I understand that most of the goat herds among us are living in their barns right now during kidding season. But when they are able to emerge to check their email, they should also check out this article in The New York Times food section today:
Maine Cheesemakers Win Seven Awards in 2008
7:30am — Breakfast, with a roundtable discussion that asked the question “Is Cheese The New Wine?” The most interesting part being a discussion of how the California wine used to use European appelation names (“Burgundy”, “Chablis”, etc.) to name their wines early in the modern growth of American wines, but that has evolved to developing it’s own labels (“Napa Cabernet” says much more today than “California Bordeaux”). This could be applied to American cheeses, where some bloomy cheeses in the US are still labeled as “Camembert” at the same time that other US cheese producers are developing their own nomenclature for the same type of cheese.
10:15am — Extend Age of Bloomy Soft Ripened Cheese presented by Brian Humiston based on the research at Oregon State University he is doing with Lisbeth Goddik. This is an amazing investigation into what can be done to stabilize bloomy rind cheeses to maximize their shelf-life. Basically the answer lies in retaining as MUCH calcium in the curd as possible, which enhances the stability of the cheese through the aging process. To do this, Mr. Humiston (whose camembert-style cheese won 2nd place last year in the cows milk bloomy rind competition) Mr. Humiston vat pasteurizes the cheese, re-acidifies the cheese to exactly 6.50pH, adds CaCl2 to the milk, then re-pasteurizes the milk after holding it overnight at 55 deg F. In addition, he uses Streptococcus thermaphilus instead of the traditional MM100 culture to get a very fast high temp fermentation, plus the St are less proteolytic at the aging state than is MM100. Of course he lays out all the details and reasoning in his presentation, most of which is captured in his slides. I made sure I picked up extra hand-outs of the slides to bring back with all the details.
Even better, he brought four versions of the cheese he’s been making for his study, two calcium stabilized versions, and two traditional recipe versions (one each aged at 43 deg F, and 37 deg F (see picture above) made on the same day (19 June) and we got to taste these along with a real Camembert from France (Le Chatelain). At 36 days old, the traditional high temp cheese was way droopy with the classic musky strong over-ripe flavors while the stabilized high temp cheese was buttery, though with a hint of ammonia. The traditional low temp cheese was everyone’s favorite: buttery and rich with a semi-solid pate. The stabilized low temp cheese was still very sold but had that peach fuzz pasty texture and a much less developed flavor. The Le Chatelain (age unknown) was very solid as well, but instead of the pasty peach fuzz (which tells me that it’s not early in the ripening), it was just plain and boring…hmmm.
1:45pm — Select Suitable Cheese For Extended Aging with cheesemakers from Widmer Cheese Cellars, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar with Jasper Hill. I lucked into another seminar that included a tasting component: we had six slices of cheese on a plate to taste — a young version and a fully-aged version of their cheddar. It was a really good illustration of how aging truly can change cheese into something special, but it’s not without risk. The other interesting comparison was that Widmer aged in plastic for up to 10(!) years (which we tasted), and both Beecher’s and Cabot Clothbound are natural rind versions of cheddar that are typically sold at 12 to 24 months old. We learned a lot about each of the challenges (cheese mites! answer: vaccuum cleaner!) in the production of these special efforts, and also the choices that are made with each batch. At the end, they’re trying to make a cheese that sings on the palate, and they’re pretty successful at doing this consistantly.
7:00am — Breakfast, which included a hunk of Constant Bliss from Baley Hazen; they offered yogurt, but it was LITE Dannon cups…ouch! We met in the Grand Ballroom of the Chicago Hilton, which is over-the-top ornate with ten crystal chandelliers, gilding on the extensive plaster work, ruffled dra[es, and a real mezzanine balcony overlooking the floor.
8:00am — Alison Hooper, President of the ACS and owner of Vermont Butter and Cheese welcomed us, together with the Chicago director of cultural affairs who brought greetings from Mayor Daley.
8:30am — We watched the “Looking Back Looking Forward” documentary. The take home message: “It’s all about the cheesemakers!” Yea!
9:00am — A round-table talk about Then and Now with Christine Hyatt, Ricki Carroll, Allison Hooper, and Paula Lambert. In response to a question about getting cheesemakers more training, Allison Hooper gave a “shout out” to the Maine Cheese Guild for our education programs, including our arrangement for a cheese focused trip to France in 2009!
10:15am — Understanding Butter Flavor and the Butter Consumer with MaryAnne Drake from North Caroline State University (including a tasting). This was an intense dive into the world of scientific product evaluation from a taste perspective, focusing on butter. We learned about the difference between consumer testing and flavor analysis using trained experts. We learned that, in terms of flavor, “cheese shouts, but butter whispers”, and we learned that most butter in storage suffers from attracting Volitile Organic Compounds that add a stale “refrigerator” flavor, rather than actually going “rancid” and that wrapping butter in foil helps to prevent this. We finished with a tasting of five very different butters. Yum.
Marc Druart Spins A Tale Of Coagulation 1:45pm — Demystifying Rennet and Coagulants which was supposed to be with Paul Kindstedt from VIAC, but he was stuck at an airport on the East Coast, so Marc Druart filled in with his familiar humor and vivacity, together with candy for people with questions. Despite the short notice for filling in (one hour!) he “happened” to have a coagulant slide show on his computer, and together with Dave Potter from DCI, they gave a very illuminating presentation on the mystery of coagulation, primarily with rennet. They explained (down to the chemical details) the differences between the various animal, microbial (GMO and non-GMO), and true vegetable (cardoon, fig sap, etc.) rennets, and how their use (and misuse) can affect cheeses at all stages of production.
Mark and his wife at Meet The Cheesemaker
4:00pm — Meet The Cheesemaker was held in the International Ballroom (ornate by no chandelliers or mezzanine) with 64 different cheese producers showing off their wares, including Mark Whitney from Pineland Farms. I had to be careful not to fill up on cheese before dinner tonight, but I did sample a “few” of the cheeses, concentrating on the Blues (for market research). The most interesting of all the cheeses was Moo Cheese/Lucky Layla Farms from Garland, TX who make traditional Central and South American cheeses and dairy spreads from Guernsey and Jersey cows’s milk. One of their spreads is a “caramel” sauce of milk boiled down until it’s chocolate brown, then sweetened with sugar. I had met Edgar, one of the cheesemakers at Moo Cheese, at lunch and he told me it’s customary to spread the caramel over their fresh cheese (which is pressed and molded). I tried the combination and enjoyed the mix of sweet and fermented flavors. Cheese never ceases to surprise!
We have been visiting family in the mid-west after dropping the competition entries, but today we left Lancaster, Ohio for Chicago, arriving JUST before rush hour to our hotel near the conference site. We were greeted by a traffic cop insisting (loudly and frequently) that we had no right to park in front of our hotel and unload our goods. We had to park off-site and bring our luggage from there. Welcome to Chicago. We got in too late to register, which will make for an early morning on Thursday. But I did get to walk Michigan Ave. and through Grant Park as the sun sank behind the very tall buildings in downtown. We’ve been comparing skylines along our trip (Montreal, Indianapolis, Columbus, Wheeling) and Chicago wins hands down, not even counting the curd-thick traffic afflicting the highways through the Windy City at all times.
Up early, and as I had hoped, the motel shielded the early sun so I could ice and pak before the sun hit the trunk. A quick breakfast and we were onto the Interstate west. Battle Creek, Kalamazoo, Paw Paw, and then finally Michigan City in Indiana said that we were making headway. My goal was to make the Chicago drop-off by noon, and we did (thanks to the time change!), with the largest box registering 42 degrees F: Five degrees change over 1150 miles — I hope that translates to ribbons. We were warmly greeted by ACS representatives who made it easy to unload and register the entries.
Once we had left the cheeses behind, we swung around the corner to a diner that caught our eye: The Palace Grill. Open-face Meatloaf Sandwich and a Skirt Steak Sandwich later, we were ready to move on. Thanks Windy City!
On to Indianapolis, Ohio, and beyond; more when we get back to Chicago.
We woke up in Brockville, Ontario and my Dad took a walk while I re-iced the cheese. I had some re-frozen ice packs to insert, along with ice from the ubiquitous motel ice machine. I also had a digital temp gauge stuck in one of the boxes to monitor how fast it was warming. Yesterday it started at 37 degrees F and didn’t change even after I crossed the CAN border, so I switched the probe to the other box, which was at 39 degrees F in Montreal and then to Brockville. In the morning it was still at 39 degrees F. I added ice and re-frozen paks to all the boxes, and then put the big boxes in the trunk under a sleeping bag. The biggest box stayed at 39 degrees F through the day, even when we stopped for lunch and couldn’t find shade, so we covered the trunk with a white cloth anchored by the boxes of brochures that Jennifer provided.
The day started overcast, but the sun came out for real by 11am, and stayed out until we reached our stopping point. This seemed especiallhy brutal as we inched over the Point Huron, MI bridge and customs crossing, but the temp gauge was solid at 39 degrees F the whole time. At the border I was terrified that the border agent would see the wire for the gauge sticking out of the box and immediately call the Marines in, but he didn’t — he had more of a problem with the boxes of brochures…!?! (He said, “you know, using an international bridge for commerce could make you liable for stiff duty fees…” but he let us go with ‘just a warning’ — ouch.)
When we stopped in East Lansing, MI the probe read 41 degrees F. I re-iced everything before we retired — this room didn’t have a refrigerator in it, but they provided a tiny one when I asked. Still I could fit about nine of the smaller paks in the little freezer section overnight. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember that even though they were flexible when I put them in the tiny freezer compartment, they were very stiff when I tried to take them out. It took quite a bit of manipulation to wiggle them all out, but I did, and then iced everything else. Those extra plastic bags that Cathe had offered when I picked up the cheese really came in handy. I made sure to park on the south side of the motel building so that any morning sun would be blocked.
The Maine Cheese Guild has sent Eric Rector to represent them at the 2008 ACS conference and competition, to be held July 23rd – 26th in Chicago, Illinois.
At last year’s conference, held in Burlington, VT, many Maine cheesemakers attended the seminars, classes, and other knowledge diffusion events at the conference. In addition, MCG members won 17 awards in the largest US cheese competition every held. We very much hope to build on that experience and success this year.
Eric left a week early to also deliver many of this year’s competition entries from the Guild; below is a semi-regular entry of his experience.
After tying up loose-ends around the farm, and delivering a last batch of yogurt (until I return) to the Belfast Coop, I arrived at The State of Maine Cheese Co. on schedule at 8:30am, with a cheerful greeting by Cathe Morril, who had helpfully agreed to serve as a drop-point for the competition entries. We sorted through the boxes of entries, I cataloged all of them against their packing lists, and made sure to pack them so they could be easily “re-iced” but not soaked in the process, and compact enough to fit into my 2001 VW Jetta, along with all my other stuff. At 9:00am on the dot I pulled out of Cathe’s parking lot (after admiring her new sign), and I was off.
Route 17 through Augusta, to Wintrop, left in Jay, right in W. Paris, and another right in Bethel to get onto Route 2. Gorham, St. Johnsbury, and then Derby Line before I entered Quebec. Eventually I made it to Montreal where I picked up my father at the airport (he found a cheap flight to join me on the drive). We left Montreal and got about 100 miles down the St. Lawrence River before stopping at Brockville, Ontario for dinner and the night. Our motel offered a refrigerator (to refreeze ice packs), and an industrial size ice machine (for more cooling) to keep the cheese in good shape.
Our dinner (on a roof-top patio) featured blooming thunderstorm clouds to the east over the river, sparked by the occasional bolt of lightning over northern New York, lit in the dying light of the sunset behind us. Our big day of driving lay ahead tomorrow, but we enjoyed the show while it lasted. Unfortunately, neither of us remembered to bring our camera! Next time…