Monday, October 22, 2007
Pure Luck Dairy hosts workshops twice a year, in the Spring and Fall, and I had my turn at it this past weekend. As our business's name implies, we know cheese from start to finish. Only having witnessed the cheesemaking process, I anxiously anticipated my chance to understand it from experience. As I said on the first day of the workshop, during our introductions, I spend a lot of time with cheese AFTER it is made, but desired to know cheese better from its birth...milk to curd. For this cheesemaking expedition, I brought along my mom and cousin, otherwise known as the Dairymaid Assistants. Unsure of how much fun they would have, I was pleasantly surprised when they showed ongoing enthusiasm to learn more about cutting curd, goat life, and cultures throughout the weekend. It probably helped that the teachers of the workshop, Amelia and Gitana, were such warm and engaging teachers.
Tara and Gitana practicing the "Clean Break Test" on our cheese.
We arrived Friday afternoon to get started on our Sainte Maure and fresh Chevre. These two cheeses start with the same base recipe, but differ in what you do after you scoop the curd into the molds. Sainte Maure takes on a cylindrical form, is then dusted with vegetable ash and salt, then sprayed with a white mold. The spraying took place on the third day, and will take a few weeks for the mold to develop.
That's Tara with her Sainte Maure, pre-mold spores.
On that first day, we also milked goats!! It took me a while to figure out my way around a goat teet, but eventually milk did flow. Believe me, there is a technique involved.
Of all the things I learned during the workshop, there is one thing about cheesemaking I'd like to draw attention to -- it is an art. For example, hand-salting. There are several ways to salt your cheese and hand-salting is one way. It is the riskiest option when it comes to consistency, but Amelia and the cheese crew all have what it takes to do the job well. There is quite a bit of science involved with cheesemaking, but so much art as well. After watching Amelia, the other workshoppers, and myself salt our cheeses, I saw just how varied the approach can be. This is only one aspect of the process. Consider the milk source, the food of the goats, their lifestyle, temperature, humidity, timing....there are plenty of variables in the process that turn this science into an art form. Just as in the kitchen, a recipe is only as good as the cook can make it.
So if you plan to make cheese, I highly suggest a visit to Pure Luck, or any of the other artisan cheesemakers in Texas. Glean all you can, then go make it your own. We'll be here ready to take it to market!
Amelia salting a chevre.
Monday, September 3, 2007
This year the American Cheese Society Conference was held in beautiful Burlington, Vermont.
Days at the conference are filled with sessions. This year's theme was "Achieving Sustainability," and the subject was explored on many levels: on the farm, in business, and throughout the country.
At night, we had opportunities to explore the area. It's hard not to be jealous of Vermonters, not only because they have a lively cheese culture (ha! cheese pun), but because it's just so lovely there. But then again, come February . . .
The first night we attended a mixer in the "Breeding Barn" at Shelburne Farms. A working dairy farm that doubles as an education center, Shelburne's buildings date back to the late 19th century.
With Stuart Veldhuizen, we explored the old barns and fields. Stuart recreated for us a day in the life of a dairy farmer at the turn of the previous century.
The next night was a cruise around Lake Champlain where we were pleasantly wind-whipped alongside Paula Lambert.
The final night was the "Festival of Cheese" where all of the 1200-plus cheese entries are put out for tasting. Needless to say, it's a little obscene, all that cheese, but it was great to see the Texas cheesemakers enjoying their awards (together they took home 13!).
Award-winner Amelia Sweethardt from Pure Luck Dairy with her husband, Ben.
And great to watch this lady carve cheese into sculpture.
Friday, July 27, 2007
My name is Gretchen, and I started working with the Houston Dairymaids about a month ago. I have been helping out at the Farmer’s Markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, learning from Kendra and Lindsay about the subtle and intriguing nuances of Texas cheeses. Until that Friday morning I had been peddling Blanca Bianca and Baby Caprino to Houstonians and really enjoying learning cheese monger tricks like ‘glass wrapping’ (a sophisticated method of sealing blocks of cheese in cellophane). It has been a thrill exposing market-goers to Texas cheeses.
Some of Susan’s “girls” were, unfortunately, not quite ready for consumption. We did, however, get to sample a variety of her chevre spreads. My favorite was the plain chevre, smooth and creamy, without a “goaty” aftertaste, the perfect balance of tart and savory. Cheesy Girl also offers an Italian herb, a fiery jalapeño, and a delicate fresh herb chevre, sure to be popular in Texas. While many of Susan’s cheeses weren’t quite ready, Lindsey’s persuasive-/Jedi-mind tricks succeeded in coercing Susan into opening a Satin Doll (a camembert-style cheese) a month early. Smooth, creamy, and delicate, this cheese showed great potential.
Friday, June 1, 2007
We had been planning a mother-daughter weekend and decided to include the workshop in my visit. It takes place over three days and includes lessons on goat-raising and cheesemaking. Yes, they let you make your own cheese. We made four Pure Luck orginals: basket-molded fresh chevre, feta, an ashed Ste. Maure, and a goat's milk Camembert called Del Cielo.
We arrived in Dripping Springs full of questions about the goats and cheesemaking. Amelia (left), who is in charge of production, and her sister, Gitana (right), are wonderful. They were generous with information and praise for our cheesemaking efforts.
(This is not the best camera angle for the goats or me.)
I loved my goat cheese weekend. What's next?
Monday, April 16, 2007
John, an ex-architect, works closely with the goats, all named and doted upon appropriately. "Come on ladies," he says to the herd as I get them to pose for a picture. Alberto makes the cheese, and I finally got to meet him last week. This time, they were ready and willing to provide us with a case of their much-coveted (for us at least) plain chevre and original Suave, an unsalted feta ready to crumble over any drab salad in need of a boost. Although my visit was short, had to make it on to two other cheesemakers afterwards, I got a taste of their chocolate and goat cheese torte that's in the works. John's been working with a local chef to perfect the recipe, and I can't wait--layers of their plain chevre, chocolate mousse, and a soft chocolate ganache over top. Although we've been trying to get John and Alberto to ship to us, I can't help but sympathize with their shipping mishaps. I would love to make the trip out to Clifton each week to gather cheese for Houstonians and, of course, say hello to the ladies.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
Keep your eye on our blog as we visit the farms of our new discoveries!
Friday, March 30, 2007
Thursday, March 1, 2007
Connie and Stuart Veldhuizen did just that when they came to town this week for their debut at the Houston Rodeo. Monday was the Best Bites event, a wine and food tasting attended by Houston's finest chefs and nearly 4000 guests. The Veldhuizens were invited to bring their wonderful farmstead cheese and were kind enough to let us tag along.
Planning to be beseiged by the crowd, we prepared a bunch of samples ahead of time. In the end though, the hit was Stuart, who enthralled the crowd with tidbits of information about the farm while carving out samples from a half wheel of carraway cheddar.
The reward for us came the next day, when they gave us some of the richest, yellowest butter I've ever tasted and raw cream so thick it should be illegal - oh yeah, it is!
Sunday, February 4, 2007
"There are as many recipes for fondue as there are people!" Anne told us. Hers is a family recipe for Fondue Moitie-Moitie (or "Half-Half"). The "half-half" refers to the cheese mix, which is half Vacherin Fribourgeois and half Gruyere. This mix, Anne explained, is not only classic in the region of Fribourg from which she comes, but it lends the dish its perfectly smooth texture and flavor.
1/4 pound per person Vacherin Fribourgeois, coarsely grated
1/4 pound per person Gruyere, finely grated
1/4 cup per person dry white wine, Swiss if you can find it
1 scant tsp cornstarch (optional)(scale up conservatively, ie. use 2 tsps for 4 people)
1 whole clove garlic, cut in half
*A caquelon is an enameled cast iron pot with a stubby handle that is especially suited to fondue. If you don't have your own caquelon, use a pot heavy enough to distribute the heat evenly.
4. Continue stirring over medium heat for three to five minutes until thickened and smooth.
5. Take pot to table and place over a low heat source. Serve with large bites of crusty white bread (day-old works best) and freshly ground black pepper. (To answer Kendra's earlier question, the Kirsch may be added directly to the pot, or kept aside in a glass and dipped into on the way to the fondue pot.)
6. The rest is pretty self-explanatory: with a long fork, dip into the pot and stir vigorously until your bread is soaked with cheese. (Careful not to lose your piece in the pot, as by tradition you're then required to buy the next round.) Twist any lingering strings of cheese around the fork as if twirling pasta.
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
Patricia and Eric Lefebvre, Fromagerie de Paris
My last 10 days in France were to be spent in Paris visiting cheese shops and, with any luck, working in one for several days. Although an unconventional approach to continuing education, I thought it would be worth a try. I'll save you the depressing details of rejection. The conclusion: no work for Kendra. The responses varied from the very abrupt, "No one enters my cave! And no photos!" to the more gentle, "I'm sorry, but I have too many appointments already." Dommage. For those shops not allowing any photos, I took the liberty of lingering a while so as to create a memory. I'll refrain from bitterly naming the shops offering the more coarse rejections (although I will say they are among the more famous.) On a brighter note, however, there was one gem that made the entire Parisian sejour worthwhile. La Fromagerie de Paris on rue Charenton is run by the oh-so-friendly and welcoming Patricia and Eric Lefebvre. Upon my first visit (they at least considered letting me work there) they regretted not having an aging cave to show me, but directed me to the fromagerie of Alain and Marie Quatrehomme. It was here that I received the gentler of rejections, although you can't say I didn't try my hardest. While I did not get to see an aging cave or get to work in a shop, I still learned a few things to pass on:
1. Paris changes fast. The majority of recommended and published cheese shops ahd already shut down or moved. I highly recommend a long distance phone call before your trip, if you plan to visit them. This will save you many euros in metro tickets to get all over the city.
2. The verdict on Brie: According to Patricia Lefebvre, and I trust her authority on the matter, Brie is eaten at peak ripeness, creamy and soft, in Paris. Everywhere else in France, it is eaten before this creamy state, firm and, in my opinion, lacking that 'umph' in flavor. This would explain the firm Brie I had in Belfort.
3. Just as Paris's local business climate changes with the tide, so do the EU laws on food. All the "I don't know"s from previous blogs rest as so, since it is so difficult to keep up with them as they change. Why can't our American cheese laws change?! Bring in the fresh raw-milk cheese please!
All in all, the trip afforded me many surprises--disappointing and equally exhilarating. If you plan to take a trip to Frane in the future, feel free to contact me for suggestions on restaurants, sites, cities, and other things. And if you ever need an interpreter to accompany you of a French food extravaganza, my bags are packed!
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Friday, January 19, 2007
A Lesson in Slow Food:
The last day in the mountains led us to an even smaller production facility. Marion, the ever generous and knowledgable hostess, arranged for us to tag alongside and elementary school field trip of one of the only cheesemaking facilities still adhering to the age-old hand and teeth tradition. When we arrived (late of course) at La Combe Laisia, Thomas, an ex-wine-seller from Dijon was already busy cutting the curds in a large copper cauldron for gruyere. After trekking past the barn, mounds of cut grass for fodder, and piles of mud, we entered the cheesemaking room and also travelled back in time a few hundred years. In an effort to bring back the missing human link one sees nowadays with technology, La Combe Laisia has stuck with tradition quite impressively.
After about 30 minutes of hand-churning, Thomas set up the mechanical churner--the kids were getting a bit ansty, so it was time to change things up a bit. All milk here is pasteurized, for the facility does not exactly meet the EU's modern standards of production. La Combe Laisia was given the green light to continue making and selling cheese thanks to Monsieur Pasteur. For the pasteuriwation, the cheese is brought to 52°c by way of wood fire. This takes a good while, so the kiddos are sent to see the cows. I linger to talk with Thomas.
My questions about pasteurization and EU laws seemed very American to hm at first, as he, and just about every other cheese person in France, think Americans possess an unfounded and "idiot" fear of raw milk. I tried to explain that I and others in the U.S. did not agree with FDA laws in place. I guess in countries where voices are heard and votes count, it might be hard to understanc the disparity between U.S. laws and certain American thought. Understandable. Once Thomas understood my position, things eased and information flowed with less hostility.
In an effort to truly educate people of the cheesemaking process, La Combe Laisia--also organic--keeps things slow and simple so as not to miss a step. Excellent for me as I even have difficutly explaining where vegetable ash comes from to inquiring customers. When I asked Jean-Paul at the previous fruitiere, he responded with a dumbfounded, "We buy it." Yes, I know, but how is it made? It remains a mystery, as he did not have an answer for me. At La Combe Laisia, I saw everything, including the source of rennet, the enzyme added to the milk to make it separate. Thomas told me that they might buy the rennet (let me clarify: buy the baby cow's stomach to then make the rennet), but a neighbor that had recently slaughtered a calf for consumption was kind enough to give them the stomach. He pulled a plastic shopping bag off the hay-laden floor in the hallway and showed me the fresh stomach. He then showed me a dry stomach that he would cut into 30 1" x 1" pieces to add to a jar of whey, which would then ferment and become, voilà, rennet. Whew! This is slow food folks.
When the kids returned, it was time to finish the cheese. Thomas took the caldron off the fire, prepared the wooden mold and cheese cloth, and proceeded to drain the whey with a sieve and pump.
On a much smaller scale, I found (Marion took me to) an organic cheesemaking facility--fruitière biologique. For this visit, I'm sure mostly due to having Marion with me, I was able to have a closer look at the production facility. Arriving after 5 p.m., there was no cheesemaking to see and I was too early for the 7:30 p.m. delivery of milk. For this facility in Chapelle du Bois, all milk comes from the farmers in the town, all of which meet the guidelines for earning not only the AOC distinction, but also that of being organic. Jean-Paul Blandot, one of the farmers, gave me a detailed and humble tour of the facility. It harkened memories of our small, dedicated Texan cheesemakers. Jean-Paul continually insisted that I would not be interested in seeing the facility, no production to see, no innovative technologies, nothing of interest to me. It was all I could do to express that every bit of worn-and-torn secondhand vats, chipped tile, and fluorescent-lit caves brought more excitement than ten Eiffel Towers. I think he got the point eventually. More than anything, I was happy to meet Jean-Paul and see the facility for I could sympathiwe and get behind the operation. I've got a special place in my heart for the small guy persevering from passion and integriy. I also gfelt a bit at home, pulling for our small production facilities in Texas offering a product of quality rather than convenience.
However, even the small producer is still pretty big. They had 4 caves, one of which was being phased out for it consisted of plastic walls, which do not allow for proper control of air flow or huumidty. Farmers did not want their milk-turned-cheese in there, and stores did not want it either. Hence the three new caves, which housed Comté and Morbier. Due to a lack of space for the amount of cheese they produce, not all of the cheese is aged to the point of sale here. It might stay for a few months, after which wheels are sold to stores and arffineurs throughout France where they will finish the aging process.