Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Happy Birthday Veronica Pedraza. Your Cheeses Rock.

Today is cheesemaker Veronica Pedraza's birthday and I think we should celebrate with beauty shots of her fabulous cheeses.

For those of you not in the know, Veronica is the lead cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms in New York. She is also a former monger, spectacular fellow member of the American Cheese Society Education Committee, and is an honorary Wisconsinite, as she attended Beloit College and has been overheard appreciating how just gosh darn nice we are here in the Midwest.

When you find her cheeses at retail, buy them immediately. Each is made lovingly in small batches and is exquisite. Here are three of my favorites:

Ledyard: Veronica was inspired by Robiola and St Marcelin when she created this beauty. A soft-ripened sheep's milk cheese, it is wrapped in grape leaves soaked in Deep Purple, a wheat beer made with Madison County concord grapes.



Strawbridge: in Wisconsin, we have a dearth of non-stabilized soft-ripened cheeses, so this bloomy-rind sheep's milk cheese especially speaks to me. When it's young, it's easy to eat and agreeable to all, but as it ripens, it develops the bold mushroomy flavors of a real Camembert. Similar to a triple crème, it is decadent and buttery.



Juvindale: this is about as close as you're going to get to Reblochon without paying the European airfare to eat the original. Made with cow's milk, the rind is thin and pillowy, with a buttery, tangy paste with just the right amount of barny pungency.


Happy birthday, Veronica! You have a fan club in Wisconsin. Your cheese makes us happy.


Photos by my fabulous husband, Uriah Carpenter.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Dandelion Addiction & Fini Sur La Paille Debut in Madison

There are distinct advantages to living in a state with a high percentage of third- and fourth-generation cheesemakers boasting Swiss and German descent who make some of the best Cheddar, Swiss, Brick, Colby, Havarti, Muenster (and of course, Limburger) in the nation.

There are also distinct disadvantages, however, including the fact that Wisconsin makes very, very few French style cheeses - including bloomy rinds like Brie and Camembert, or small, soft and delicate cheeses with sticky, stinky rinds. Apparently the French liked Quebec and Nova Scotia so much, they never ventured west to America's Dairyland. Dammit.

But a pair of cheesemakers in northern Wisconsin are on a mission to change Wisconsin's dearth in soft and stinky cheese. Michael Stanitis, owner of Sassy Nanny Farmstead Cheese, and Fred and Kelly Faye, owners of Happy Hollow Creamery, each make a variety of artisan sheep and goat milk cheeses at Fred's farmstead cheese plant near Bayfield, Wisconsin. Each has their own farm and their own animals, but share creamery space to make their cheeses.

Happy Hollow Creamery is located about as far north in Wisconsin as possible - just a few miles from the shores of Lake Superior. Fred hand crafts artisan sheep cheeses from the milk of his 70 ewes in extremely small batches, and until last week, his products were only available at at local farmers markets and co-ops in Bayfield, Ashland and Duluth. I say until last week, because that's when a box of Dandelion Addiction arrived at Metcalfe's Markets in Madison. Whoo-hoo!

Dandelion Addiction (I love this name) is a sheep's milk camembert-style cheese made in small rounds and hand-packaged in white breathable paper. If you stop by Metcalfe's to pick one up, don't expect a perfectly round, machine-made, hockey puck, stabilized brie in a wooden box. Instead, each round is a slightly different shape, of varying widths, and each carries a lovely and dreamy, French-style bloomy-rind flavor and aroma. This cheese is about as close to a French camembert that you're going to get while living in Wisconsin.

I first tasted this cheese at the Dairy Sheep Association of North America's annual conference last year, when I volunteered to coordinate tours for 100 people to Wisconsin artisan and farmstead creameries. Dandelion Addiction was featured at the event's evening of cheese, which included about 50 different sheep milk cheeses from across the continent. I had no idea it even existed until Sid Cook, master cheesemaker and owner of Carr Valley Cheese, walked a piece over to me and said: "You've got to try this." Let's just say that when Sid Cook tells you to try a cheese, you shut up and eat it.

The cheese was velvety, creamy and rich, just like I would have expected a sheep's milk camembert (sheep milk is much higher in butterfat than cow's milk). I guessed it was from Canada, or perhaps one of Veronica Pedraza's fabulous creations at Meadowood Farms (more about her cheeses in an upcoming post). But no, it was an honest-to-God Wisconsin sheep milk Camembert and the cheesemaker was standing across the room. I high-tailed to meet Fred Faye, and found out he was making the cheese in extremely small batches, and it was only available at farmer's markets and a couple retail co-ops in northern Wisconsin. I let him know if he ever had an extra batch or two, to give me a call.

That call came two weeks ago from Michael Stanitis, who it turns out, is ramping up his production of soft and gooey and oh-so-stinky goat's milk cheeses, and wondered if he could send me a sample of his Fini Sur La Paille cheeses along with a round of Dandelion Addiction. I nearly choked in happiness. The cheeses arrived, we scheduled a Saturday tasting with all the Metcalfe's cheesemongers, and then we promptly ate all of each of the rounds of cheese, completely ignoring customers in our five-minute state of satiated happiness. Needless to say, I placed an order the same day.

While Happy Hollow Creamery specializes in sheep milk cheeses, Michael Stanitis at Sassy Nanny makes small-batch artisan goat milk cheeses. Until last year, he raised and milked the goats himself, made all the cheese, marketed all the cheese and basically nearly died in exhaustion. In 2015, he wisely decided to let a nearby family take over the care and milking of his 25 does, so he now gets to actually sleep and have a life. As a consequence, he also has time to make more cheese, and that's why Metcalfe's also now has his Fini Sur La Paille, which translates to "finish on the straw."

If this cheese were made in France - and I'm telling you it tastes like it does -- it would be aged and "finished" on straw mats on wooden shelves in an underground cave with cobwebs. But this being America, it's aged in a you-can-eat-off-the-floor-it's-so-clean sanitary room with washable walls and stainless steel equipment. Because that's how America makes cheese. But Michael has done the near impossible and made a soft, squishy, French-style stinky cheese with just-right goat citrusy tang that's begging to be spread on a baguette and eaten for breakfast.

Similar to Dandelion Addiction, do not expect these wheels to be perfectly round and consistent. Each round was made by hand and is wrapped in white breathable paper, which allows the pungency of the cheese to eek through in all of its gloriousness.

Priced at $27.99 per pound, neither of theses cheeses are cheap, but they shouldn't be. When a cheesemaker has control of a product from start to finish - knows the names of each sheep and goat, what they've eaten that day, felt their milk in the palm of their hand, and then spent six weeks making the best cheese that represents that precious milk, the end result is going to cost a little more. I'd encourage folks to give these cheeses a try while they last - and they won't last long. Production is seasonal, farmer's markets are ramping up, and who knows how many more boxes I'm going to be able to convince Fred and Michael to send my way at Metcalfe's. Life is short. Spend it eating good cheese.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

New Cheese Geek Classes Announced

After teaching a small group cheese class last week, I discovered how much I enjoy sitting down with a few folks, cutting into some wheels of cheese, and taking a deep dive into a topic. So voila - a new series of what I'm calling "Cheese Geek Classes" have been born. Each class is limited to just eight people. We'll sit around a table, eat some cheese, study a topic in-depth and probably drink a beer or two. I hope you'll join me!

Here we go:

July 21 - Cheese Geek Class - The Art and Science of Aging Cheese
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 N Main St, Oregon, WI

Join Jeanne Carpenter, American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional for a small-group study on the art and science of aging cheese. We'll explore four different types of cheese rinds and taste four of the very best artisan cheeses made in America today. Learn why cheesemakers add ash to surface ripened cheeses, why natural rinds are particularly tricky, and learn the difference between a cheese washed in beer and a cheese washed in whiskey. Tickets: $28 and seats must be reserved in advance. Limited to just 8 attendees. Includes glass of wine, beer or beverage of choice. Register at www.cheesetickets.com


August 23 - Cheese Geek Class - Learning the Lexicon of Cheese Flavors
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 N Main St, Oregon, WI

Join Jeanne Carpenter for a small-group study on how best to describe the many flavors you taste in cheese. After this class you'll stop calling cheddar "sharp" (as Pat Polowsky, Wisconsin author of Cheese Science Toolkit would say: "A knife is sharp. Cheese is not.") We'll taste four unique American artisan cheeses and learn how to describe them using cheese descriptors such as brothy, roasted or herbal. Afterward, you'll be able to impress your wine snob friends with your new cheese lexicon. Tickets: $28 and seats must be reserved in advance. Limited to just 8 attendees. Includes glass of wine, beer or beverage of choice. Register at www.cheesetickets.com


September 29 - Cheese Geek Class - Understanding Crystals in Cheese

6:30 - 8:00 p.m. Firefly Coffeehouse, 114 N Main St, Oregon, WI

Join Jeanne Carpenter for a small-group study on how and why cheese crystals - those little flavor bursty bits from heaven - form in cheese. We'll study two types of crystals: calcium lactate and tryosine, learn why each forms in different types of cheese, and how cheesemakers encourage their growth. Plus, of course, we'll taste four different cheeses, with - you guessed it - crystal features. Is your mouth watering yet? Tickets: $28 and seats must be reserved in advance. Limited to just 8 attendees. Includes glass of wine, beer or beverage of choice. Register at www.cheesetickets.com

Monday, May 09, 2016

Beauty and Brains: Red Barn Cupola Wins Design Award

It's not often a cheese gets national recognition for its package design. But that's exactly what happened recently with Red Barn Cupola, a Wisconsin artisan cheese. Boasting both beauty and brains, Cupola is a 2016 American Package Design award winner along with brands like 3M, Target and Whole Foods. Pretty cool, huh?

This year's American Package Design Competition received 2,000 entries worldwide, placing Red Barn's winning entry among the best-designed and most innovative packaging in the food and beverage industry.

In case you're not familiar with Red Barn Family Farms, let me fill you in. The company was founded by Dr. Terry and wife Paula Homan in 2008. It consists of five farms in the Black Creek area, each selected for their ability to meet the “Red Barn Rules.” These rules revolve around rigorous quality, animal health, and operational requirements, linking excellence in what we used to call animal husbandry (but what today folks refer to as humane treatment of cows), to excellence in food quality.

Red Barn farmers are compensated with a pay rate for milk above and beyond the commodity market. This rate helps sustains their lifestyle of small, traditional dairy farming. Each farm must be family-owned and family members must perform the majority of the farm labor. Average herd size is 55 cows. Just like when I was a kid, cows are known and cared for by name and live longer lives than today's industry standard. Each farm is annually inspected and certified by the American Humane Association.

Milk from Red Barn farms is bottled and sold as fluid milk, or crafted into award-winning cheese at one of three Wisconsin creameries - Springside Cheese in Oconto Falls; Willow Creek Creamery in Berlin, and LaClare Farms in Pipe. Cupola is crafted at LaClare by U.S. Champion cheesemaker Katie Fuhrmann. The cheese is fruity and nutty with hints of caramel and toasted pineapple. In other words, it's amazing.

Cupola was named after the small structure at the top - or pinnacle - of traditional Wisconsin barns. A pinnacle cheese for Red Barn, Cupola is an American original that combines top-quality milk, a world-class cheesemaker, and a recipe perfected with the help of the Center for Dairy Research at UW-Madison over a three-year time period.

"Red Barn's mission is to honor and sustain excellent small family farms in Wisconsin," says company president Paula Homan. "We worked closely with Scott Mueller of Design Incites to create packaging that would communicate the tradition of excellence that our farms represent and the quality of the products they produce."

Congrats, Red Barn Family Farms, for dedicating your lives to rewarding dairy farmers for producing quality milk that's made into stellar cheese.