Fresh, creamy ricotta is the simplest of cheeses, yet one of the most challenging to bring to market.
Unlike other cheeses, it peaks on day one and is never more seductive than when first scooped from the vat. How can a cheesemaker hope to deliver that taste experience to consumers when the cheese still has to be packed and shipped?
In recent years, a handful of American cheesemakers from Rhode Island to California have embraced that mission, with impressive results. Most of these artisan ricottas don’t travel far beyond their place of origin, ensuring that an all-important quality—freshness—isn’t compromised. Those of us with a vivid taste memory of ricotta from vacations in Naples or Tuscany can now re-create the experience with domestic products that hit close to the mark.
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Tome de Bordeaux cheesemaking begins in one region of France and finishes in another
Julien Maillaud is a contented farmer. He’s 29 years old, the master of a herd of 180 gamboling, spirited Saanen goats in the Charente-Poitou region of France near the city of Niort. His barn is so clean, neatly tended, and well decorated that the goats might feel as if they were guests at a bed-and-breakfast, with Mr. Maillaud their gentle host. The animals eat only the best alfalfa, have lots of light, space, and air, and get pats on the head and kisses on the nose. Surveying this loving care on a recent visit, I think, “What creature could ask for more?”
Cheesemakers are utilizing craft beer far beyond happy hour
Beer is ubiquitous in the creamery. But in most cases it is simply a tool for lubricating hardworking cheesemakers—there is much truth in a dairy version of the old vintner’s maxim: It takes a lot of beer to make great cheese. Some American cheesemakers, however, are using beer for more than personal libation, in the process creating some of the most distinctive American wheels, uniquely expressive of their own sense of place.
Victory Brewing Company
Victory Brewing Company cofounders Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet rode the same school bus together, then both studied brewing in Germany—a country rich in historical brewing context. As a result Victory pays homage to brewing tradition while embracing the freedom that makes American craft brewers so great. It’s Prima Pils and HopDevil Ale are perfect examples: Prima Pils is widely considered one of the finest American-made examples of a classic German pilsner; HopDevil, on the other side of the coin, is a desert-island, top-five pick for American IPAs, complete with a big West Coast hops profile balanced with pure German malted barley. And, considering Victory’s location—steeped in American Colonial tradition—it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the brewery deftly walks the fine line between old-world and new-school brewing practices.
Stone Brewing Co.
Since 1996, Greg Koch and Steve Wagner have been producing some of California’s—and the country’s—best beer at Stone Brewing Co. The brewery’s offerings and brand image are in-your-face, as is evident from its Arrogant Bastard Ale, a big, hoppy beer with the phrase “You’re not worthy” printed right on the bottle. That doesn’t seem to turn anyone away—Stone is about to cross the 100,000-barrel production mark and is considered the most popular and highest-rated brewery by www.beeradvocate.com. Koch has become a prominent face and voice for craft beer, as he led a panel discussion at the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference focused on uniting the craft beer and artisan cheese movements.
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Russian River Brewing Company
Santa Rosa, California
In 2002, Vinnie and Natalie Cilurzo bought Russian River Brewing Company from then-owner Korbel Champagne Cellars. Vinnie had been overseeing the brewery since the champagne giant founded the brewery five years prior, during which time he helped Russian River earn many nods as one of the best small brewing companies in the U.S. Today the husband-and-wife duo produces some of the most sought-after beers in the country. “We are in a fortunate position that we sell every drop of beer we make,” Vinnie Cilurzo says, “and [we’re] still about 20 percent behind in fill orders to accounts and distributors.”
New Glarus Brewing Company
New Glarus, Wisconsin
Like so many neighboring creameries, New Glarus Brewing Company is still run by the same husband and wife who originally founded the brewery, in 1993. Dan and Deb Carey have taken their small start-up and shown the craft brewing world what it really means to stay true to one’s roots, having managed to become the 32nd largest brewery in the country—and by distributing beer only in their home state of Wisconsin. It’s a staggering feat that shows what’s possible when you simultaneously brew amazing beer and build a history in a community. Having completed a new $21 million brewing facility, New Glarus is now able to brew upward of 100,000 barrels a year.
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In Wisconsin only
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery
Sam Calagione was one of the first brewers in the country to disprove the notion that only West Coasters could concoct crazy, high-alcohol, hoppy beers in the mid-1990s. While folks like Greg Koch were turning heads with their far-out beers in California, Calagione was launching Dogfish Head Brewings & Eats, a brewpub in Milton, Delaware, which soon earned a reputation for its bold brewing prowess. Fifteen years and one expansion later, Calagione has become a poster child for the craft beer movement. Dogfish Head 60 and 90 Minute IPAs may be found at any self-respecting beer bar around the country. But it’s Calagione’s inclination for brewing extreme beers like World Wide Stout—sitting at 18% alcohol by volume—that led famed beer writer Michael Jackson to assert that Dogfish Head is “America’s most interesting and adventurous small brewery.”
While Deschutes Brewery churns out enough award-winning craft beer to maintain its ranking as the twelfth largest brewery in the country, it all began with Deschutes Brewery and Public House, a small brewpub in Bend, Oregon, in 1988. With enough interest generated from the brewpub, founder Gary Fisher expanded the company into its present-day facility in 1993. Today, head brewmaster Larry Sidor has the freedom to create experimental beers in a 50-barrel brew house while keeping up with demand for year-round varieties using a larger system. In 2008, Deschutes added a second brewpub three hours away in Portland, which also brews some small-batch offerings on-site.
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