Recently, Elaine and I took a trip to Rapidan in Virginia to visit Dr Pat Elliott at Everona Dairy, where she has been producing both raw and pasteurized sheep's milk cheeses for the last fourteen years.
Dr Elliott is now in her eighties and in addition to making some award winning cheeses, is still a practicing MD at her doctor's office adjacent to the farmhouse. Her adventures in the dairy world started after first buying a small number of sheep to keep her Border Collie occupied. Then, while researching ways for the sheep to earn their keep, she tried her hand at milking them with a view to making cheese on a commercial scale. In the late 1990's, after taking a cheesemaking course and traveling overseas to learn more about cheesemaking, Dr Elliott began cheese production in earnest at Everona.
Some of you may have caught my blog entry about attending the Science of Artisan Cheese Conference in the UK in September last year. If you did, this is to follow up and let you know that co-sponsors Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Specialist Cheesemakers Association have now uploaded videos of the conference presentations given by several of the eminent dairy scientists and cheesemakers who were able to attend.
In November, Elaine and I had a long-awaited chance to visit with Jesus Pombo Lanza and his wife Yolanda at Poncelet (pronounced Ponthelet) in Madrid. The couple own and operate three very closely inter-connected cheese businesses under the Poncelet name. The original store which opened in 2005, is located at Calle Argensola and sells a carefully chosen selection of cheeses from across Spain together with a healthy representation of some of the best from France, Italy and Portugal. In addition, some years after the store opening, the couple decided to develop their own maturation caves and these are located away from the center of the city in a state of the art facility. There, there are several separate maturing rooms, each with a separate environment particularly suited to the type of cheeses it contains.
For me, one of the best parts of working at Culture is when, as a group, we review images that come in from the various photo shoot assignments. We collectively go through them and decide which ones will work best with the editorial and layouts.
As you can imagine, the decision making process is often challenging as there is only so much "print real estate" available and inevitably there's never enough room to include all the ones we want.
Given a singular common denominator of cheese, there's an amazing spectrum of subject matter contained within the many hundreds of pages printed over the last year. In no particular order, here are some of my personal favorites from 2012.
If one needed any proof, the recent—and very well-deserved—success of American cheeses at the World Cheese Awards competition in Birmingham, UK, bears testament to the meteoric rise of artisanal cheesemaking in the United States over recent years.
The last two decades have seen a remarkable rise both in the number of people embarking on a career in cheesemaking as well as the number of cheeses produced. This fact is borne out in the crucibles of various cheese competitions with huge increases in the number of entries submitted each year. Not only that, but the quality and consistency of the cheeses is constantly improving too.
Today's competition and record entry of 2,785 cheeses for the 2012 World Cheese Awards was first whittled down to 55 cheeses that qualified for the prestigious award of Super Gold. Among them were (hurrah!) three cheeses from American cheesemakers: Baetje Farms, Jasper Hill and Rogue Creamery, with the latter two (with Harbison and Rogue River Blue) making it through to the final round of judging of only sixteen cheeses.
Rogue Creamery also went on to win Best American Cheese, with David Gremmels present to receive the award (see picture).
Last summer, immediately after attending the Science of Artisan Cheese conference, I had the chance to visit Will and Caroline Atkinson at Hill Farm Dairy, located in Somerset in the south west of England.
Neither Caroline or Will came from farming backgrounds. The concept for a goat dairy and cheesemaking facility developed as a result of Caroline's passion for cheese, ignited after working at Neal's Yard Dairy in London. Both were keen to move to the countryside and, in 2007, after an 18 month period where Caroline apprenticed with Mary Holbrook at the nearby and highly regarded Sleight Farm, while Will continued his job as a lawyer in Bristol, the couple decided to quit their respective jobs and move to the heart of Somerset with a view to making cheese from the milk of their own goats.
Last summer, along with Paola, my cheese friend, we paid a visit to Maplebrook Farm in Vermont, makers of Italian style cheeses such as Mozzarella and Burrata.
Although I've seen Mozzarella made several times, I'd never seen the burrata process before - or how they get the creamy bits into the middle.
By way of some background, Maplebrook Farm was founded in 2003 after a chance encounter when Founder, Johann Englert, came across Al Ducci's Groceria in Manchester, Vermont during a visit and when she tasted their mozzarella, it transported her back to her time in Italy during college.
Those of you who caught my last blog entry will know that I was recently in Somerset, stronghold of traditional English cloth-bound cheddar. The primary reason for the visit was to attend the inaugural conference The Science of Artisan Cheese. It was a privilege to be there on many levels, and not least because the two day conference was held adjacent to Manor Farm, home of Montgomery's cheddar, acknowledged by many to be the benchmark, traditional cloth-bound cheddar.
The Montgomery family have been making cheddar at Manor Farm for over one hundred years, and the recipe has changed little during that time. Milk for production comes from the farm's own herd of Friesian cows and head cheesemaker, Steve Bridges, oversees the daily production of between twelve and fifteen wheels, all made with unpasteurized milk.
The first ever Conference on the Science of Artisan cheese was held at the end of last month in the beautiful setting of North Cadbury Court in Somerset, also home to famed Montgomery’s cheddar.
This was a non-profit initiative, co-sponsored by Neal’s Yard Dairy and the Specialist Cheesemakers Association in the UK, with the concept being the idea that if the dialog between cheesemakers and scientists is expanded and enriched, both parties will benefit. The goal of the conference was to bring together scientists studying the basic principles upon which successful cheesemaking depends with practitioners at the artisan level.
In addition to scientists and cheesemakers, there was also broad participation from the industry and public health professionals, for whom a thorough understanding of the principles of raw milk cheese production are of great importance.