Monday night saw a great event at Beecher’s NYC, with Gianaclis Caldwell, cheesemaker and author. Caldwell is the cheesemaker at Pholia Farm in Jackson County, Oregon, 10 miles outside the town of Rogue River.
Gianaclis and her husband and co-cheesemaker, Vern — career-Marine-turned-Cheesemaker — brought a selection of their cheeses for sampling and spoke about the challenges and rewards of farmstead cheesemaking. The Caldwell’s use the milk of Nigerian Dwarf Goats, a smaller breed (that is, ironically, neither from Nigeria nor technically a “dwarf” breed) with a milk that is higher in fat and protein than the more common breeds of dairy goat, making them excellent for cheesemaking, although like sheep they also produce less milk than the dairy-optimized breeds.
The farm is off the grid, running on solar and hydro power, and the Caldwell’s keep the operations small and efficient (it’s still an entirely family-run operation), with only as many goats as they feel their land can sustainably support, and make their cheese in a 30-gallon vat, stirring by hand, so that all of their cheeses are truly handcrafted with care and with the well-being of the animals always in mind.
Caldwell is also the author of Mastering Artisan Cheesemaking :The Ultimate Guide for Home-Scale and Market Producers, as well as The Farmstead Creamery Advisor (a must-read for anyone considering opening their own creamery or cheese making operation).
For this tasting there were four cheeses on hand:
Elk Mountain, a raw goat’s milk tomme, aged a minimum of 6 months (their site notes that “The Elk really do come down from the mountain to visit the creek on our property”). This is the driest of the cheeses, with a firm, dense, slightly flaky paste, mild, nutty and grassy.
Hillis Peak, a raw goat’s milk washed curd cheese, aged 7 months, with a rind that is rubbed with paprika and oil during aging. The paste is smooth and dense, lightly eyed. It’s not just the composition of the milk, but the flavor as well, that resembles sheep’s milk, and that comes out in the Hillis. With a earthy, slightly smokey flavor from the paprika, and a milky tang and notes of hay and nuts.
Covered Bridge is another washed-curd cheese, with a twist: Wild River’s Nut Brown Ale is added to the curds during the make. Aged a minimum of 3 month’s, the Covered Bridge is denser and moister, lightly eyed. The flavor is milder, creamy and a little bit yeasty from the ale, with herbaceous and fungal notes. This cheese almost never makes it to the East Coast so it was a treat to be able to try it.
Pleasant Creek is their thermophilic cheese, a Gruyere-style cheese with a reddish rind. The color of the rind derives not from any B.Linens that have been added but from naturally occurring red molds that are present in the Pholia caves during the winter months. With a smooth, moderately eyed paste, in flavor the Pleasant Creek is, mild, buttery and nutty with grassy and fruity notes.
Gianaclis also discussed the realities of cheesemaking: as she is quick to point out, they are able to maintain their small, sustainable model of cheesemaking thanks to Vern having a military retirement to fall back on (he also works part time at Rogue Creamery, makers of the now famous Rogue River Blue), as well as their being one of the top breeders in the U.S. of Nigerian Dwarf Goats, and now of course her successful career as an author. Were their entire income dependent on the cheese, they would almost certainly have to scale up or find alternate revenue streams. In this sense, she cautions aspiring cheesemakers to take stock of their finances and plan realistically (her book, American Farmstead Cheese, discusses the financial side of cheesemaking in much more detail). They have also consciously chosen to forgo certain investments, such as upgrading to a much larger, modern vat with an agitator, which would ramp up production considerably but also saddle them with debt.
If you’re interested in cheesemaking, or are planning to start your own farmstead operation, check out her books right now, they’re well worth the investment. And keep your eyes peeled for her next title, coming out in the fall, which will be a guide to Raw Milk for both cheesemakers and consumers. And of course, check out the cheeses of Pholia Farms at your local counter!
Having recently reviewed the sheep’s milk, pecorino-style San Andreas, from Bellwether Farms, It was with some interest that I noticed a wheel in the Beechers case, bearing the San Andreas name, but standing next to the other blue cheeses and with a paste peppered with blue mold. Upon asking the cheesemonger, she told me that this was part of an experimental batch of San Andreas that had been exposed to P. Roqueforti, hence the bluing. Naturally I had to try it.
This wheel seemed older than the first San Andreas, with a hard gray rind, darker and dryer penetrating into the paste a good inch. The paste itself was dryer and a little more crumbly and more open, with heavy eyeing. In flavor it had the same mild, sweet and tangy profile, with the trademark sheep’s milk gameyness, but there was also a slightly cheddar’y quality to the flavor and it was a bit saltier. The blue characteristics were there as well, although not as strongly as one might expect, a sharpness and peppery bite and a bit of a vegetal tone, but due to the dryer paste I didn’t find the intense, grassy, caramelly or sweet notes of a traditional blue. Similar to a “lightly blued” cheese like Dunbarton Blue from Roelli in Wisconsin, the blue mold becomes an accent note — accentuating and playing off the other flavors — rather than the predominant flavor.
Overall, while I did enjoy the San Andreas Blue, I prefer the original, although I’ll be interested to see how this cheese evolves if they keep experimenting with the blues.
Purchased at Beechers Handmade Cheese.
Dancing Fern, from Nathan Arnold, cheese maker at Sequatchie Cove Farms, from Sequatchie Cove, Tennessee, near Chattanooga. Coming from a state better known for Nashville, the Smokey Mountains and Jack Daniels than for cheese, the Dancing Fern is just one more example of the rapid spread of the artisan cheese making movement to the four corners of the nation, and is a perfect tasting with which to kick off American Cheese Month.
Sequatchie Cove may be a relative newcomer to the cheese world, but they’ve entered it with a splash: “Have you tried the Sequatchie Cove yet??” was a question I got asked at least three times while wandering around the Festival of Cheese at the ACS Conference in Raleigh this August. Tucked in a corner of one of the long tables overloaded with cheese, it seemed to have garnered an outsized amount of attention. Even Gordon Edgar weighed in with strong praise, post-convention, saying of the Dancing Fern, “This is the one cheese I voted for in my personal top 3 which didn’t make the Best of Show/Runners up list. This is the best American version of a Reblochon that I have ever tasted.”
Indeed, while it didn’t win Best In Show, it did score First Place in the “Farmstead Soft Cheese” category. And while it is currently hard to find outside the South, it has started to find its way to NYC, and cheesemongers like Beecher’s now have it in stock. But move fast: when I went to get mine they were already down to just a few wheels.
A good Reblochon is extremely difficult to find in the States: traditionally made from raw milk, the pasteurized versions that make their way to us lack the depth of flavor and character that the real stuff has. There are some great “Reblochon-style” cheeses available, like the Swiss-made Stanser Schaf Reblochon, a washed-rind Sheep’s milk version (recently reviewed here http://cheesenotes.tumblr.com/post/31897322648/stanser-schaf-reblochon ) which is absolutely delicious in its own right, but is not, properly speaking, a Reblochon. (You can read more about Reblochon, and the unusual provenance of its name, here.)
Dancing Fern is made in 1 Lb wheels with the milk of Devon cows — an heirloom breed far less common in the States — and aged for just over 60 days, allowing it to be made with raw milk. With a delicate, pillowy white rind over a golden-hued, velvety oozing paste, the flavors are reminiscent of a rich, cultured butter with notes of walnuts, mushrooms and grasses with a lovely earth, musty undertone. A delicate, even mild cheese but with an impressive depth and complexity.
This is a seasonal and, for now, mostly regional cheese, so get it while it’s around or wait until next year! Meanwhile I’m looking forward to trying the rest of the Sequatchie Cove family of cheeses, which will hopefully be following their sibling northwards in short order.
Purchased at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese.
Serious Eats Reviews 16 of the best Grilled Cheese Sandwiches in NYC. If you’re looking for where to go for your next melted cheese delight, this is a pretty good cheat-sheet to work off of:
Cheese is delicious. Melted cheese is more delicious. Why, exactly? The gooey factor is nice, and the heat of a griddle or sandwich press brings out entirely new flavors and textures, the makings of some of our favorite sandwiches. In honor of the greatness that is melted cheese, we’ve looked back on some of our favorite New York Grilled Cheeses. Whether it’s a nutty French affair paired with a fancy jam, or simply white bread hugging American slices next to a bowl of tomato soup, grilled cheese is the best, and these are the best of the best.
- Grilled Cheese at Bouchon Bakery
- Grilled Kimcheese at Porsena Extra Bar
- A Taleggio sandwich at Murray’s Cheese Shop
- The Green Table’s Grilled Cheese
- Asiago, Muenster, Parmesan, Butternut Squash at Little Muenster
- All American at Murray’s Cheese Shop
- Grilled Cheese with Bacon and Tomato at Westville West
- Fig and Cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
- Imperial Grilled Cheese at 61 Local
- Gouda Grilled Cheese at Queens Kickshaw in Astoria
- Grilled Cheese and Tomato Bisque at Slightly Oliver
- Grilled Cheese with Chorizo and Bacon at Eggs Travaganza
- Grilled Cheese at The Spotted Pig
- Classic Melt at Murray’s Cheese Bar
- Cheddar and Mozzarella at Queens Kickshaw in Astoria
- Grilled Cheese at Tiny’s Giant Sandwich Shop
Check out the slideshow and reviews at Serious Eats!
(Photos ©2012 Serious Eats)
Every great new cheese was at one time an experiment on a cave shelf: visit any creamery, and chances are there’s a corner of the space devoted to R&D, wheels that the cheese maker is not ready to release to the public while they perfect the recipes or try different methods in the make and aging.
Beecher’s has such cheeses as well, but fortunately for us they’re willing to let us in on the process: Codenamed “Batch #0607”, this is a new washed rind cheese that Beecher’s is working on in their caves at the New York City location. The cheesemonger at the counter confided that this is one of the wheels of the work-in-progress “Flatiron” cheese — named to honor the neighborhood in which Beecher’s NYC resided and first announced around the time of the grand opening back in 2011. I’d been wondering whatever happened to the Flatiron, so it’s good to hear that it’s still in the lab, as it were.
With a lightly eyed, creamy white paste, in texture the cheese is harder than one expects from a washed rind and the rind less sticky, more like a cheddar, a bit crumbly and dry. There is a distinct washed-rind aroma to the cheese, but in flavor it is creamy and sweet, slightly sharp, with developing meaty and nutty notes. It’s perhaps a little mild for my taste; I’d love to see what it’s like in a few months, or perhaps if they tweak the recipe towards more of a classic pungent trappist-style washed rind. It will be interesting to keep tasting this cheese as it develops, and see where it ends up, from where it is today, and what the final “ready for prime-time” cheese looks like.
Purchased at Beecher’s NY.
A cheese that needs little introduction at this point: The Flagsheep from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, winner of the Best In Show ribbon at this year’s American Cheese Society “Cheese Rally in Raleigh”, which took place in Raleigh, NC in early August. Although I’d had — and enjoyed tremendously — Flagsheep previously, this particular wedge came from the batch that took Beecher’s to cheese-world glory. I had tried it at the Festival of Cheese in Raleigh (you can see the ribboned wheels in that blurry third photo above), but by the time I’d gotten around to it, my taste buds were pretty much blown out after consuming easily over a hundred other cheeses, so I was happy to get another chance to experience it properly and in a civilized manner.
Flagsheep is a hard aged clothbound made with a mix of cow and sheep’s milk cheese (Beecher’s signature “Flagship” cheeses are pure cow, hence the name). Unlike many of the past winners of the Best in Show ribbon (Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Rogue River Blue) — and despite being aged well beyond the 60-day limit — Flagsheep is made with pasteurized milk. The cheese has clearly not suffered from it, an accomplishment of its own.
The cheese is a clothbound wheel, with the texture, firmness and dryness of an aged cow’s milk clothbound cheddar, with a tendency to break into long, flaky shards when cut; at the same time it has the surface oils one associates with sheep’s milk cheeses like Manchego. The paste is scattered with “flavor crystals”, aka the little pockmarks of crystallized amino acids that develop in hard cheeses as they age. The flavor is deep and complex, sweet and salty, grassy and meaty and with a balanced sharpness and notes of caramel, lanolin and toasted nuts. Despite the sharp and sheepy flavors it has a mellow and sweet finish.
This is an excellent cheese, and well deserving of the honor, especially when one considers that they’ve only been making the Flagsheep for a few years now. Sadly though, it could be hard to get your hands on in the near future — as one Beecher’s team member told me during the Festival, they had somewhere in the neighborhood of only 20 wheels of the Flagsheep on hand when the award was announced. Needless to say, those will probably all end up at Beecher’s two locations in Seattle and NYC, and are not available online. But we can assume that Beecher’s will be sharply upping the output of the Flagsheep in the near future, and perhaps even adding it to the production line at the NYC location (currently it’s only made on the West Coast by cheese maker Brad Sinko).
Purchased at Beecher’s NY.
(Update: Flagsheep was recently featured in a New York Times piece.)
Last night I found myself at Beecher’s NYC for the unveiling of the newest West Coast cheese to be featured in their case, Kurtwood Farm’s Dinah. In addition to the cheese, Kurtwood’s owner Kurt Timmermeister himself was there, to discuss the cheese, read excerpts from his book Growing A Farmer and discuss the trials, tribulations and quirks of farmstead cheese making. The event was MC’ed by Beecher’s Head Cheesemonger, Elena Santogade.
Kurt’s story is of particular interest to anybody who’s ever daydreamed about fleeing the city life to become a farmer/cheesemaker, as that’s exactly what he did, giving up a successful career in the restaurant business in Seattle to move out full-time to Vashon Island and turn a rough-around-the-edges patch of land into a small but thriving farm, despite coming to it with pretty much zero background in agriculture. The farmstead cheese came later, and he came to that as a newbie as well, but he is now successfully producing Dinah (named after his very first cow, whose face now graces the label of the cheese), a Camembert-style cow’s milk bloomy rind. Dinah is distributed mostly to local Washington State restaurants and stores, but is coming to New York City thanks to Beecher’s and their origins in the region (Beecher’s is a Seattle mainstay, with their New York store representing their first leap outside the region).
Kurt shared excerpts from his book, recounting his discovery, the hard way, that female cows will sometimes try to mount their human caretakers when in heat(!), and the fact that cows are acutely sensitive to even the smallest traces of electricity (he found himself on his knees licking concrete in search of an electrical charge). He also discussed life on the island, challenges to the greenhorn farmer, and the cheesemaking process, including the extreme measures taken to ensure total sanitation of the make room (only two people ever enter the room under any circumstances: Kurt and his cheese maker) and the frustrations of having makes inexplicably fail and having to chase down the causes.
For our tasting, we had a wedge of the Dinah, accompanied by a New Mexico sparkling white, Gruet, and a rasberry-chocolate jam from Wicked Natural. Both paired wonderfully with the cheese, the dry, mineral, citrusy wine and cheese combining to bring out fruity, peachy notes; the jam, with its rasberry tartness and subtle chocolatey flavor, added a wonderfully unctuous touch, blending nicely with the buttery fats of the cheese.
For the cheese itself, the rind was velvet-molded and pillowy, giving way to a golden, oozing paste, buttery and rich, with a complex flavor redolent of mushrooms, wet grass (in character, given its Pacific Northwest island terroir), hints of barnyard and a delicate meaty pungency and lingering finish. The Dinah is a worthy homage both to the Camembert cheeses which inspired it and the wonderfully fresh milk from which it is made. As Kurt explained, the milk goes straight from the cows to the vat in a matter of minutes, still warm, ensuring that it is quite literally as fresh as is humanly possible.
Swedish Farmer’s Cheese, from the Swedish Family Farmer’s in upstate New York, is a wonderful cheese in the style of a (can you guess?) Swedish farmhouse cheese. A firm, buttery cheese with a heavily eyed paste, mild in flavor but with a pleasant tangy bite and nutty and grassy hints.
I also paired it with a geographically appropriate scandinavian bread: The Finnish-style dark rye bread with sunflower seeds from Nordic Breads, who have a stand at the Union Square farmer’s market. Check out their bread if you get the chance.
Purchased at Beecher’s.
(Note: I couldn’t find an online presence for the cheese makers. If you know of a site, let me know so I can add a link).
This should be interesting. on 06/06, Beechers NYC will be hosting Kurt Timmermeister, Restauranteur turned farmstead cheese maker, to discuss his cheeses and how he came to the life. The talk will be moderated by Elena Santogade, lead cheesemonger (and Tumblr’er at http://wannabemonger.com/):
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese New York is proud to welcome Kurt Timmermeister of Kurtwood Farms in celebrating the New York premiere of his signature farmstead cheese, Dinah’s Cheese. Kurt has built a great reputation in the Pacific Northwest as an excellent cheesemaker and a restaurateur-cum-farmer, telling his compelling story in his recent book, “Growing A Farmer, How I Learned To Live Off The Land.”
Dinah’s Cheese, a soft, bloomy-rind, cow’s milk, Camembert-style cheese made from milk produced only by the cows on Kurt’s farm, has never before been sold in New York. It will be exclusively available at Beecher’s New York.
Join us for a special event on the evening of June 6th to celebrate the arrival of Dinah’s Cheese in New York and to learn more about Kurt’s extraordinary story. You’ll get to taste Dinah’s for yourself along with a curated wine pairing. Our Lead Cheesemonger, Elena Santogade, will lead a discussion with Kurt about his experience and the intricacies of farmstead cheesemaking.
Sign up on Eventbrite.
(Photo ©2012 Kurtwoodfarms.com)
A New York Cheese Shop Is Making 2,600 Pounds Of Fresh Cheese Every Day—And It Wants You To Watch
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a Seattle-based cheesemaker and cheesemonger that just opened a flagship store two blocks north of Union Square in Manhattan, wants to change the way America eats.
It’s doing it by teaching people how cheese is made, from start to finish. And with floor-to-ceiling windows that expose Beecher’s 2,600-pound-a-day cheesemaking operation to passers by, it’s doing so with a flourish.
We recently talked to lead cheesemonger Elena Santogade and head cheesemaker Dan Utano about making cheese in the public eye and selling U.S.-made cheese, some costing as much as $38 a pound, to cheese-loving New Yorkers.