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.

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!

Announcing Our NEW Website!

CyberMonday.jpg

Saxelby Cheesemongers Invites You To Take a Peek at Our Brand New Website!

Take 15% Off All Online Orders TODAY ONLY With Discount Code ‘holidaylaunch’

Here at Saxelby Cheesemongers, we’ve been hard at work revamping our website for the past six months… There’s just so much cheesy knowledge out there, and we want to share it with you! Check out the new and improved saxelbycheese.com for an all-new online Cheese and Gift selection, a new and improved Library of Cheese, Farmer Profiles featuring all of our incredible cheesemakers!

Special Delivery! Rush Creek Reserve – Just in Time for Thanksgiving!

rushcreek49-b

Each fall, we wait with bated breath for the release of Rush Creek Reserve, one of our favorite ooey-gooey washed rind cheeses from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin. Available for a short time each year – from early November through December, it is a cheese worth savoring (and celebrating)! Cheesemaker Andy Hatch spent time in the Jura region of France apprenticing with artisans to learn how the famed Vacherin Mont d’Or is made, and brought those lessons back here to the U.S. to produce the first Vacherin-style cheese in the states.

Each wheel is creamy and ridiculously unctuous – you can literally eat it with a spoon! Just let the wheel temper for an hour or so, grab your favorite loaf of bread, and schmear away with reckless abandon. The cheese tastes of cultured cream, toasted nuts, beef stock, and grass – a robust, yet delicate combination of gustatory sensation that will leave you clamoring for another bite. Makes a perfect Thanksgiving table centerpiece – or a perfect gift for that food-lover you love this holiday season!

In Europe, Vacherin Mont d’Or is made in the early fall, when the cows have come down the mountain from their high Alpine pastures to graze a bit closer to the farm. During this time their diet shifts from fresh pasture to cut hay supplemented with grain. The resulting milk is richer and higher in butterfat, allowing for more decadent and buttery cheese to be eked from it. Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin follows a similar seasonal pattern. They make their Pleasant Ridge Reserve when the cows are out on pasture during the summer months, and then switch gears and craft Rush Creek Reserve when the cows come off the pasture and go on their richer winter diet. It seems that even cows like to indulge and pack on the pounds in winter!

So don’t delay! Order your wheel of Rush Creek Reserve before this year’s supply runs out!

A Visit to Vulto Creamery

Walton is a small town about three hours away from New York, nestled into the Western reaches of the Catskill mountains. The village has most of the things you’d expect – the ACE Hardware, a tiny restaurant claiming to be the region’s #1 hot dog destination, a gas station, a drug store, and a Big M Supermarket. It’s a sleepy main street, and one that is prone to flooding, we were told. In 2006 the nearby Delaware River busted its banks and wreaked havoc on the town of Walton and the surrounding farmland.

Just off the main road, there’s also a small cheese house, though driving by you’d never know it. Jos Vulto likes it that way. A seasoned cheese making detective/stalker might find it – there are a few telltale signs if you know what to look for. The the Toyota Tundra backed up to the nondescript door – large plastic tank in the pickup bed, still sweating after being emptied of the morning’s milk. The stacks of plastic molds, stainless steel tools, and myriad Croc-like shoes standing at attention waiting to be donned if one were to spy through the windows. And then in through the next set of windows, a wood-sided stainless steel vat – paddles rotating in an orderly fashion, stirring an impossibly large quantity of golden-yellow milk.

On this morning, Jos had beaten us on the drive up from Brooklyn by just a few minutes. He splits his time between Brooklyn and Walton, though these days his time in Walton is greater due to his booming trade in raw milk cheese. He sources the milk for his cheeses from a neighboring farm – a 25 cow dairy in the hills of Delhi, New York. The farmer is also his insurance agent. After the day’s cheese make, we visited the girls – serene Jerseys with their copper colored toupees – some seeking shelter from the heatwave in the barn, some grazing the impossibly green pasture that makes their milk so delicious.

They say that making cheese is 90% dishwashing, and ‘they’ are not wrong. After suiting up in our requisite hair nets, crocs and rubber aprons (cheesemaking is also incredibly glamorous) we were tasked with washing and staging molds – hundreds of plastic cups, rings, nets, and stainless steel weights – perfect shiny and surprisingly heavy blocks salvaged from Jos’s former career as a metalsmith in Williamsburg. There was no music – Jos says he would find it too distracting – so I took it upon myself to fill the silence with questions. I am pretty good at doing this. Jos is a man of few words, but he humored my barrage of inquiries until the milk was ready for culturing.

Here are the things that I learned: Like Jos’s operation, many creameries in France are located in villages, even if the farms are in the surrounding countryside. Jos has been a licensed cheesemaker for four years. He spent the previous four years making cheese in his Brooklyn apartment, honing his skills*. After coming to New York with an art-making grant from the Dutch government in the early 90’s, he settled on metal working as a trade and made high end interior finishes for wealthy New Yorkers. Before deciding on cheese making he thought of raising yaks for meat on his land. You could say he’s a bit of a renaissance man…

After the culture and rennet was added to the milk, we whiled away the intervening hour in the cheese cave – a large square room with cement walls chilled by lines of cold water running behind them. Being in a cheese cave is wonderful – all the more so in the summertime, when the temperatures outside approach the sauna-esque. In addition to the cold, there is the smell of cheese aging – a wet stone, earthy, fruity ammonia-laced scent that is heavenly to inhale.

There were racks of Miranda – orange cupcake-like forms washed in absinthe made at the Delaware Phoenix Distillery just down the road from the creamery, Ouelout – squat and flat washed rind wheels that can make grown French men cry with the memories of the Alsatian Munster their grandmothers used to serve them, Hamden – furry and rustic little beasts that would rival the best Tomme de Savoie, and Andes – big and brash wheels of Alpine-style cheese that are covered with an earthy rind spotted at times with fluffy white cloud outcroppings of mold growth. The cheeses are like little beings – each quietly holding onto some superpower imparted by the milk, the fermentation, the washing. They each have their own history – how the curd was hooped, how the wheel was washed, where it was put on the rack to age –  communicated through flavor when finally eaten.

Miranda, Ouleout, and Hamden are all made from the same curd – the difference in the finished product is due to the size and shape of the cheese, how the curd is treated when being ‘hooped’ or placed into the molds, and how long the curd sits in the vat continuing to acidify. After all of the dish washing and all of the waiting for invisible microscopic magic to happen, we returned to the cheese room to make the day’s cheese. The curd was cut and we dove (quite literally) into the cheese vat to stir the curd by hand. When you’re working with one ton of milk, one’s arms, if you’re on the taller side, barely reach the bottom of the vat. Stirring the curd is like therapy – a warm, mindless, but meaningful exercise that results in arms covered with butterfat and, of course, curds ready to be made into wheels of cheese.

After about twenty minutes of stirring, the curds had reached more or less a uniform size and texture and were ready for the next phase of their cheesy lives… The hooping of the curd is fast and furious – the antidote to all of the waiting and calm and peaceful stirring in the hours before. In just fifteen minutes or so, the vat full of curd was dispersed amongst hundreds of molds and forms, the last of which reserved for the wheels of Hamden – made from the last curds on the bottom of the cheese vat, unceremoniously squashed into molds. All the forms filled with curds, we took turns weighting, unmolding, flipping and re-molding cheese until Jos was satisfied that the work was done.

I’ve now been in this business for 13 years – and have made cheese many times with many different cheesemakers, both here in America and abroad. And I can still say that for me there is no better way to spend a day – the work, the smell, and the lovely fatigue that follows a day of making cheese is like a balm. And makes sitting down and eating a wedge afterwards all the more delicious.
*The first time Jos came to visit me at the shop, he brought a small plastic take-out container with slices of many of his homemade cheeses. A man of few words, I accepted his gift, not without some hesitation. After all, the mention of homemade cheese inspires weird thoughts of cheese being made in bathtubs, aged in strange re-purposed refrigerators (How did he get the mold to grow on them? Does he know what he’s doing?! Is his kitchen clean?!?) and etcetera. But I ate them all the same, and was totally and completely blown away by how different each cheese was, and how good they all were!

This Summer’s Grass Report – Straight From the Farms

In New York we like to joke that no matter what the weather, people complain… Too hot, too cold, too sunny, too cloudy, too windy, too rainy, too stable, too unpredictable… and on and on. For our cheesemakers, the weather is a topic whose importance eclipses being fodder for an awkward elevator ride with the neighbors, or a quick conversation at the corner deli. The weather is a make or break proposition, especially for our farms that only make cheese from grassfed milk, like Uplands Cheese Company and Meadow Creek Dairy.

In fact, for all the romantic cheese talk that we do – describing flavor profiles, aromatic qualities, how luscious or come-hither a cheese is looking today, the number one component in good milk (and therefore good cheese) is GRASS. It might not be as sexy a topic of conversation, but many of our cheesemakers joke that they are grass farmers first and cheesemakers second. This season, which seems to have begun in a milder and slower fashion across the cheesemaking regions that we represent, has been good for making hay and cheese. Read on and catch up on this week’s weather report below, and savor some of the season’s crop of pasture by way of a wedge of cheese!

Nettle Meadow Farm:

Report courtesy of cheesemaker Sheila Flanagan

We are doing much better than last year.  First cut was ready a little earlier this year and some of our second cut hay will be ready this week.  While upstate NY has just been declared to be in a drought in our area, we have had several good downpours in the evening that has given us sufficient moisture, and the dry series of days back to back is giving us plenty of opportunity to get hay in.  We are very optimistic that there will be time for a third cutting of hay this year – which we ran out of time and weather for last year.  The pastures are growing very nicely, and the sheep in particular are very happy about this.  The goat, however, are more spoiled and would rather have hay delivered to them than do much browsing for pasture.  Give them a nice pasture of weeds on the other hand, and they love it!  And the weeds are growing great this year too!  So both sheep and goats are happy.

Uplands Cheese:

Report courtesy of cheesemaker Andy Hatch

We had a wonderful start to the season.  It was a long, cool spring with a relatively short muddy spell, which made for a nice calving season.  The cool temperatures prevented the pastures from growing too fast and getting ahead of us, which is always a challenge during the spring flush.  This gave us plenty of time to prepare for the grazing season (tune up fences, watering system, etc.) and get in the first crop of hay.  A nice, big first crop, plus the fact that a lot of sheds are still full of last season’s hay, meant that hay prices have stayed low.  Fine for us, because we’ll be on the buying side come winter.

We were spoiled with rain and grass in May and June, as usual, and since it’s been hot over the past few weeks, things have slowed down somewhat, but we’ve still had enough rain to keep everything lush.  We’ve had five inches of rain in July and at this stage we have the nicest mid-season pasture we’ve had over the last ten years, along with 2014

Still, the temps are creeping up into the 80s and we’ll take a break from cheesemaking after this weekend.  We’ll have made 84 days of cheese in a row, and it’ll be nice to park the cows in the shade, next to a water tank and some hay, while I park myself in Des Moines at the air-conditioned hotel bar.  When it cools down in a few weeks and the cows get more comfortable, we’ll start making again.

Meadow Creek Dairy:

Report courtesy of farm manager Jim Feete

It’s been a very uneven year for grazing in our part of the country. First we had a very dry, cool, windy March and April, when we calve and begin grazing. It was getting scary: we had very little growth in the hay fields and the grass we were grazing was scraggly and thin, with very low protein content. We were irrigating the milking herd’s pasture, but we still almost lost 33 acres at the new farm, Chestnut Creek — old corn fields we’d seeded into grass that were still at a very touchy stage. It was a very difficult time for Jim especially, as he’s the farm manager and in charge of  deciding when, where, and how much to move the cows: despite careful rationing, good management, and every trick he could come up with, we were running out of places to put them.

May looked like it would be more of the same, but finally, around the 10th, we started seeing warmer weather and, thank heaven, rain. The grass growth went wild, the hay fields started catching up, and we were able to stop irrigating the fields for the milking herd. Throughout June and July we’ve seen the same conditions, nice hot weather and steady rains. The hay harvest, which we’ll use to carry the cows through their winter dry-off period, has been good… even though we’ve had to work around that most mixed of blessings, the rain. The seedlings on the old cornfields are doing very well, and after three seasons at Chestnut Creek we’re really seeing the results of our efforts and the incredible potential of the farm. So the story with the scary opening has a happy ending!

Cato Corner Farm:

Report courtesy of cheesemaker Mark Gillman

It has been extremely dry and quite hot here – with no end in sight. We desperately need rain to keep the pastures growing.  

Jasper Hill Farm:

Report courtesy of farm manager Nate van Gulden

Last winter’s warmer temperatures and lack of snow had me believing that we’d have cows out on pasture at least 2 weeks earlier than normal. What little snow we had was gone way before it was 2015.The grass couldn’t start growing as the temperatures wouldn’t warm up. On the date I was predicting cows would be grazing I went for a pasture walk with our nutritionist and Nat the creamery manager to talk strategy for pasture and cheese production for the year. It was snowing, and I adjusted my predicted turn out to another 3 weeks to May 21st or so.

The temperatures warmed up a little and we started letting the cows out to pasture during the days on Thursday May 19th. The grass still didn’t look like it was growing very fast, but by Monday the 23rd I walked out to pastures and realized we were already behind, the grass had popped over the weekend and now we were in grazers version of cat and mouse. Trying to keep the cows eating at just the same rate the grass is growing. If the grass gets ahead of the cows it gets too tall and the cows won’t eat it all. If the cows get ahead of the grass then they over graze and set back regrowth for later in the season.

During our first rotation we grazed 15 acres before the first paddock was ready to graze again, we had decided to take a first cut of hay off more of the pasture land in years past and cut it earlier so that as the grass started to slow down during the summer heat we’d have pastures ready to graze. I think for the first time in my 9 years of grazing I came close to getting this right.

What I hadn’t predicted was the month long stretch of no rain. Pastures were slow to recover and we had to start grazing some of the fields we hayed a week earlier then I wanted. Luckily this is when it started to rain, not the almost every day pouring rain we experienced last summer, but just enough to allow pastures to recover.

Now a month later we’re on our third rotation around our 55 acres of grazing land. The grass is currently ahead of the cows but for the heat of summer that’s not a bad place to be.

Jasper Hill Farm is located in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a notoriously rainy and unpredictable part of the state weather-wise… Making hay was always an issue, and with terroir being a core component of their cheesemaking mission, buying hay from elsewhere seemed incongruous with Jasper Hill’s ideals. Mateo Kehler and Andy Kehler, brothers and co-owners of the farm, decided to invest in a hay drying machine (the first of its kind in the United States!) and create the Eureka Cropping Center to make the haying process easier, faster, and less dependent upon the weather.

Normally when hay is cut, it has to sit in the field and dry over a period of a few days before it is ready to bale. If the hay is baled wet, it will begin to ferment. While this kind of hay (called haylage) is definitely edible for cows, the wild array of microflora in present can wreak havoc on the cheesemaking process, leading to off flavors and unwanted secondary fermentation. The hay dryer allows the team at Eureka to extract all moisture from the hay in just six hours, preserving the aroma, color, and nutrients of the hay. In addition to making hay, the Eureka Cropping Center was built to capture an immense amount of solar power, and now offsets nearly half of Jasper Hill Farm’s power usage.

Animal Farm:

Report courtesy of farmer & butter maker Diane St Clair

Like many parts of the country, temperatures have been above average in Vermont this summer. For those of us who feed our dairy animals dry hay, late May and early June are the ideal times to harvest our grasses–they are full of nutrition, and the animals will make lots of milk eating early first cut hay.

For several years, June has been too rainy to make hay; you need three days of sun to bale good dry hay. This year, however, June was sunny and hot. Lots of farmers made some good hay. The problem was that it never rained, and you need some rain to make the grass grow for second cut after you harvest the first.

In July, we have had some thunderstorms to go with our hot weather, so our second cut grasses have been growing, and we have been making more hay. Second cut hay is full of clovers(white and red), trefoil, and other legumes, and it is a richer feed for the animals.

Farmers in Vermont are enjoying much better quality hay yields than in past years, though less rain has meant that pasture for grazing has not grown as quickly.

With farming, there’s always a trade off!

Summer Creme de La Cave Selection – New Arrivals from Our Farms!

CremeDeLaCaveSummer_96dpiThe best cheeses of the season are ripe for the picking! When we’re falling headlong into the dog days of summer and the corn, peaches, and berries are ripe at the farmer’s market, the sheep and goat cheeses of the year are reaching their apex of diversity (and deliciousness too!) This trio features the first batches of the year of some of the most incredible small production cheese in America. To us, it represents what we do best here at Saxelby Cheesemongers. Though the wait can be maddening, when these cheeses finally show their faces each year it’s cause for a great big cheese eating party! Try them and we know you’ll agree!

Ben Nevis – Raw sheeps’ milk. Bonnieview Farm, Vermont

Named after the tallest mountain in Scotland, Ben Nevis is an interestingly shaped jewel of a cheese from Bonnieview Farm. The aging of this cheese can range from quite young, just three or four months, to downright old and rustic. Each wheel is pressed by hand, resulting in a texture that is less chewy and more creamy. Grassy, bright and citrusy when young, Ben Nevis resembles a good young pecorino. The striking natural rind is mottled with blue-green, gray, and purplish molds… you might mistake it for a rock if you didn’t know it was a wheel of cheese! The batch that we’re eating now is the first batch of 2016 – it is smooth, creamy and squidgy in texture. The sheepy flavors are mellow and buttery, and are highlighted by bright and sweet notes.

Summer Snow – Pasteurized sheeps’ milk. Woodcock Farm, Vermont

A light and creamy sheeps’ milk cheese made in the camembert style. The name alludes to the cheese’s fluffy white rind, reminiscent of the snow capped peaks that surround the town of Weston, Vermont come wintertime. Buttery, lemony, and a touch nutty when young, Summer Snow develops a sweeter and more pronounced sheepy flavor as it ages. Only available during the summer and early fall – We got our first wheels in mid-May and expect this cheese to last through September. A true summertime delight – try Summer Snow drizzled with honey or with cooked fruit as a condiment.

Twig Wheel – Raw goat and cows’ milk. Twig Farm, Vermont

This washed rind mixed milk cheese really shines! Aged for about three months, Twig wheel is supple and creamy, with a vibrant, fruity and pungent flavor. The semi-firm paste is delicious, well-rounded, and packed with the diverse vegetal flavors present as a result of the animals’ diet of brambles, shrubs, and pasture. The goat milk comes from Twig’s herd of 40 milking goats, and the cows’ milk comes from the Crawford Farm, just a few miles away. Twig Wheel is washed with the lees of a hard cider also made by master fermenter (aka cheesemaker) Michael Lee, creating an extra depth of flavor and meaty funk. When Michael isn’t making cheese or tending his goats, he’s out foraging for forgotten apple varieties in Vermont’s Champlain Valley which he uses to make incredible ciders. The damp, slightly sour, leaf pile in autumn quality in his ciders is truly apparent in this cheese. The musk of the goats’ milk and butterfat of both the goat and cows’ milk in the cheese complements the pungent funk of the rind in a way that makes these mongers want to shout from the hilltops!

Celebrate The Sheep! An Ode To Our Ovine Friends

It’s the peak of summer, a time to sit baaa-ck, relax, and feast on the splendor of the season’s sheep milk cheese! In the seasonal cheese game (like Quidditch to the world of cheese lovers and mongers – and we’re not even huge Harry Potter fans) sheep milk cheeses are one of the most prized trophies. unnamed.jpg
Why, you ask? Well for starters, sheep have the shortest milking season of all the lactating ruminants that we tangle with here at Saxelby Cheese. Sheep give milk for just 5 to 6 months out of the year compared with 9-10 for goats and nearly a full calendar year for cows. It’s a fast and furious time on the farm – lambs are born, lambs are weaned, and then the race is on to milk the ewes and get the most cheese possible out of the season before the days grown short again and the milk supply wanes. There are a few dairies that we work with that have year-round production due to staggering their flocks’ breeding, but in general, we’re dealing with a short, but delicious season.
Sheep milk is also much higher in butterfat than goat or cows’ milk. According to Harold McGee’s ‘On Food and Cooking’ (one of our favorite books on the planet) it clocks in at around 7% butterfat, compared with 4-5% for cows and goats. Fat being a vehicle for flavor (and so many other good things) the resulting cheeses are rich, decadent, and extra delicious! There is something to be said for eating a sheep milk cheese – fresh or aged. There is a palate coating embarrassment of riches laced with flavor notes of grass, toasted nuts, and lanolin that comes from sheep milk, and that is unrivaled.
Lastly but not least, sheep milk is naturally homogenized (as is goat milk) meaning that for some reasons more known to mother nature and the science-inclined community, it is easier to digest. Don’t know what ‘homogenized’ means? Don’t worry – you certainly aren’t alone. And we’re nerds, so we like explaining anyways… Homogenization is the process by which the fat globules in milk are busted apart so that it does not separate into cream and skim. With sheep milk, the fat globules come in neat and tiny packages that don’t allow it to separate, and render it easier on the old gut. If you have issues with dairy products, try some sheep milk products on for size and see if it makes a difference!
Stop by the shop this week for a taste of the season’s finest sheep milk cheeses, or order up a Cheesemonger’s Choice Selection online with a note that says ‘Send me the sheep!’ We’ll take care of you…

Cheese Trivia Redux

Our first-ever Cheese Trivia Night was a huge success! Even we unabashed caseophiles (yes, that’s the answer to one of the questions) took advantage of the occasion to dig deep and suss out some seriously nerdy curds of cheese knowledge… Check out some of our favorite questions below and dazzle your friends with your own cheese dork-dom!

Q: What’s the price of the most expensive cheese in the world?
A: Pule, a Balkan donkey milk cheese from Serbia costs $600/pound

Q: What is a lactating female donkey called?
A: A Jenny! And a male donkey is a Jack.

Q: Per person, which nations folks eat the most cheese?
A: Greeks! At 68 lbs/person they far out-eat the Americans and even the French

Q: Can you name the 3 (yes, three) American Presidents who brought in 1000 pound plus blocks of cheese to the main foyer of The White House, then invited citizens to slice off slabs and discuss the issues of the day?
A: Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and Barack Obama

Q: What is the naturally occurring additive that makes cheddar yellow?
A: Annatto seed

Q: What kind of mold is used for blue cheese?
A: Penicillium Roqueforti

Q: What word can be used to describe a cheese connoisseur?
A: Turophile or Caseophile

Q: What state produces the most cheese in the US?
A: Wisconsin

Q: What cheese has maggots involved in its ripening?
A: Cazu Marzu

Q: What are those crunchy crystals found in some aged cheeses?
A: Tyrosine

Q: When did people start calling each other  “The Big Cheese”?
A: As far back as 1863, cheese was considered synonymous with quality. It’s described in “The Slang Dictionary,” published in 1863, as “anything good, first-rate in quality, genuine, pleasant or advantageous.” People eventually combined “big” and “cheese” to mean a person of big wealth, fame and/or importance.

Q: Why does cheese come in a wheel?
A: So it can be rolled.  Traditional English cheesemakers produced it in wheels for easy transportation.

Q: What country produces the most cheese?
A: The US…unless you count the European Union as a whole, but why do that?

Q: T or F: Wisconsin uses cheese to de-ice roads.
A: T – They so have so much whey, they don’t know what to do with it. They recently successfully tested a combo of whey and rock salt that prevents roads from freezing.

Q: Where is the world’s stinkiest cheese from?
A: Northern France – Vieux-Boulogne, an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese ruled the electronic nose sensor test.

Q: What is the rarest cheese made from?
A: Moose milk. The moose reside in Biursholin, Sweden at a dairy farm called The Elk House.

Q: Which state produces the most cheese in the US?
A: Wisconsin – followed by California and then Idaho