Our Meeting at Turner Farm was a wash-out in more ways than one. As the small group that gathered in the Rockland Ferry Terminal waiting room chatted merrily as we waited to board the ferry to North Haven, the ferry left without us.
It was pouring buckets of rain that morning, and Steph at Turner Farm was a good sport about it when I let her know we had *missed the boat* but it was still a shame to realize that we had struck out.
The group in the waiting room was so small I decided that I would send off my agenda items to the group electronically to get your feedback. The one topic I need to hear back about is an immediate workshop proposal:
Michael Kalish is an Affineur who has studied in Europe and worked at the Herve Mons caves. I will email around the links he sent from earlier classes he has put on for other groups, and he has said he can be available to teach a class here in Maine in late March 2014.
Are Guild members interested in scheduling an Affinage Workshop? For one day? Two days? More? Please respond by posting comments on the Guild web site article for the October 7th meeting.
Additional Items on my Agenda:
- More ideas for 2014 Workshops? Any follow-up info from earlier ideas?
- Most people should know this: Sarah from Winter Hill Farm is organizing Open Creamery Day — contact her if you would like to be added to the listings for this event, or want to print out a poster to advertise the event.
- The Maine Chamber of Commerce has announced that they want to organize another Taste of Maine event on November 15th at the Augusta Civic Center. For more information please contact Maine State Chamber Program Manager Amy Downing at (207) 623-4568 ext. 104, or email@example.com. If someone in the Guild would like to organize a Guild table as we did for the Washington, DC event in April, please let me know.
- The Guild has lost its Logo banner — it’s about two feet wide by three feet tall with the Guild log printed on it. Does anyone know where it might be stored (it is NOT with the trade show display)? If not, does the Guild want to replace it? I would argue that it’s very helpful, especially in events that do not favor the use of the trade show display. Please comment on the article about this if you have some ideas.
Our next meeting will be our Annual Meeting which we always hold at State of Maine Cheese Co. in Rockport. I hope to see you there.
President, Maine Cheese Guild
…or so says the Bangor Daily News, which printed an article on the subject in their 8/4/13 Sunday Business section.
Early in the Festival, before the public was allowed to join the conference attendees, the Monona Terrace ballroom is filling up.
York Hill Farm’s award winning Capriano in the Farmstead Cheese category.
PIneland Farm Creamery’s Smoked Cheddar…
…and their first place Cheddar Spread
Silvery Moon Creamery’s Provalone in the Italian Style category
And from the Breakfast of Champions earlier in the day: Crooked Face Creamery’s Ricotta
Saturday dawned clear and beautiful and it somehow seemed appropriate to get an early start and walk on up to the Capitol square where the Dane County Farmers Market, the self-proclaimed “The Largest Producer-Only Farmers’ Market in the U.S.” It is set-up ringing the Capitol. COMPLETELY ringing the Capitol building, facing in on the sidewalk. Even at 7am there were enough people that you couldn’t start and stop walking without being mindful of bumping into folks. Lots and lots of veggie stands, naturally, but a few (not as many as I would have thought) cheese vendors, a bunch of meat vendors, a bunch of bakers, and then some specialty stands of flowers, popcorn, and — YES — The Gourd Guy.
Striving for a Successful FDA Inspection
This is becoming a necessary skill these days, even for producers who do not ship out of state. ACS presented a good presentation today consisting of two ACS members who have “survived” FDA Inspections who told their stories of what to expect, followed by a food safety consultant who explained what you MUST do and what you can decline to do during an inspection.
Peg Smith of Cow Girl Creamery spoke first. CGC has been in business for at least 20 years, and they now have two cheese making facilities, plus a distribution center, and all three have been inspected at least once. The Kenny Mattingly of Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Kentucky spoke from the point of view of a newly started cheese business (within the last five years) who was inspected during a transition between outgrowing an old (first) cheese plant and moving into a newly constructed plant next door. Then Alan Sayler from the Center for Food Safety and Regulatory Solutions talked about the nitty gritty of what the FDA *can do* by law during an inspection, and what rights a cheese plant has during an inspection, plus helpful tips on how to understand what’s going on, and how to “get the most out of” the inspection.
There’s SO MUCH I could write here, most of which would be boring step-by-step items, and some of which I’ll go over in a presentation to the Guild in person at a later meeting. Instead I’ll provide a couple interesting and pity points that jump out from the pages of notes I took:
- Remember, your dealing with people (the inspectors) whose job it is to make sure that each plant they visit can and does make safe food for their customers. Ultimately you’re both on the same team, and even if the process seems adversarial, its important not to let emotion enter into it, and to be respectful during the process.
- “We are a better company because of the inspection.” — Kenny Mattingly, who did NOT have a smooth initial inspection experience.
- Answer EVERY question, and be as honest as possible, but do NOT answer more than the question. It’s up to the inspector to follow-up for more info, it’s not your role to volunteer info.
- Check all badges that they match a photo id of the inspector. Your first question should always be “Who is your district compliance officer?” This information is critical for you to get any information about the inspection after the inspector leaves — the inspector will NOT respond to later requests — that’s the job of the district compliance officer.
- Having good records of EVERYTHING that happens in the cheese plant is the most important ingredient in a successful FDA inspection.
The Art and Science of Smear-Ripened/Washed Rind Cheeses
Talk about drinking water from a fire hose, this session was chock FULL of information…a little too chock…but our presenter warned us going into the session that he was condensing a short course that they teach at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin that is normally taught over three or five days, and that he wanted to make sure he left some time for the tasting, and for questions…and away we GO!
At lunch we were offered pre-wrapped sandwiches to take along with us while we visited the Dane County Farmers Market just up the street if we hadn’t already done that.
Understanding Cheese Defects
Rules number one in attempting to fix a “flaw” in your finished cheese is to DOCUMENT everything during the make and aging process. [One person's flaw can sometimes be another person's unique flavor/texture that customers are willing to pay for...] If you don’t know what you did, or what happened at the beginning, you don’t know what you can change.
Item one for cheese makers and mongers alike: Retail abuse is a major source of abuse. You can make the best cheese in the world, but if it sits on a hot loading dock in the sun for an hour, no one will recognize the result, and if that’t abused cheese is still put in the front of the public the reputation of the maker AND monger are affected (fair or not). Part of a cheese makers responsibility is to understand the custody chain of their cheese to make sure the consumer purchases the cheese they thought they sent to them through whatever distribution method.
Following these general thoughts, Nana Farkye (CA Poly State) and Mark Johnson, (UWisc DRC) walked us through a FIREHOSE of information about common defects and the possible fixes. A rather subjective sample follows:
Summer milk often is produced by a heat stressed animal, which lowers the protien and fat content, but not in the same proportion so your ratio can change wildly, often with much lower protien. This can result in lower yields and/or a HIGH moisture cheese and all the problems associated with that unless the cheese maker stays right on top of their milk quality.
Sometimes a high moisture cheese can result in a high acid curd, which can produce brittle body, grainy mouth-feel, weepy cheese once it’s packaged, and a soft pasty body. This can be fixed by using less culture, reducing the ripening time by adding the rennet earlier, and rinsing/washing the curd.
Bitternes factors can be attributed to:
- low salt
- fast cultures (increasing the enzymes in the finshed cheese)
- excessive mold in the make plant (contributing their own unwanted enzymes)
- coagulant type — some rennets, particularly mucor mehei derived — are linked to bitter flavors in long aged cheeses
- psychrotrophs in the raw milk due to excessive cold storage before making into cheese; always use milk within 48 hours of milking to prevent psychrotroph build-up
Other flavor defects were catagorized into Microbrial, feed, mechanical (agitation, pumping), and brining issues. Texture defects could also be microbial related, or make related (how the curd is treated in the vat before forming into wheels). Visual/packaging defects can also be microbial, but often involve temperature and/or light abuse.
It also shouldn’t be a surprised that many defects — specifically the microbial based — were a result of poor or uninformed sanitation routines.
Overall the instructors assured the cheese makers in the audience that EVERY defect has been seen before, and once the source of the defect has been determined, it CAN be fixed. The hardest part is finding the source of the problem, especially when it may be out of the cheese maker’s control, hence the DOCUMENTATION and CUSTODY CHAIN points at the beginning, but it all boils down to knowing as much as possible about your cheese, from the raw ingredients through the retailer treatment. Good luck!
At the 2013 American Cheese Society competition, the largest North American cheese competition with a record 1794 entries this year, Maine cheese makers won five ribbons announced at their gala Awards Ceremony August 2 at the Monona Terrace Conference Center in Madison, WI.
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Good Morning Madison!
First up was an EARLY (7:15am) meeting of cheese Guilds with the idea of exchanging information, and trying to find out how ACS can better communicate with us as well, find out what they can do to help Guilds form and function without being able to dedicate significant staff time toward the effort. There were representatives from Massachusetts, Oregon, Missouri, Texas, Wisconsin, AZ/UT/CO/NM, South Atlantic states, Vermont, California, and Ohio. Several of the Guilds are brand new (OH, MA, TX, WI).
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Outside of Janesville, WI
This was my travel day, and I reached Madison by bus from Chicago’s airport which gave me a chance to soak in the upper Midwestern landscape on my way into Madison, which is separated from the surrounding farmland by being squeezed between two lakes (Mendola and Monona). The land is not table flat but has a pleasant roll to it, with large fields of corn andn soy broken by tree lines. Almost every farm visible from the highway has a large series of silos.
The bus also dropped well north of the conference center (on the shores of Lake Monona) right in the middle of the University of Wisconsin campus. That made for a pleasant stroll down State Street to the Capital where the last in their series of outdoor symphony concerts was taking place as families picniced on the grounds around the domed building. On one corner was a bit of edible landscaping.
The Good Food Awards launches its fourth year with a call for entries to American food producers across the nation, representing the best in tasty, authentic and responsible foods. Categories include: beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, coffee, confections, oils, pickles, preserves, and spirits. Entries are judged at a blind tasting with 150 food movement leaders. Entry period is open July 1-31 at www.goodfoodawards.org ($60 fee to cover cost of storing, sorting and transporting the entries). New and renewing members of the Good Food Merchants Guild receive one free entry.
Last night Maine Things Considered broadcast a story about the new wave of Maine cheese makers by reporter Jennifer Mitchell featuring soundbutes from Caitlin and myself. (I gave Mitchell several other names of people that she should talk with, but I’m not sure what happened with that).
In the broadcast piece I told a story about the cheese making history of Monroe, where I live, which she included in the broadcast piece, and after I got home from the interview I dug out a copy of the oral history that had been passed along to me when I started my cheese business in Monroe. I went ahead and typed it up and posted it to the Guild web site so anyone else can learn about “Skipper Cheese.”
UPDATE July 8: Governor LePage vetos LD1282 and sends it back to the Legislature.
UPDATE July 9: Maine Senate does not override the veto.
Just as was the case in the 2011 state legislative session, several bills have been introduced that would exempt certain farms in Maine (including dairy farms and processors) in certain situations from state licensing requirements and food safety regulation. Two of these bills are now up for public comment before the legislature’s Ag Committee, scheduled for Tuesday, May 7th:
In 2011 the Guild published our Quality Statement to emphasis that we do not support local ordinances that would exempt commercial dairy processors from state regulations. This year the Guild presented testimony to the committee on Tuesday, May 7th. About 20 people spoke in favor of the bills; I was one of two who spoke to oppose them. Several, including the Dept. of Ag spoke neither in favor or opposed but they did offer amendments for the committee to consider.
The overwhelming sense I got from the supporters testimony is that there is no middle ground between small Maine farmers forced to sell their locally produced food illegally, versus the giant multinational corporations who want to control the food supply. It was as if all 70+ of the currently state licensed cheese producers in Maine did not exist. Or, if they did exist, they were in league with Hannaford and Nestle. It was such a disturbing feeling to sit in the midst of people painting me with a tar brush that I let it get to me, and during my presentation I needed to turn to the supporters and remind them that “I am one of you.” The story they told of being a struggling small farmer and food producer in the state was also MY story. But they hissed back at me when I pointed that out, and one person shouted back, “no, you’re with them.”
Regarding the bill to support unlicensed sales of raw milk, supporter after supporter asserted that it was NOT POSSIBLE today, in Maine, to legally sell raw milk.
I will try to keep the Guild updated on this topic as soon as I hear officially what the committee has decided with regard to these two bills. No matter what, the full legislature will still need to vote on them, so please educate your local legislator.
President, Maine Cheese Guild