Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Live from ACS: Meet the Cheesemaker

The Cheese Underground is coming to you live tonight from the American Cheese Society annual conference in smokin' hot Austin, Texas, where the high today reached 104 degrees. All I can say is thank God for air conditioning.

Today was Meet the Cheesemaker day, with more than 50 dairy artisans from North America each sampling their newest and best cheeses. This event, which is WAY smaller than the far-more-famous Festival of Cheese on Saturday night, is my favorite event of the entire show. It's not that crowded, you get to talk one-on-one with cheesemakers and company owners, and everybody is in a good mood because no one has yet overdosed on dairy products (still early in the week).

It took me 2-1/2 hours to get through the room, and I didn't even get to talk to every cheesemaker. With seven pages of notes of new products ranging from black pepper blue to a new Iowan farmstead gouda, here's what's new in the world of American artisan cheesemaking:

1. Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese, California: exciting news, people. The Giacomini family has brought on a new cheesemaker from Poland, named Kuba Hemmerling. Kuba is a jolly good fellow with a very cool accent. Now, Point Reyes has been making farmstead blue - and only blue - since 2000. They know blue. They eat blue. They breathe blue. For them to start making a new cheese is like adding another member to the family. But they're doing it. Kuba says he made his first batch of an alpine mountain cheese on Saturday. Whoo-hoo! The cheese has no name yet and the Giacomini gals are giving away NO hints, but with the reputation of this farmstead dairy, I'm thinking it's going to be big.

2. Zingerman's Creamery, Michigan: for some reason, I don't
associate the state of Michigan with making a bloomy little white mold-ripened delicate double cream. But the new Manchester cheese from Zingerman's is amazing. It has a wonderful buttery flavor with a touch of pepperiness at the finish. Cheesemaker Aubrey Thomason is also making a new goat milk cheese called Lincoln Log, that's based on a French Boucheron. This mold-ripened cheese has a delicate rind, slight citrusy flavor and a clean, fresh finish. These are two great new cheeses.

3. Sweet Grass Dairy, Georgia: perhaps best known for its award-winning Green Hill, this dairy has launched a new cheese called Gray's Goat. Named after owners Jessica and Jeremy Little's oldest son, Aidan Gray, this is another bloomy-rind goat cheese that is creamy and tangy. Aged around four weeks, and made from the family's grass-fed dairy goat herd, this one's a
keeper.

4. Seymour Dairy, Wisconsin: veteran cheesemaker Mike Brennenstuhl broke ground two years ago with launching a series of blue cheeses modeled after authentic German, Danish and Italian style cheeses. He's done it again with a new product called Crocker Hills, an organic blue cheese made from pasture grazed milk. The name of this cheese derives from a little-known settlement in Langlade County in northeast Wisconsin, where in the early 1900s, a group of Kentucky dairy farmers cleared tracts of woods and established a small farming community. The farms are long gone, but the clearings, known as the Crocker Hills, still exist.

5. Saxon Homestead Creamery, Wisconsin: owner Jerry Heimerl and cheese architect Neville McNaughton were on hand to debut Saxony, a true alpine cheese with notes of Swiss and a sweet finish. Only six months old, Saxony will keep getting better as it ages. It's made in a beautiful 12-pound wheel mold and painted a deep red color. This is a cheese that is easy to
love.

6. Sartori Foods, Wisconsin: cheesemaker Mike Matucheski is making two new cheeses to debut next summer. Pastoral Blend is a sheep/cow mixed milk cheese and Caprimenthe is an 8-month aged goat cheese rubbed with olive oil. It carries a nice mint finish. Both cheeses compliment Sartori's growing line of artisan cheeses, including my favorite, Raspberry Bellavitano.

7. Sapori d'Italia, Kentucky:
here's something to wrap your head around --cheesemaker Giovanni Capezzuto is making Italian goat's milk cheeses in Kentucky. You've got to wonder how that came about, right? Giovanni says he learned how to make his Old World Italian cheeses from a shepherdess in Italy when he was a boy. It must have been some teacher, because these cheeses are amazing. My favorite is the Caciotta al Noci, a Dolce-style cheese with walnuts. Watch these cheeses, folks. They're going to be award-winners.

8. Mozzarella Company, Texas: cheesemaker Mitchell Whitley came up with a brand new cheese just 30 days ago, and debuted it tonight at ACS. This is embarrassing to say, but I was so struck by this cheese after I tasted it that I didn't write down the name. I was too busy eating it. It's a combination of fresh cheese curds and creme fraiche. Oh. My. God. This could be my new favorite addiction. Now if I can just hunt it down and remember what it's called ...

9. Frisian Farms, Iowa: in exciting news, a new cheesemaker has popped up in Iowa and his name is Michael Bandstra. He and his brother milk about 75 cows near Oskaloosa, Iowa, and built a farmstead creamery in 2008. They're currently specializing in farmstead Gouda. This is one to watch.

10. Faribault Dairy, Minnesota: cheesemaker Jeff Jirik continues to innovate and is now partnering with several cheesemakers by aging cheeses in his natural sandstone caves off the Mississippi River. One of these cheeses, crafted by Master Cheesemaker Jeff Wideman at Maple Leaf Cheese in Wisconsin, after being aged in the Faribault caves for just two years, tastes like a 7-year cheddar. Named Fini, it's labeled as a "cave-finished, extra sharp cheddar cheese."

11. Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, Wisconsin: cheesemaker George Crave has just rolled out a new marinated fresh mozzarella, featuring Italian seasoning, crushed red peppers, garlic powder, black pepper and salt. It's marinated in a blend of olive oil and canola oil. This cheese carries a nice fresh taste with a kick of flavor. It will really perk up a salad.

There are always more cheeses to talk about, but these were tonight's highlights. Stay tuned for more breaking cheese news and a daily update on how hot it is in Texas, courtesy of Cheese Underground. Until tomorrow ...

1 comment:

DoingDewey said...

I wish there was someone who cataloged Iowa dairies like this. It's just so convenient! I just reviewed a book on cheesemaking for my blog and would very much like to tour a dairy to watch the experts :)