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.
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.”)
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!).
A Tale of 2 Thursdays, part 1:
Blowsy late summer seeps into the richness and edge of early autumn. Field margins are heavy with grass seedheads, hedgerows richly hanging with blackberries, rosehip, haws, sloes. Jack rabbits look fat and prosperous, foxes well covered, the buzzards well grown and lazy - meat is easy to find. They take off heavily from a branch as you walk along, do they get too heavy to take off if they eat to much?
Between my appetite and my occupation, I often have a lot of cheeses in my refrigerator. So much so, that I can lose track of them. A piece of cheese can easily go astray in those 28-cubic feet, slipping past the cartons, bottles, jars, and leftovers. That’s apparently what happened to a half wheel of Canadian camembert some time ago. I have no idea how many weeks passed since I had stored the cut cheese. But when I rediscovered it in the food ghetto at the back of my frig, the wayward curd was loosely dressed in a wrinkled piece of cheese paper.
Peeling back the covering, I expected to find a sad little corpse of a cheese. But actually it didn’t look too bad. A bit aged, of course, its youthful dewiness all gone, it’s shape deflated. But the rind was still white and flocked like camembert and inside the cheese was the color of Irish butter yet dense like fudge. (See the photo.)
I am sitting here at my laptop, thick curly white-girl ‘fro in a monstrous bun on top of my head and some ridiculous outfit that was an attempt at cuteness and comfort to beat the heat, and I can’t help but wonder... am I the Carrie Bradshaw of Cheese Blogging?
I have a fabulous home, more clothes and shoes than I know where to store, go to fabulous events with fabulous food and wine, write a column on my vices, and go through cheeses in an almost episodic rhythm. I am, however, currently going through a little “dry spell” (a.k.a. luxuries like wine and cheese are the first to go during an austerity period) and so my “column” is drying up as well. What would Carrie do for her hungry New Yorkers longing to read about her sexcapades at a time when there are no men in sight? Write about daily life, other kinds of love, weathering the blues, and good times with friends.
You may all know this already, but Best of Show at 2011 ACS in Montreal went to Oregon’s Rogue Creamery for Rogue River Blue (www.roguecreamery.com) the 2nd time they’ve taken the blue ribbon home! Second place was shared by Ontario’s Finica Food for their Lindsay Bandaged Cheddar (www.mariposadairy.ca), and perennial winner from Wisconsin, Carr Valley, for Cave Aged Marisa (www.carvalleycheese.com). Third place was Quebec’s Fromagerie du Presbytère for Louis d’Or (www.fromageriedupresbytere.com/. These are all seriously delicious cheeses. It rare to sample Canadian cheeses we, sadly, cannot get here in the US…and to get my hands on limited production cheeses too.
The countryside is taking on that internal look, drier, harder, plants ripening, getting stalky, animals fattening, birds growing, strengthening for the long flight to Africa for many. To us, it feels like we are still in the height of summer. To the natural world, the hatches are starting to get battened down for the rigours of winter. The young rabbits are getting fat on the rich vegetation, and the buzzards and fox cubs are getting fat on the young rabbits.
If you think the life of a writer is a bumpy one, you can well imagine being a lowly blogger is even more of a challenge.The competition is ON between me and Will Fertman for the most California-local, farm-fresh experiment-gone-right, and he is basically killing me. But what Will doesn’t know is that we’ve replaced regular household freezer items with these natural tree-bearing ones from over the fence next door... let’s see what happens. Yes, Will, come September, I will have a bevy of cheese-pairing chutneys from my bounty of fruit and herb, so start shaking in your Birkenstocks.
In the meantime, I’d like to share with you one of the many perks of writing and blogging in a focused marketplace.