well when she was spending time as a goatherd in France. She produces a small army of diminutive mold-ripened goat cheeses, as well as a few bloomy rinded and slightly larger format washed rind cheeses. Their names are hilarious – Barick Obama (there’s a photo of him with the cheese floating around somewhere) Bernie (no explanation necessary) and Palincomparison (it’s time to bring that one back Laini!) and she’s always coming up with new ones.

Laini’s goats are another thing altogether – they are the most beautiful, pampered, plump, well fed, shiny coated animals that you’ll ever see. They exude health, spunk, and vitality. After talking with Laini for a few hours I concluded that her passion for her animals outranks her passion for cheese, which is saying a lot, because she’s pretty darn passionate about everything that she touches.

After all, the name Lazy Lady Farm refers to the goats – Laini works her ass off every single day of the year. When her vet came to visit recently she joked that she wished Laini’s goats could vote – their cozy barn is full of the sounds of VPR all day long. Laini’s response – ‘They’d have to caucus – it’s not one goat, one vote around here!’

We headed south from Westfield to a delicious dinner in Stowe, then chugged back to Greensboro where the crew from Jasper Hill Farm had built a bonfire up on Barr Hill. It was a full moon, and everyone brought their cross-country skis and snow gear so that we could all go for a night ski. It was ridiculously beautiful.

The next morning we packed up our things and bid the Highland Lodge farewell as we made for the Mad River Valley and Ploughgate Creamery. Marisa Mauro, the owner of Ploughgate Creamery is very young, but she’s been farming and making cheese since her early teenage years. She’s like an old-time Vermont soul in the 21st century – a rugged, tough farmwoman who can slaughter a pig, churn her own butter, and operate a chain saw without breaking a sweat.

Marisa’s creamery is located on the historic Bragg Farm, a beautiful parcel of hilltop farmland that looks out at a ski mountain just across the valley. It has been a farm since 1909, and the original barn is intact – complete with wooden milking stanchions and a glorious loose hayloft where horses used to pull wagonloads of hay up a ramp. It’s a Vermonter’s wildest agrarian dream. Bennie, our cheesemonger who hails from southern Vermont, was in awe of the property – “This is my dream farm”, she said.

Marisa won the right to purchase the farm from the Vermont Land Trust about three years ago. The Land Trust is an organization that buys farmland in order to keep it from being sub-developed into homes or retail. Once in a generation, a farm like the Bragg Farm will come up for sale, and when it does, the competition is incredibly fierce. Marisa went toe to toe with about 13 other young farmers who all submitted business plans and proposals for the farm. Ultimately, Marisa was chosen to purchase the farm and become its steward.

Ploughgate Creamery makes cultured butter – meaning that the cream is cultured for about 48 hours before being churned. This culturing process renders a butter that is tangier and more complex in flavor – it’s a method that’s been used in Europe for centuries, but has been more recently adopted here in the states. After churning, the butter is washed with water to get all of the buttermilk out (excess moisture in the finished product can lead to the development of off-flavors) and is then kneaded by hand in 30 pound batches before being shaped and wrapped by hand into eight ounce and one pound blocks.

Marisa sources her cream from the St Albans Coop, one of the best Coops in the state, but aims to have her own animals as soon as possible. Her creamery is a brand-spanking new building, but the rehabilitation of the rest of the farm buildings is something that will take time. When the barn is ready, she’ll fill it with cows and have her own herd. Walking through that old barn, you can imagine it full of cows again – restored to its original purpose, and it gives you goose bumps and makes you smile all at the same time.

One windy drive over a mountain later, we found ourselves in Vermont’s Champlain Valley for a visit with Michael and Emily from Twig Farm. Michael has been making cheese there since 2006, and in my opinion, makes some of the finest cheese I’ve ever tasted. It was actually Laini from Lazy Lady Farm who first put me in touch with Michael when I was opening my shop. I was making my wish list of farms to work with, and I called her up and asked if I could buy some cheese. To my delight she said yes, and then quickly followed up with ‘Do you know Michael Lee at Twig Farm? He’s making some great cheese and you’d better call him.’ So I did, and the rest is cheese history.

Michael Lee will be milking 44 goats this year – which is to say, we’re very lucky to have his cheese. There’s not too much of it to go around, and Michael isn’t interested in scaling up. He runs a tight ship – he’s the head cheesemaker and herdsman, but he now also has two apprentices who help with milking, cheesemaking, and affinage. He makes about eight different varieties of cheese from the milk of his own goats and also from cows’ milk from the neighboring Crawford Farm. They’re all incredible.

It’s wintertime, so the goats are not giving milk right now, and there is not as much cheesemaking happening. They’re all pregnant and on their pre-maternity leave. In a few short weeks, kidding season will begin, the garage will be converted to a nursery for baby goats, and the milk will begin to flow. Cheeses made this spring will be ready for sale come late May or early June… Stay tuned for the first flush of Twig Farm cheeses of 2016!

We took a walk with the goats (and one intrepid barn cat) out to their pasture – an area that used to be a young forest that has now been all but completely cleared. The goats happily nibbled on branches, brambles, and anything else vaguely green that they could find. They’re playful and goofy animals – and their personalities are distinct. Just like a schoolyard, you have your bullies, your pushovers, and your loners. They band themselves into groups in the barnyard and in the milking lineup. And according to Michael, once those groups are established, they don’t change.

To see some cheesy action, we were directed to the small cheese cellar located under Michael’s house – a 12 square foot room full of wooden shelves laden with cheeses that look like they could talk. Each wheel was like its own individual creature – aging, growing mold, changing shape and texture – those cheeses were definitely up to something.

The majority of Twig Farm’s cheeses are characterized by their amazing tomme-style, earthy rinds. When Michael first began making cheese, the cellar was obviously brand new, and devoid of any microbial bias. As the cave filled up, a beautiful mix of flora began to bloom on the exterior of the cheese – a fuzzy grayish mold with some rosier colors underneath, speckled with spots of white bloom. That cocktail of microbes has become the calling card of Twig Farm cheese, and a call to action to please eat the rind.

When Michael moved to the Champlain Valley to start Twig Farm, he also had an idea to have an orchard. Though that idea lay dormant for a few years (starting a goat cheese making operation is not easy) it is beginning to take shape in the form of a company called Shacksbury Cider. The Champlain Valley has been home to many orchards over the centuries, and now, there are miscellaneous apple trees, varieties that have fallen out of favor by commercial growers over the years, hidden in the backyards and fields surrounding Twig Farm. Michael has taken to harvesting them, analyzing their flavors, and fermenting them into hard cider, once a very popular drink in New England. The production, like his cheeses, is small for now, but if you are lucky enough to find a bottle of Shacksbury Cider somewhere, you should definitely buy it.

We learned all of this over lunch – a simple affair in Michael and Emily’s kitchen, their son Carter voraciously reading a book on the armchair near the window. We toasted bread, cut open a new round of Fuzzy Wheel freshly plucked from the cellar, and sipped some five year old cider that Michael had made. It was the best cider I’ve ever tasted. This is not to say that I’m a cider expert, because I’m not, but the combination of the yeasty, fruity, and slightly nutty bubbles with the fluffy, creamy, and musky cheese on fresh bread was one of those ‘A-Ha!’ moments. Where everything you’re eating melds together into a harmony that is tough to describe, and that you’d like to linger forever.

The rest of the trip was pretty mundane stuff – a night drive down the Taconic, which always terrifies me, Billy Joel tunes cranking on the stereo (also sort of terrifying, but equally awesome) ending with our arrival back to New York blanketed in thick snow. And then as a welcome home present from New York City, I got to dig myself a parking spot.

This week’s feature

Buy Now >>

VermonterBanner