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.
For me, this autumn has been gastrocentric. Scrumptious seasonal ingredients and the cool, crisp weather make me want to spend hours in the kitchen, which is exactly what I did this past weekend. In addition to baking apple crumb cake and oatmeal dark chocolate chip cookies, I also made my first ever raviolis.
The inspiration for this meal was my request, maybe it was a demand, for goat cheese and butternut squash, but the recipe is Ben's. I provided the challenge to think up something ideal for fall and he formulated this fun project and delicious meal. I also made sure it was recorded.
Here's a very encouraging fact; the number of cheese festivals is on the increase. How do I know this? Simple. Because my calendar, which in previous years resembled a cheese "social desert", is now chocka-full of cheese-related events - especially during the summer months.
Cheese Festivals come in many shapes and sizes, ranging from the most traditional, centuries-old institutions, to newly formed events launched for the first time in 2011. Either way, each are more than worthy of your support and you're guaranteed to come away richer (and fuller) for the experience.
Here, in no order of preference, is a personal round-up of those certain to make it onto my calendar. I have divided them geographically into North American and overseas.
July 25th. Tonight's dinner was late and so, appropriately, quick. Blanched corn -- the first sweet stuff of the summer -- tossed with cracked pepper, torn garden basil, lemon cucumbers, brandywines, and Ploughgate Farm's Queso Fresco. A perfectly tangy and tender take on a cheese that's so seldom made right. Marisa Mauro was taught the authentic recipe and has started selling limited quantities at her local farmers markets. I was lucky enough to plea some off her at July 24th's Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, and it didn't last 24 hours.
This is why I have a love/hate relationship with the annual VT Festival: all us cheese lovers are able to try the fleeting side projects and small-production items, fall for them, then miss them.
At 8:30 this morning I took my seat in a classroom at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese (on the campus of UVM in Burlington), to start the first of a four-day- cheesemaking intensive course. This education for me is long overdue. As the editor of culture magazine, I’ve learned a lot on the job about what makes one wheel different from another, but there are big gaps in my cheese intelligence. What really happens (on a microbial level) when milk, starter, coagulant and a cheesemaker come together in a creamery? It was time I knew.
My own contribution to the growing, ah, corpus of Halloween tales. Submit your own story and win a bag of cheesy treats! Possible biological inaccuracy to follow:
At one time, I thought of them like you probably do. Dumb creatures. Afraid of the sunrise. Flockers, robbed by selective breeding of their essential stubborn goatness. Turned into pale blobs of wool and meat.
According to Josh Kramer, "If there are two things that I love, they are comics and cheese."
"This summer I discovered that a cheese I had been selling for years, Tarentaise, is made only twenty-five minutes from where I live now in Vermont. I went there recently, just as the leaves were turning, and was blown away by the beauty of the place...."