Every now and again, a cheese courtesan must rest. Let me tell you about my best summer sleep.
Picture an inn on a lake at the end of a winding road — cows graze, roses bloom, you can hear the sound of cocktail glasses clinking when you enter the lobby. And when you reach your room (all white, except for a small fox painted on the wall by a dormer window), you find a complimentary basket of cheese and apples.
Forget chocolate on pillows. Readers, cheese and fruit are exactly what a weary traveler wants, does she not? Especially local cheese, made just yards away — past the cows and roses, on a winding walk to the barn where one can watch a burly man make Cheddar?
I am writing to you about the Inn at Shelburne Farms. Get out your bucket list, and strike through Aruba. If you’re reading this blog, you want a lover to whisk you off to Vermont. Leave hints now. The inn is only open during the warm months, and I am telling you: delectable cheese and sumptuous bedding await. Not to mention beautiful walks, patio breakfasts, lake swimming, and idle time in the library.
Two summers ago, I visited Shelburne Farms for the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and I swore that when I returned I would book a room at the inn. This summer, I did. And already, I can’t wait to return. Perhaps we all need a summer cheese sojourn?
About Shelburne Farms
~The inn was once the home and agricultural estate of Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb.
~Shelburne Farms is now a nonprofit organization committed to education and sustainability.
~The farm is home to a herd of Brown Swiss and a cheese making facility, hence Shelburne Cheddar.
~Farm tours are offered daily via open-air wagon (so worth it. You’ll learn about how the farm was planned by Frederick Law Olmstead, who designed Central Park. Think: curvy roads, painterly groves of trees.)
~Meals at the inn’s restaurant incorporate the farm’s bounty. Cheese, of course, but also veggies and edible flowers.
~The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival takes place at the farm every summer — it’s perfect for enthusiasts and even semi-enthusiastic sniffer-outers. You get to taste a variety of Vermont-based delicacies, from local gin to crackers, honey, chocolate, and — of course — some of the most glorious fromage made in this country.
Disclosure: I paid my own way at the Shelburne Inn; this is not a sponsored post. I received a media pass to the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival.
Last week, I went to Cheese Camp. You are probably picturing a woodland setting with counselors who teach kids how to make clay cheese talismans, like the ones pictured above. But no. There were too many of us: around 2,000 dairy nerds. We converged at a convention center in Providence, Rhode Island and ate copious amounts of American cheese. Cheese for breakfast. Cheese for lunch.
There was even a traveling cheese truck from Murray’s in New York with on-board cheesemongers who passed out glorious samples and sold cheese-themed bandanas. Above, you can see Sue Miller wearing hers on opening day, over a Vermont pancake breakfast. I have never eaten so much cultured butter.
Here are a few observations from camp on the subject of artisan American cheese, in case you enjoy following trends or dream of attending Cheese Camp 2016. Viva Des Moines!
If you want to make cheese, move to Maine.
Young cheese-making dames from Maine dominated the social scene and mopped up ribbons at the legendary Cheese Oscars. Funding from the generous Maine Cheese Guild paid the hefty price of admission. No wonder Maine is the fastest growing cheese state. It’s great to see young, entrepreneurial food producers supported. Award-winning Maine producers to watch for: Fuzzy Udder Creamery (sheep yogurt), Tide Mill Creamery (Little Bloom), Swallowtail Farm (Caramel Sea Salt Greek Yogurt), York Hill Farm (Ripened Chèvre Roll in Ash), Winter Hill Farm (Tide Line). I’m also a fan of Lakin’s Gorges.
Spirits are Entering the Pairing Game
Cowgirl Creamery presented one of the most-talked-about pairings of the conference: a wedge of Pierce Pt (a bloomy cheese rolled in flowers) atop a Simple & Crisp apple chip with a rum chaser. Fabulous.
Hot Topics in Cheese: Wooden Boards, Water Buffalo, and Coagulants
These were just a few session topics that conferees were buzzing about over beers. For information on aging cheese on wooden boards, check out the American Cheese Society’s position statement. To read about one of the leading water buffalo producers in Italy, check out Quattro Portoni — they were presenters at the conference. Although I missed the session on coagulants, I was fascinated to meet Artisan Geek, an urban cheesemaker and internet entrepreneur who curates a selection of hard-to-find products, from thistle rennet to rye-straw mats.
Cheese Art is Exploding
The conference held its first cheese art show (small but titillating) that included the always gorgeous cheese portraits by Mike Geno, tiny clay cheese replicas by Dylan Stanfield of Mt Townsend Creamery, cheese illustrations by the wonderful Miss Ziss, and cheese-centric ceramics by Cricket Creek’s Suzy Konecky.
Midwestern States Like Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska are Bumpin’
Some of the most interesting new cheeses I tried came from heretofore cheese deserts (at least in the artisan world). Midwestern cheesemakers to watch for: Reichert’s Dairy Air (robiola in Iowa!), Jacobs & Birchford (Ameribella, a glorious stinker from Indiana), Alemar Cheese (funk in Minnesota).
Southern Cheese States are Swoopin’ In
One of my favorite cheeses of late: Rosie’s Robiola from Boxcarr Handmade Cheese in North Carolina. All of Boxcarr’s cheeses are inspired by the small country farmsteads of Northern Italy. I loved meeting Alessandra, a former geologist turned cheesemaker.
Beard Nets Will Be Big Business
Feeling entrepreneurial? Take a look at all the bushy cheesemakers in the cheese world.
And there you have it. To stay looped in, look for these cheesemakers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also join the American Cheese Society and dairy-trip your way to Cheese Camp next summer!
It’s been a summer of cheese sleuthing. Wisconsin. Vermont. Tomorrow, I leave for Cheese Camp in Rhode Island, then it’s off to a secret cabin in Connecticut in exchange for a cheese party. It’s been glorious to spend so much time outside, toes in grass, making new friends — but today I’m luxuriating in a cafe, avec laptop, and relishing in some online daydreams. Here are a few delicious links that relate ever-so-loosely to cheese. May you enjoy these creative supernovas, and if you want to follow my Cheese Camp escapades starting tomorrow, find me on Instagram @mmefromage!
I’ve been following Amanda Phickle’s blog with a deep hunger ever since she returned from a fermentation retreat with kraut master Sandor Katz. Her recipe for Doogh — a fizzy, minty yogurt beverage — has me swooning.
My new blog crush: Writers Hana and Christine poke around in people’s kitchens, then run photos and interviews. Oh, nothing makes me happier than fridge-snoopery and cupboard-crashing! Have a look-see at what these dames discover in Johanna Kindvall’s kitchen, when they sniff out the writer/illustrator behind Kokblog — one of my favorite collaborators. (See JK’s illustration of my desk cheese board.)
How has it take so long for a website devoted to cheese curds to appear? Well, count on a Wisconsin cheese branding campaign to titillate us all with a curd-finder map and a daily giveaway of fresh curds. I received a bag in the mail last week and, friends, those curds were so fresh they still squeaked. I walked around the house eating them and laughing. New to curds? They’re simply fresh, unaged cheese nubbins pulled right out of the vat at the onset of the cheese-making process. When they’re fresh, they squeak between your teeth; when they’re a day or so old, they stop squeaking. In Wisconsin, enjoying a fresh, squeaky curd is a birthright. Drive through the state and you’ll see billboards beckoning you with the promise of “the squeakiest!” To experience this strange pleasure, enter the giveaway. Then put a six-pack and some friends on stand-by.
Friends, you’ve heard me rave about a new Pennsylvania cheesemaker named Stefanie Angstadt and her little micro-creamery, Valley Milkhouse in Oley, PA. I’m here to share the summer issue of Edible Philly, which contains the profile I wrote about her, called “The Start-Up Creamery.” You can read Edible Philly’s digital edition if you don’t live in these parts, or look for copies in Reading Terminal Market. Her story about reclaiming a historic milk house after learning to make cheese in her Brooklyn kitchen is inspiring. If you’re young and misty-eyed about working with milk, take a gander. You’ll find out how Stef secured her first loan and worked with her local community to get her one-woman operation running.
Shooting the photos for this story resulted in some of my favorite images. Stef’s cheeses are all very distinct in taste and in shape — she’s got an oozy bloomy, an herb-laced log, a natural-rinded blue, and a stunning ashy pyramid. Draping them with currants and adding a lump of honeycomb made their colors and textures pop.
If you’re headed to Cheese Camp (a.k.a. the American Cheese Society conference) in Providence next week, be sure to give Stef a big ol’ smile. She’s this year’s scholarship winner!
Madame Fromage at Cheese Camp: I’ll be presenting with Christine Hyatt (Cheese Chick Productions) at Cheese Camp on Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015 at 2:15 p.m. for a talk on Improving Your Digital Image. We’ll be talking about digital photography and social media. Come say hello if you’re in the crowd! I’ll be at ACS all week with my fellow Philadelphians, Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm and cheese painter Mike Geno. Plus, Anna Juhl of Cheese Journeys! We’ll be at the Red Fez, July 30, 9 p.m. for the DZTA Award Winners party — check out the Facebook link for details!
Looking to try these cheeses? Click here for Valley Milkhouse retail locations and markets. You can also visit the creamery’s small farm store at 92 Covered Bridge Rd. in Oley, PA. It’s one of the sweetest little farm stores I’ve ever seen, with eggs, yogurt, and plenty of cheese.
Whenever I travel, I always try to build a cheese board by shopping at local markets. It’s a great way to taste a place, and it gives my trip a pairing-driven purpose. Pack a cutting board on your next road trip, and you’ll have more fun nibbling, guaranteed.
Take last Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin: My brother Andre Darlington and I hit three Dane County farmers’ markets before 9 a.m. to assemble this Wisconsin Farmers’ Market Board, complete with tender strawberries, fresh herbs (even a little Sweet Woodruff), and zingy radish pods — a great palate cleanser that tastes like a pea pod that eloped with a daikon.
Give a listen to Andre’s new podcast, The Farmers’ Market Report, in a special July 4 episode devoted to all things Wisconsin Cheese. We interviewed all the makers connected with the cheeses you see on the board (pictured, counter-clockwise):
- Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage (top left)
- Bleu Mont Dairy Bandaged Cheddar Reserve
- Capri Farm’s Saint Dorian The Good
- Creme de la Coulee’s Saint Jennifer
- Hook’s Little Boy Blue
Details, details: Landmark Creamery’s etherial clouds of fresh sheep milk still leave me breathless. Bleu Mont is better than ever — Willi’s bandaged reserved paired beautifully with dark chocolate. Capri Farm’s Gouda-esque Saint Dorian is an Alpine sweetie, unlike any other firm sheep’s milk cheese I’ve tasted. Creme de la Coulee is new for me (cheesemaker Bill Anderson interned with Willi Lehner of Bleu Mont) and I am excited about his commitment to stink — although I want more funk in his Jennifer. Hook’s sheep-milk blue soothes — it’s fatty-sweet and so good with berries.
High Street Farmers’ Market | Saturday, July 11, 2015 (10:30-3:30)
This small summer market includes a table of guests I help curate on a bimonthly basis. This Saturday, you’ll meet Marisa McClellan from Foodinjars (she’ll be signing books until 1:30), along with Carly Dougherty from Food and Ferments. For a list of my upcoming guests, click here.
Also, don’t forget that July 16 is Eli Kulp Day, and High Street is planning a benefit dinner to help with Chef Eli’s medical bills that have followed his injury in the Amtrak crash. I’ll be at the benefit curating a giant cheese board, with the help of Birchrun Hills Farm and Di Bruno Bros. Tickets here.
Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival | Sunday, July 19 2015
I’m headed up to Shelburne next week to sniff out the hunks of Vermont! Let me know if you’ll be there. We can float on Lake Champlain with curds in our pockets. Tickets here