Archive for the ‘Dairy’ Category

Cellaring Cheese


One of my goals this year was to start to get my feet wet at making cheese. I failed. I have not made cheese.

But what has happened is a very happy thing: I’ve become good friends with cheesemaker  Holly Gale and have had the opportunity to help their farm in a variety of ways – in exchange for cheese. All of these cheeses were made by Holly, and are being aged by me [with Holly's consultation] in my cellar. I’m learning that aging cheese can be a dynamic affair, and here are some photos from my first washing [done between sausage-making projects on Sunday... it was a busy Sunday], and follow-ups a couple days later.

Goat Tomme on the left after a couple weeks in my cellar, after 3-4 months of age from Holly’s aging room. Since it arrived in my cellar it developed a white coat, underlain by browny orange, and soft orangy blotches atop it all. Young goat tomme on the right – I received this one at 2 days old, and all that fuzz developed in my cellar. Note the wire racking, atop water. They were rusting, so Holly hooked me up with the cheese matting you see in the other pictures.

The aged tomme post-wash [wiped with new cloth & 2% salt brine]. Check out that color!!! The cheese aging setup had such optimal conditions – currently 12C and 90+% humidity – that I decided to commit some of my soft cheeses to the same conditions to further mature them. 3 St. Maure in center, 2 Valencay on the right. Holly was having a hard time with dry conditions, so the bloomy rind hadn’t taken over atop the ash on the Valencay like it should. So these soft cheeses went from the wrapper in the fridge, to here.  You can see that the wire rack is gone, and I now have a paver about 1″ thick on the bottom, under the matting. It’s got salted water like a moat around the masonry. A lid goes atop this all, opened ajar to bring down humidity as required.

The young tomme post-wash. Holly says it’s looking good, so presumably all those blotchy molds are friendly, desirable molds. Whites, blues, browns, rust-colored, different shapes, patterns, patches – this cheese is pretty dynamic. I have to admit that it’s still counter-intuitive to be embracing, even encouraging mold formation on food – I certainly grew up in a different era/paradigm. But it is indeed exciting – feels a bit like playing with fire. Yummy smelling fire though.

The aged tomme and soft cheeses – 2 days later. I washed Sunday morning, and this was Tuesday morning. I am shocked how quickly the white molds developed [check the Valencays 2 photos above - they're mostly black 2 days earlier]. I had hoped they would get their white-mold on, but thought it would take more time than that. These soft cheeses are destined for some research on how maturity impacts flavor and texture, although I’m also on watch [on Holly's advice] to watch that they don’t mature too quickly, or they get runny under the rind.

The young tomme, 2 days post-wash. Already getting quite the dynamic blotch pattern with some white skiff of mold. Looks friendlier than before. I suppose that it’s worth noting that the milk was inoculated with mold cultures prior to cheesemaking – so there is some predictability as to what molds may dominate, etc, but the specific color palette and nuance of flavor will be driven by the microflora and conditions in my cellar. Very exciting stuff.

Aging cheese, for me, right now, is worth the maintenance if for no other reason than smelling their glory when I go down there. It smells BEAUTIFUL. It will also be a dream-come-true to head down to the cellar to grab fresh, mature, dynamic, funky cheese rather than reaching for the fridge – which stunts the growth and is too cold and too dry for them to do their thing.

Still a cheese newbie – but workin’ on it.

Cellar Dream-Come-True


I knew when I built my wine and root cellars, that they would bring me joy – but I had no idea it would happen so thoroughly, so quickly. Today I made a batch of very, very large saucisson sec. It was time to try again after my last slightly hurtful failure, and the humidity in my cellar has been above 60% since early spring, largely having been resolve by 1) building a door, imagine that and 2) having a passive humidifier setup which is a bucket with salt water + a rag wicking water on to a flat rock on the floor = ~20%+ bump up in RH.

As I tied the links up in the cellar, I paused at the sight of copious quantities of saucisson sec, hanging above aging wheels of local goat cheese, themselves above many carboys full of urban fruit wine - and was thoroughly pleased to the core. It’s a dream-come-true, really. The cheese setup, btw, is a genius one – Holly at Smoky Valley Goat Cheese hooked me up with this idea: food grade plastic bin with lid, salt water on bottom, add rack, cheese on top [not touching water] = 95+% humidity. The humidity can be tweaked by simply sliding the lid open or closed. I had no idea how to achieve the necessary humidity for cheese ripening without the typical old-fridge-setup folks use. Problem solved.

I find myself ducking down to the cellar daily now – checking dry cured meat or smelling the cheese and checking out for any microflora action, topping up wine carboys or checking their state of fermentation, grabbing a bottle of wine or a jar of pickles, jam, or fruit syrup, or rounding up some root veg for dinner. Cellars are underrated – mine’s changing my life, and I think I’m only just starting to get the hang of it.

I’m Thankful for This Soup


I’ve been really grateful for the abundance around me lately. I feel a little like I’ve won the lottery [I don't buy tickets]. This soup kind of summed up my happiness of late. It’s a purée of winter squashes from my former lawned front yard, with celery and leek from my backyard garden + a whack of chevre from Holly. Atop it is a dollop of goat yogurt, wild lobster mushrooms a friend hooked me up with, some burdock root [from the garden] that was sautéed with a little bacon made from Nature’s Green Acres pig. This soup defined a moment, was unique, dynamic and tasted lovely. Every last bit of it was made from the garden, or from food received from a friend.

One of the things I’ll be grateful for this thanksgiving is for the relationships I’ve been building in the local food community. It has made every meal, no matter how small, more meaningful. Just like killing an animal gives you a deep respect for the use of its meats,  or growing your fruits and vegetables makes you love them that much more – so does having a close relationship with the folks that produce your food increase your connection to and enjoyment of their foods. Strange comparison, perhaps, but it’s true.

Amidst all the reasons to support your local farmer directly – health, chemical avoidance, sustainable ag, quality, freshness,  organics, whatever – community was not something I anticipated harvesting from doing so. And for that, I am grateful.

The Smoky Valley Cheese Tasting


I haven’t written about last Saturday’s event, which was an epic cheese event, but others have here, here, and here. Sarah and/or Chris edited this ode-to-the-evening-video to include in Chris’ post, and I couldn’t help but share it. Some good news about Smoky Valley Goat Cheese – they sold out in a few hours at the market this morning, CSA members are signing up, and a few big-name specialty retailers have contacted them wanting to carry their product [details as things materialize]. It’s starting to feel  like ‘Operation Save Our Artisan Goat Cheese‘ may have won the critical first battle.

FROM LOCAL FARMS – Smoky Valley Goat Cheese


Used to be that fine goat cheese was something my wife and I would enjoy while traveling in France. Ten years later, as did the Smart car and Sephora, artisan goat cheese showed its face in Edmonton. When Smoky Valley Goat Cheese arrived at our City Market this spring, I wrote about it immediately. It changed our household food culture overnight, and since then our cheese has been hand crafted by Holly Gale.

As you may know, I’ve been on a bit of a crusade of sorts lately, doing what I can to help one of too many small artisan farm operations  struggling with viability. And yes, there’s a reason their new website looks shockingly like my blog, as I have recently been charged with re-creating their online face, asap.

I often wondered how Holly could make such good cheese right out of the gates, but now I know – she’s been making small-batch, farmstead cheese for over 30 years. In the video she discusses some of the challenges [everpresent in the regional farming gig], inspirations, and goals for their artisan dairy. Forgive the impromptu camera folly as the goats played with my tripod during the interview, and ate my list of questions for Holly. Ah, goats.

Operation ‘Save Our Artisan Goat Cheese’ has begun


While taking care of production duties on the ‘From Local Farms‘ project, I learned from Holly – our regional artisan goat cheese producer slated for an episode – that their operation is facing a winter of financial-non-viability, and that they are at risk of being forced to close their doors. One of the sad, hard truths I’ve learned about while talking to farmers for my ‘From Local Farms‘ project  has been  the tenuous struggle many small producers face – especially come winter – if they can’t squeeze their way into one of the year-round markets, get off-farm  jobs, or otherwise find some way to make ends meet until the farmer’s markets re-open in May. In order to resolve this problem, Smoky Valley Goat Cheese is making the shift to a CSA [community supported agriculture] model where folks buy a share of production, and periodically pick up their share of what the farm produces – throughout the year. Common with vegetable farming, it has  also proven to be a successful model in the goat dairy business in Canada. A CSA approach can give the farmer more predictable year-round revenue, reduce waste by making use of all their product line on an ongoing basis, and on the consumer end makes you more deeply connected to the people and places behind our food – all while assuring the survival of the artisan producer in our rather disjointed food system. I feel that I already buy this way when it comes to meats, buying whole animals from small producers every year, so this model for cheese makes equal practical sense for me. And no butchering required!

In an effort to help them make this work, I’ve embarked upon what my wife and I are calling ‘Operation Save Our Artisan Goat Cheese‘. I’m going to be redesigning their website, hosting a tasting this weekend involving food writers, cooks, and critics in order to develop thorough tasting notes & recipe ideas, promoting their CSA program, and generally helping in any way I can to help save their important contribution to our regional food scene. We desperately need more producers like these folks, not fewer.

Their From Local Farms‘ episode is being shot Friday, and I’ll get it up as soon as I can. I’ll have details about their CSA program on their new website asap. In the meantime, if you value our local artisan producers, give some thought to getting involved in their CSA program. I’m in.

Smoky Valley Goat Cheese – Feta


No, their goat feta is not pink. It’s fantastically textured, confidently salty – but decidedly not pink [it was the roasted forono and bull's blood beets' fault]. We’ve recently had feta from what I thought would be  a fairly good source: the Italian Centre [I heart the ICS]. But this stuff killed it. No competition. The more I try their products, the more I wonder how exactly Holly is knocking it so out of the park with so many of her cheeses, so early on – as they’re really new to the local cheese game. And don’t you worry. I’ll  be there soon enough to find out why on camera for you.

Speaking of local farms, the footage has begun, my calendar is packing up with farm visits during an exciting harvest season, and there’s only a couple producers I’m waiting to hear back from before I’m pulling back the reigns and getting down to a heavy shooting and editing schedule. The latest addition: Sunworks Farm.

From Local Farms Project Update


This project is getting pretty big pretty fast, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Starting in September, I’m going to have a blog-doc-short episode featuring each of the following biggest and brightest talents in local artisan food production – and the list is growing daily: Sunworks Farm, Nature’s Green AcresSmoky Valley Goat Cheese, En Santé Winery, Serben Free Range, Sparrow’s Nest Organics, Mighty Trio Organics, Gold Forest Grains, Green Eggs & Ham, and Peck N Berry Acres. These are busy people and it’s a busy time of year, so I really appreciate their willingness to have me show you more about who they are and what they do.

How cool is that.

Smoky Valley Goat Cheese – Mountain Tomme


Having posted tasting notes of their St. Maure and Valencay, I was pleased to have yet another lovely looking goat cheese to tackle from this relatively new, yet fantastic producer. Holly, who tends the goats, cheesemaking, and market booth mentioned that this particular cheese will achieve more of what she’s looking for by the fall. She’s got me excited too now, as it’s pretty darn nice at the moment.

This one’s a different beast than the other two, as it’s not in the moist-and-creamy category. It’s a drier cheese – soft and subtle, making it very approachable for even the non-goat-cheese lover. Despite the dryness, it’s not grainy or crumbly, and for a point of reference is more akin to the offspring of an aged-cheddar-asiago marriage than chevre. The flavor is light, with sunflower seed nuttiness and butter notes. I found it to have a similar approach as some of my favorite French wines – nuanced, not in your face, and you have to dig a bit to get to the substance of it. Like classic vanilla.

Smokey Valley Goat Cheese will be featured in Sept/Oct in the upcoming blog-umentary-online-video series I’m producing called ‘From Local Farms‘. Holly will be showing you around the farm, and walking you through the cheesemaking process. How cool is that?!? I’m really excited to have a growing list of farms involved in the project, and just today started to get regional musicians get involved by donating their music to the soundtrack. Stay tuned – it’s turning out to be a pretty exciting project.

Smoky Valley Goat Cheese: Valencay


Smoky Valley's Valencay

After giving them a bit of a hard time, while heavily praising their St. Maure goat cheese, I had to amend that post regarding a one-week-60%- price-increase from $5 to $8. In what I’m guessing was a hard-knocks lesson in supply and demand, a couple weeks later their pricing was back down to $5. [note: I heard from the farmer shortly after that the price increase was due to them increasing the weight of the cheese. My bad] I rejoiced. I bought not only the St. Maure, but their Valencay. The St. Maure, perhaps due to it not moving for a while, perhaps not, was extremely runny – which doesn’t turn me off – but it was extremely runny only around the inside of the rind, while having a lump of nicely textured cheese inside the ring of runny goo. I’m used to mature cheeses having a consistent gradient of ooze. It seemed like a fault to me, as if storage had been an issue. [this was not a storage issue, they had run out of their usual culture spores] I could be wrong here, but I figured I may as well mention that I vastly preferred the fresher version with a consistent texture.

Anyway, I wanted this post to be about the Valencay. Because their website description seems to be yoinked from Wikipedia, I figured I’d offer some additional tasting notes. It this cheese were scored like a wine, I’d give it a 94. It’s ultra creamy. The thick white bloom rind has a soft spongy texture with the ash giving it a touch of fine grit. Probably not for everybody, but I like the texture dance. For me, the smell is shockingly evocative of stepping into a very old building or cave in Europe – in an entirely pleasureful and happy sense. It brings me right back to a hotel in Paris, a wine cellar in Burgundy, or shop in Pienza – it’s startling, and I wish I knew why. It’s not because I had similar cheese there. There’s some aromatic compound that is present in this cheese and those places that we simply don’t have here in abundance. I apparently have a crush on that biochemistry. The creamy interior is like eating a cream-cheese-button-mushroom, then a touch of ripe grass, and a long, delicate finish of goat. This is a fantastic old-world style cheese, and seems vastly out of place in our largely blah world of cheese. It’s is absolutely a re-buy at $5, and I pray their quality can remain consistent.