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Archive for the ‘Dairy’ Category

From The Farmers’ Mouth – Time to Vote

12.21.11

My highlight reel of ‘From Local Farms‘ videos was just chosen by Daniel and Mirra of The Perennial Plate as a top-four contender in their recent video competition. I’m honored to be on the list, to say the least. The very reason I started a video series at all was directly because of Daniel and Mirra’s earliest episodes – inspiring me to pick up a cheap Flip camera, introduce myself to some farmers, and press some record button. My life, quite literally, has not been the same since.

So a big thank you goes out today to Daniel, Mirra, all the passionate farmers, and especially to you for taking the time to watch what other folks have to say about our food world. You plugging into and supporting projects like The Perennial Plate matters – it creates cracks in a food culture needing to evolve.

Please click over here to like the video on facebook, and vote for it too while you’re at it. If the vid wins the day, it will replace the regular programming of The Perennial Plate next Monday, exposing it to a very large viewership of like minded folks across many borders. That would be very cool. Even if it doesn’t, big thanks to Daniel and Mirra for your support of what I’m up to and sharing your audience.

From Local Farms – The Cheesiry

07.13.11

I left the Cheesiry feeling strangely like I’d just visited an old-world producer – and not simply because of the old-school pecorino they produce. There’s a wonderful vibe from the cheesiry being built into the heart of the family farm’s old cow dairy facilities which on a hot day offers a cool and patina’d experience – and stepping into their boutique where Rhonda will guide you through her creations certainly adds to the experience. Having decided at age 30 that it was time for a change, she uprooted and ended up in Tuscany making pecorino: sheep cheese. She’s carried the techniques – even her gear is custom built to replicate what she came to know at the Tuscan farm – back to Alberta’s sparse artisan cheese scene.

Rhonda and her husband Brian have a lot going for them. Youth, for one, but also the tremendous opportunity to carry on Brian’s family’s farming traditions in their own way. Takes guts. Their marketing is slick, their product oozes character and quality, and they have great help and support including an Austrian cheesemaker colleague helping in the Cheesiry, and an Aussie well versed in sheep husbandry helping them with their flock. The lot of them are in the process of changing our local food culture, one wheel of cheese at a time.

The Elusive Butter and Cream

04.26.11

Butter. It’s an important ingredient in my house, and I’ve long wondered why no small local producer made it. But I’ve now found it, and now know why it’s not done.

Strangely, I discovered it in a board meeting – Sharon Johnson sitting in on a recent Alberta Farmers’ Market Association meeting, mentioned that she had dairy cows and sold butter and cream at the Salisbury Farmers’ Market [Thursdays, Sherwood Park]. My jaw probably dropped. I promised her I’d see her at her next market day.

The why? Turns out big-dairy isn’t fond of small producers. They’ve tried to shut down Johnson Family Farm‘s dairy production before. I’m going to avoid the details as I don’t want to misrepresent them in a situation like this, but the crux of it is the law allows them to produce X amount of dairy legally, much to big-dairy’s chagrin. The problem for other producers doing the same is it’s a choice to play with fire. Legal fire where you’re out monied – and where it’s not so much about being right as who’s got deeper pockets. Not a new story in agriculture.

I’m so grateful there are folks willing to stand up in this kind of situation and fulfill their right to produce good food. Both their butter and cream are lovely, and I, for one, will be a loyal customer.

Would You Buy This Cheese?

03.20.11

This cheese entered my life as a gift. It’s an aged Bressan from Smoky Valley Goat Cheese, and Holly figured the mottled molds atop it would make it unsuitable for sale. She also claimed that this particular batch was so good that if she kept it for herself, she’d eat yet another lovely wheel of it by herself. I’m no doctor, but I’m wagering she’s right that eating multiple wheels of cheese back-to-back is unlikely to bolster health. So I accepted her gift designed to save herself.

I will agree on one of her points – this is indeed one of the best cheeses I’ve tasted from her. It really reminds me of a fine dry aged cheddar or something along those lines, and there will be no problem exceeding my own quota of cheese consumption as a consequence.

But on her other point, I disagree. I think folks would be happy to buy cheeses with mottled zany molds, especially once they got their palate on some properly matured cheese. So I ask you: would you buy this cheese? Would you pass it up based on appearance? I’m curious.

It’s exciting to me to see our local artisan cheese scene take shape, and I dearly hope that those interested in good food are adventurous enough to buy cool cheeses that encourage our local talent to explore the possibilities of our local cheese.

My Palate and Sinuses will Recover, Honest.

03.13.11

In 2006, a more than fledgling foodie at the time [and the year I started blogging], my wife and I spent a month traveling through western and eastern Europe, seeking regional food specialties. On that trip, having felt I knew cheese well, I went to France for the half-dozenth time, and had a major cheese awakening. Overall, their cheeses, even their brie de meaux – were raunchy. Barnyard, stinky, rich kind of raunchy. The French must come here, eat our ‘brie’ or ‘camembert’ from the box store and wonder what the heck we did to it. It’d be like the wonder bread of its cheese type. It’s true. What you know of as french cheese here is not representative of the norm there. When it comes to cheese, the French do ‘intense, earthy’ and we do ‘plastic, toilet paper’.

On that same trip, while in London, I stopped by Neal’s Yard Dairy to check it out [amazing], and asked [oops] for their raunchiest cheese. I figured I was all brave and stuff. Yeah, right. I was offered a cubic centimeter of an innocuous looking soft ripened cheese, a little goopy, and thought ‘really, is that the best ya got?’. I made the mistake of touching my video camera after touching that cheese, and we were many countries into our trip before my camera quit stinking. Lesson learned.

Because I gave them some of my time helping their business, Holly hooked me up with some wheels of goat’s cheese to cellar. This is the wheel of Tomme I acquired in early Oct 2010. It has seen 90+% humidity and temps between 2-7C since then. I’m guessing the moisture content was quite high on this one when made, as it’s still got a very moist texture – almost  havarti-esque. But let me tell you. It’s a shit-kicking on the senses. Pardon the language. But it’s true. It’s a concentrated pile of aroma and flavor – mostly nut driven, with a pile of complexity slammed up your sinuses and down your palate. You still taste this bad boy lingering in your head a half hour later. It is a cheese the French would stamp with their approval. Admittedly, it’s  a touch OTT for me. My pansy Canadian palate is still not accustomed to this pile of experience intensity. But I know many would feel otherwise.

So I now have about 1.5 kg of sense-pummeling-palate-mosh-pit cheese. Time to hook some raunchy-cheese-loving friends up, as there’s no way I can pile through this much crazy cheese. What’s amazing to me is that a cheese that can taste like a mild cheddar young, can go to vastly different places with some age. Such fun research.

Chocolate Espresso Chevrecake

02.11.11

This was an innovative-idea-to-me, but I googled it and apparently others have already discovered it. Oh well. Originality is not my m.o.

Chevrecake. Cheesecake happens to be my all-time-favorite-dessert, and a few years  back I spent some time mucking about with an individual [ramekin] sized chocolate espresso cheesecake recipe that I love dearly. It’s my birthday choice. And having recently discovered how substitutable Holly‘s chevre was for cream cheese when making icing, I figured I must give it another dessert-go via cheesecake.

My current guess is that the chevre in my CSA package this week had a higher moisture content than cream cheese from the store, as the ‘batter’ was looser than I’m used to and it took considerably longer to set. No big. I’m also going to wager the fat content is lower as it lacks the creamy-silky mouthfeel I’m used to. But make no mistake, those are small shortcomings given my newfound ability to put on an extra few pounds by eating too much chevrecake.

2 packs chevre [450g or so], 150 sugar, 2 eggs, 2 tsp vanilla, 1 oz chocolate, 1 oz espresso. 325F for an hour or until set.

Jack-o-lantern & Chevre Cupcake

02.09.11

Although not a big TV watcher, I have to admit I really love ‘Jamie at Home’. I was  recently watching his winter squash episode, and he  very quickly whipped together butternut squash cupcakes with a very low-sugar icing. ‘Hm’, thought I, ‘I have a bunch of jack-o-lantern pumpkin in the freezer that needs to get eaten’. Then, thought I, “I also have lots of chevre from Smoky Valley Goat Cheese in my freezer”. Hm.

See, back when we did a cheese tasting for Holly the cheesemaker, one of the ideas for use of her chevre was cream cheese icing on carrot cake. Every time that idea crossed my mind, I thought it  was genius. It was time to give it a go.

We directly substituted pumpkin for butternut, and chevre for sour cream, and as unlikely as it is for me to get excited about cupcakes, these are really awesome. They will be a new staple in our home. The girls like them, mom and dad like them, and they’re heavy on winter squash and goat cheese, and relatively light on sugar. The chevre doesn’t need a lot of sugar to whip up into an icing – a few tablespoons of icing sugar per cup of chevre, and it’s really, really good as icing – only a slight tang of tartness reminding me it’s goat dairy and not cream cheese. Because of the light tang, go easy on the citrus, I think, if using Jamie’s recipe. We used no citrus.

So there you have it. Me, endorsing a cupcake. Never thought I’d see the day.

Valencay Epiphany

12.15.10

Well as it turns out, it took me a week or so to get to those brownish, fuzzy, kinda brutal looking Valencays that I aged in my cellar for a couple months. And as it turns out, I was wrong. They were not dead, bad, or past. They were SUBLIME.

The reason I was cellaring these was to see where they go with age – whether there are benefits to the aging, and if so, what they are. Pretty straightforward. When I cut into this, it smelled of pungent but gorgeous blue cheese – like a stilton. It had a texture akin to a buttery mature soft cheese like a rich camembert. No runniness or oozy texture – very even creamy/buttery throughout. It was stunning, and nothing at all like the cheese when it was young. I went from a dry, soft, subtle, dense creaminess young, to a unctuous, gloriously stinky, mushroomy, blue-cheese-brie-esque funk with age. I was blown away. Beautiful stink and delectable texture – a marriage of stilton and camembert. It’s worth noting that the aged St. Maures I’ve tried had a hot acidity almost similar to chili to them – these did not.

So there you have it. Cheese awesomeness due to proper aging. Not dead. Awesome. I’m pleased.

Holly the cheesemaker’s thoughts: “Interesting that you find your Valencay in great form. This batch of Valencay must have went through a successful ripening process. Each step in the process of making St. Maure & Valencay (from draining and drying to ripening) determines the moisture content and therefore affects the ripening process and ultimately the finished product. As I have mentioned in the past, our ripening rooms are manually controlled and the humidity is most often affected by the weather and by the quantity of cheese in the ripening room (as the cheeses can put out a considerable amount of moisture and heat) and makes the control of the ripening process very difficult. Next year, I will be reducing the amount of St. Maure & Valencay that I make as these products take great care and observations to dry them to the correct amount of moisture and maintain the correct humidity around them in order to prevent losses (runniness under rind), short shelf life or inconsistencies in products. But like you mentioned before, this is what makes our products unique and each batch an interesting surprise!”

Cheese Cellar Porn

12.08.10

You take milk. You make cheese. And you stick it in your cellar for months. Food preservation methods like this astonish me. My cheese cellar is low-tech and passively cooled and humidified. No gear. No electronics. No energy consumption. Old-school. Currently holds 90+% humidity and temp is a bit low at 5-6C.

I took these photos because Holly asked me to. She was curious to see the current state of the microflora my cellar endowed these cheeses with. Both are goat, one her ‘Tomme’, and one her ‘Farmer’s’. You can see what they looked like nearly two months ago here. Every time I handle theses cheeses it brings me immense joy, not only because of the soft, beautiful, mushroomy aromas they offer, but also because I never imagined I would have such treasures in my home. Both cheeses were washed yesterday.

The next challenge I will face on this front is how to tackle a cheese – how to seal the remainder once it’s cut into and/or how to get through that much cheese. Apparently cheeses like this freeze well, although that will be my last method of choice, simply as it seems I’d be killing the cheese’s life, rather than prolonging it for my satisfaction. Sounds kinda mean either way when I put it like that…

Tomme: a great brain-like pattern on the orange-on-white top

Tomme: An interesting lip on the edges

Tomme: Wide shot. You can see it's lopsided in this shot.

Farmer's: Shot of the palette of colors on the surface

Farmer's: brown-grey in side grooves, orangy-white top

Farmer's: wide shot

Holly’s comments on the state of the cheese: Your Farmers looks great! Similiar to mine, but mine has a bit more different flora going on in the ripening room so a bit more colour. I dry brushed this batch after the first month which allows different molds to attach (less washing which tends to control the surface flora). Your brainy surface on the Tomme is the Geo at work…. Washing more frequent at the beginning will eliminate this. I add Geo, B-linens and Mycodore (ripening agents) to my Tomme with the bacterial culture but only B-linens to my Farmers. Geo is great for preparing the surface for other molds but left unchecked can develope the wrinkly surface (soft rind but hard cheeses don’t get slip skin usually). Other than that, your Tomme looks just like mine and the rind will stiffen up!”

Goat Cheese Post Mortem

12.07.10

My email this evening to Holly Gale of Smoky Valley Goat Cheese who’s consulting on my cheese cellaring project.

“Finally hit an aging hurdle. These Valencays went in there in mid October, so nearly 2 months. They looked like this when they did. They held up really well until the last week or two.

What’s interesting is that they seem to have dried considerably,  but not softened. And that brown mold simply does not look friendly. I’m going to cut them open to do a post-mortem on them and see what the inside is like tomorrow when I have some good light to take pictures.

Any thoughts?

The rest of the cheeses in that case show no sign of this. There’s a chance it was because I crack the lid to allow humidity to escape on the opposite side of where these are – perhaps resulting in too much humidity on their side of the case [95%+]?

Look forward to hearing whether you’ve seen this or not, and what you figure it is.

Kevin”

“Wow, looks interesting! I’ve never had/seen anything like that before but I wish I could achieve that brown color on my Tommes. I’m taking a wild guess that it is some kind of oxidation as the micro flora is coming to an end. With the Valencay becoming too dry it probably is not sustaining it well enough??? Also, I use a Geo 17 for my St. Maure & Valencay. This particular Geo has a short life span and may have also contributed to what I think looks like oxidation by-product. I wonder if the Tommes were left long enoug that the Mycodore (white felt mold) would die off too and create more of a brownish rind – Holly”

READ THE UPDATE ON THIS CHEESE