Taza Chocolate in Somerville Ma.
5 years ago Alex Whitmore and partners Larry Slotnick and Kathleen Fulton (also Alex's wife) started this mesoamerican-style bean-to-bar chocolate factory. And true to their vision, this chocolate is handmade from start to finish. They buy their beans in the DR, Mexico, Belize, and they recently added Bolivia. (note: if you get a chance, try the 87% bolivian choc bar side by side with the 80% DR...then you'll really see what terroir means to the cacao bean.)
Their beans are fermented, which means, like all things fermented, flavor is amped. And then they get roasted (in the fabulous Willi Wonka machine pictured below. don't you want one? I do. and it's RED!) The beans are then stone ground, on mexican stone mills that Alex hand chisels himself (check out the pic below of him holding one.) Impressive.
Continuing on the Bavarian and Austrian cheesemaker visits, we stopped by two very different cheesemaking dairies, Kaeskuche Isny and Sennerei Zurwies.
Kaeskuche Isny - Isny im Allgäu
Located in south-eastern Baden-Württemberg, Kaeskuche Isny was founded in 1998 by a group of ecologically-minded dairy farmers with a view to providing a consistent market for their milk as well as the opportunity to showcase its high quality by converting it into cheese.
The farmers formed a co-operative and hired cheesemaker Evelyn Wild to manage and run the dairy. The dairy has proved to be such a success under Evelyn’s management that she has now hired an additional full time cheesemaker, Simon, to focus on production, allowing her to focus on other aspects of the business. Simon was brought up and trained as a cheesemaker in Switzerland.
In many mountainous regions of the world, the summer months bring a tradition of transhumance. This is a centuries-old practice, where people and animals make an annual pilgrimage to the upper slopes of the mountains to take advantage of the bounty of the summer pastures.
Traveling up in late spring and returning in early autumn, they spend several months living and working on their mountain farms, grazing their animals on the myraid of rich summer herbs, grasses and flowers and turning the resulting quality milk into highly prized cheeses. These mountain dairies are frequently situated in breathtakingly beautiful locations, making you feel as if you're on top of the world.
I felt like Miss Muffet—she of the classic cheesy nursery rhyme—the other day. While picnicking in the woods with some of my favorite curds (albeit no whey), a very big spider appeared and made its way straight for the cheese. It was an unappetizing move, but a curious one too. Do spiders really like cheese, I wondered? After all, aren’t cheese mites related to spiders? This six-legged visitor stayed quite some time on my slice but I couldn’t tell if he/she was actually eating it. For those who might be wondering the exact same thing (I know there are some of you out there), here’s what I’ve found out about spider sustenance:
Spiders eat live prey only. (Maybe cheese is considered live? After all it “ages.”)
Undeterred by loud thunder claps and torrential rain in the afternoon, day two at the Slow Food Festival in Bra, Italy saw thousands of people milling around the city, buying and tasting cheese, attending workshops and generally having a good time.
Our American cheesemakers were in high spirits and doing some brisk trading with a great deal of enthusiasm and interest from Europeans about the emerging American artisinal cheese scene. Its a great sight and the American crew are doing their country proud... Yay!
Also, very, very Happy Birthday to Cary Bryant of Rogue Creamery and Culture,s very own Editor, Elaine. Many happy returns and have a wonderful day!
The Slow Food Cheese Festival is even more amazing this year. With a huge turn out of producers from all over the world, there are many familiar faces and cheeses but also some new ones added to the mix.
Here are some of the scenes from yesterday as the Festival was warming up.. More to follow.
Continuing on the Austrian cheese tour, we paid a visit to Sennerei Hittisau.
Sennerei is an Austrian word for dairy or creamery - often referring to a co-operative. The cheesemaker at Sennerei Hittisau is Herbert Bauer, who produces a wonderful Allgau Bergkase, Bergtilsiter and Bachensteiner. In Austria and Bavaria, if "Bergkase" is preceded by the word "Allgau", it means that its a cheese made in the mountains during the summer months from the milk of cows grazing on the upper pastures. Equally, the same goes for Tilsiter in that if "Berg" (meaning "Alp") appears in the name, it is made in the summer in high pastures.
Here are some photos from the visit.
The end of this week sees the start of the Slow Food Cheese Festival in Bra, Italy. Held every two years it is a spectacular event staged in the streets of this ancient town. Small scale cheesemakers and affineurs from all over the world converge to sell cheese, talk cheese, consume cheese and generally have a good time.
As if attending this event, wasn't enough of a privilege, the trip to Europe also affords many overseas visitors such as me, the opportunity to visit cheesemakers and producers in situ. This year, I have been spending time with my friend and colleague Norbert Sieghart of Kaeskuche. Norbert is a wholesaler and exporter of cheeses from Bavaria and the Allgaü region, a mountainous and spectacularly beautiful area reaching across from southern Germany into western Austria.
My apologies for this late post. I’ve been on a self-directed tour of Rocky Mountain goat dairies to get new ideas for my goat cheeses and to learn new techniques. In other words, I’ve tasted some excellent cheeses. If you have access to the cheeses from Amaltheia Organic Dairy in Belgrade, Montana, grab some, for goodness’ sake.
My tomme awaited me in the cooler of my son’s little bakery when I returned. Luckily, no one investigated the package or I wouldn’t be writing this at all. The cheese is the color of straw with a buckskin colored rind. Usually when I smell hard cheeses, they remind me of a cheese cave or cellar—dampish and sharp. The tomme, when held up close, fell into that category but when I held it farther away, it smelled mushroomy, like a forest floor (in Montana). When I tasted the cheese with the rind, I also definitely detected the sea.
Since hurricane Irene hit two weeks ago, upstate New York has been awash (pardon the pun) in bad news about regions and towns destroyed by floods. I have seen some of the devastation and it can’t be exaggerated. But thankfully, other areas came through the storm with their beauty and buildings intact. Like Washington County, just above the upper Hudson Valley, which hosted a local Cheese Tour this past weekend, inviting the public to visit five farmstead cheesemakers who are tucked away on the back roads of some tiny towns. With map in hand, I made it to the various cheese stops on the tour and came back with a bundle of exceptional cheeses I bought off the farms—plus a whole new appreciation for the bucolic county just an hour north of me. It’s a rare gem of agricultural charm and vitality. Here’s a little photo diary of my sunny Saturday spent visiting the cheesemakers (and an ice cream maker!).