ACS Winner Crown Finish Caves: Tunnels, Booze & Affinage

CrownFinishPayMaster3 (1 of 1)Last week I wandered the underground tunnels of ACS winner Crown Finish Caves and have decided what I want to be in one of my next lives. Paymaster. A pampered little cheese kept in a perfectly humidified and air-filtered environment that gets washed down in Kings County Distillery chocolate whiskey daily.

The American Cheese Society Conference is a chance to do many things. See friends from all corners of the country who sling or coagulate fermented milk- often all at once, and in a karaoke room. An opportunity to try cheese from creameries I can’t get my hands on in California -here’s batting my eyes at places like you, Ruggles Creamery, Chaseholm Farm, and Goat Lady Dairy. It’s also a chance to visit fantastic affineurs like Crown Finish, shops, and cheesemakers near the conference.

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Local liquors in which lucky cheeses are bathed.

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Suffolk Punch foreshadowing Paymaster

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Experimenting with Gritti Brothers buffalo milk square

My friend Kathleen Cotter of the The Bloomy Rind and I usually team up for visits. The process normally looks something like this. We excitingly call each other three months before the conference, decide we want to visit cheesemakers galore, then promise to email with follow up research the next day. Then, two months later we send each other an email saying we’ve been busy and will follow up the next week. We repeat this a few times. Two to three weeks before the conference, we make a plan!

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Because ACS was in Providence this year, we had a wealth of east coast spots to visit all over Brooklyn, New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. One spot we visited was ACS winner Crown Finish Caves in Crown Height’s, Brooklyn.

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Bloomy, washed, and ashed buffalo milk squares.

Crown Finish Caves is a cheese care/affineur facility that ages and tends to cheesemaker’s wheels after they’re made. Meaning they store the cheese, flip wheels, wash rinds with booze (and oh my does Crown Finish have a lot of it), control temperature and humidity in caves, and experiment with new aging techniques and flavors. This is called affinage and requires much experience to know what to do when. And they do it all underground in old subway tunnels.

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Benton surveying Trifectas (sheep and cow’s milk cheese by Old Chatham) getting air after a beer washing.

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The twisting staircase leading to the underground tunnels. The tunnels also used to home to local Brooklyn breweries.

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A question I get a lot is why can’t cheesemakers age cheese themselves.

They certainly can, and many are amazing at it. But sometimes they don’t want to. Because they’re busy, you know, milking cows and making curds and stuff. Or, sometimes they don’t have the space or labor to keep an eye on their wheels like they deserve. Other times they just like to collaborate with lovely people like Crown Finish owners Benton Brown & Susan Boyle, and affineur Sam just because they’re fun (they’re pretty cool people who hang out with cheese in subway tunnels and rub it in booze all day, you know what I’m saying?).

Benton and Boyle bought their Crown Finish building- sort of an office/warehouse/loft space- in 2001 and started to ready it for renters and food service. Then they started to think, hey, not only were the old subway tunnels underneath the building cool looking, the cool looking old subway tunnels would be perfect for aging cheese. They had the right temperature, humidity, and air flow (once the filters started pumping away) and ample space.

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Kashar by Parish Hill

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CrownFinishExpirement (1 of 1)Crown Finish caves is a story of their inspired passion. Benton trained with famed affineur Herve Mons and with cheesemakers and agers in the United States, then, started experimenting with local cheeses.The rest is delicious history. Some creameries Crown commonly works with are Coach and Spring Brook, Parish Hill.

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These are photos of their varied stash and a couple of the caves themselves when I managed to get enough light. Also, hate to say it, but if you haven’t had a chance to try their ACS winner Humble Herdsman, you probably won’t in the future either. They’ve got under twenty wheels left (but cheesemaker Peter Dixon is now maturing his own). But try to get your hands on their other beauties like Paymaster at your local shops. East coasters will be luckier, and bribing your local cheesemonger may apply.

Birthday Cheese, Thirty-thrive, and beaches

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My birthday normally sneaks up on me. Most times I’ll be sorting through mail, responding to a text, deeply entrenched in a new episode of Orange is the New Black, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or re-watching Fargo, and then a little timer goes off, chiming (very loudly), “Kirstin, you will officially be a year older in two and a half weeks- you should do something about that.” And then I normally arrange a drink or dinner or three.

Not this year, though. I remembered months ahead of time. I asked three close friends to join me at Stinson Beach and Bolinas with me for my thirty-fifth birthday. Oh, or as some people put it, thirty-thrive.

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I’ve been thinking about what turning thirty-five means to me. When I was a little girl I had a vision, seemingly influenced in equal parts by Saved by the Bell fashion and the film Wall Street, of what my life would look like at this age. I’d have long and fluffy permed hair, I’d be tall- all legs, obviously-, wear a lot of red power suits with big shoulder pads, and live in a high rise overlooking Central Park. I’d also be heading a very important company from a corner office with glass walls that overlooked basically everything, and I’d live in a high rise apartment in Manhattan with my very witty and handsome husband who greeted me after work at night with a martini in hand.

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Luckily it’s okay to re-envision because the only thing that applies from my glittering eighties girlhood fantasy is my long hair (and hey hey, I don’t need a perm anymore, my hair has turned curlier every year!). I was, but no longer am married, I never made it past five foot four, and I have no, repeat, no, power suits in my closet.

Despite turning thirty-five and encountering the expectations, mainly my own, that come along with it, I’m happy with where I am. I travel a lot. I live within eight miles from an ocean. I get to play with my friend’s babies but get to sleep a full night through. I published a book. I’m working on a writing sample for a second. And I have awesome friends, and my family is super supportive. Also, I accidentally ran into Francis McDormand and her hubby while in a bar on the Marin coast on my birthday (!!!!), so, my life is pretty much complete. Which is probably good because I’m not sure if I could handle martinis every night- this aforementioned future witty husband will have to mix it up with beer or wine too.

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The things that I appreciate more about being the age I am is the opportunity it’s afforded me to learn the following. I don’t always remember these things, but when I do, I’m happier.

  •  Don’t get upset if you don’t fulfill your own unrealistic expectations. You’ll constantly have more chances to dream, and an even better opportunity will pop up when right later.
  • Surround yourself with people who care as much about you as you care for them.
  • Go to the ocean, mountains, lake, and visit cheesemakers as much as possible!
  • Give yourself at least day off a week.
  • Bring only aged cheeses on a hiking trip or to the beach (see realistic expectations- don’t make a soft, young cheese feel bad because it wants a little extra refrigerated love, just eat a young cheese later when the time is right). There will always be more burrata later.

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The cheeses I brought on our hike and beach trek were L’Amuse Gouda from Holland, Bleating Heart Funky Bleats from Sebastapol, and Hubaner from Switzerland. They were all aged just enough where they held up deliciously in our backpacks until we found a shady waterfall to sit next to for lunch. And that top pic? Chocolate pot de creme on Stinson beach, brought by my lovely friend Joen (non cheese photos also by Joen).

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Mozzarella, Burrata & Ricotta Cheesemaking Class, this Sunday, July 12th: Pulling Curds & Making Little Pillows of Cream

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Ever since I got back from two months in England and Ireland, cutting, draining, pressing and flipping curds with cheesemakers, I’ve had a hankering to make cheese something terrible. I’ve been visiting cheesemakers in hopes of surprising them while they’re mid-wheel flip or curd stirring. I’ve been opening the wine glass dishwasher right after a wash at work, hoping to replicate the affect in a make room when warm curds are being scooped into molds and your face and arms get steamy and you’re super hot. Also a sensory experience, I’ve learned, but not the same thing.

CurdCuttingCheesemaking5 (1 of 1) What, I asked myself, is one to do when they want to make cheese but don’t want to have to worry about selling it, milking animals, or making vat-size sized batches of wheels?

Teach a cheesemaking class, it turns out! Missing the plush, custard-like texture of freshly set milk, I called Kiri at the Cheese School and told her the deal. If I were writing a personal, my plea would have looked a little something like this:

Cheesemaking and cheese writing geek recently returned from the British Isles with curds on her mind and fermented dairy dreams. Have mozzarella sheets? Will bring the organic cream and curds and we can make burrata together. 

That said, I’m overjoyed to announce that I’m now teaching a mozzarella-burrata-ricotta making workshop at The Cheese School of San Francisco this July 12th. Yup, you read right, all three. Official write up below, and photos from the second mozzarella and burratta class I sat in on at the school, this one taught by Louella Hill.

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Mozzarella is on nearly every aspiring home-cheesemaker’s to-do list. Yet, it’s not easy to get it right. Why won’t your curds form a ball? When you do get the ball to form, why is it hard enough for a game of hacky-sack? These are the mysteries of mozzarella. In this class, your instructor, who is also a cheesemaker, will not only demystify the mozz, but also get you on the road to making perfect ovalini and bocconcini just in time for all that wonderful summer produce. But wait! There’s more! We’ll use our curds to make everyone’s favorite cheese, burrata, and with our leftover whey we’ll make ricotta.

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Burrata2 (1 of 1) Burrata1 (1 of 1) Burrata3 (1 of 1)Burrata4 (1 of 1)If you have mozzarella and burrata making dreams yourself, I’d love to see you there! Spots still open.



Cheesemaking with the SF Milk Maid: Gosling goat cheese

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The final Gosling

If you’ve ever taken a class with the SF Milk Maid or flipped through Louella Hill’s new cheesemaking book, Kitchen Creamery, you’ve probably had a moment much like the ten or eleven of those I’ve had recently where you find yourself shaking your head in amazement, asking, how does one person know so much?

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Louella’s book is packed with more cheese types than you though any one human would be able to make, her hand-drawn illustrations accompany the wheels so one can see what rogue bacteria may be to blame if there are too many divets in your brie, and when Louella’s not writing a book, she can be found teaching classes around the Bay Area. She kinda does a lot.

One of the original employees of Narragansett Creamery and the owner of SF Milk Maid, a cheesemaking business that teaches people how to properly stretch curds, Louella’s got a breadth of cheese knowledge under her belt that far surpasses even the amount of cheese that the average French person keeps in their fridge during a year. And she’s nice, and, a big believer in the glory of butter. In short, she’s lovely.

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So when the Louella asked me if I wanted to make Gosling with her at home, I said hell yes. My quick yes could have also been me wanting to make a cheese called Gosling, but mostly I said yes because I wanted to play with this lovely woman in the kitchen. Our cheese of choice? A Loire Valley-style, ashed goat cheese pyramid that looks like Valencay. It was the first time I worked with goat’s milk since returning from Sleight Farms in Somerset, England, and I was beaming.

We’d make the Gosling in one day, she’d leave me with the newly formed pyramid, and then I’d baby and flip it in my fridge for two to three weeks until it passed through cheese adolescence into adulthood.

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Louella’s publishers were nice enough to share the recipe for the beauty below, but I’d also highly recommend Louella’s book. It’s beautiful, down-to-earth, and clear.

Thank you Louella, for cutting curds with me!

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Gosling, Valency Style Cheese- adapted from Kitchen Creamery, Chronicle Books, 2015

These pyramid-shaped cheeses are pure entertainment. At first, they’re firm, geometric and black with ash: brand new. A week later, they’re fuzzy and gray: adolescent. With time, they become white with softened edges: middle-aged. Finally, they slump as the insides become soft: mature. This recipe can be made with cow milk if goat milk is not available and, traditionally, Valencay is an unpasteurized cheese. This recipe is very similar to the Chevre on page XX.

2 gal goat milk
2 tbsp buttermilk
4 drops rennet, undiluted
pinch of Penicillium candidum mold powder
tinier pinch of Geotrichum mold powder
2-3 tsp salt

Materials: 4 pyramid-shaped cheese forms, 2 tsp food-grade vegetable ash
Yield: three to four pyramids, ~8 oz/237 ml each
1. Pour milk in a pot and warm to 72˚F/22˚C. Turn off the heat.

3. Add buttermilk plus mold powders then stir in gently.

4. Now add the 4 drops of rennet. Stir the rennet in then cover the pot and leave in a warm, undisturbed location (free of cold drafts or vibrations) for 15 to 17 hours. If needed, incubate the pot to keep the temperature from fluctuating too much. When curd has firmed up, you will notice a small amount of yellow whey collected on the top and sides of the curd block.

5. Using a ladle or large spoon, scoop curds into clean pyramid forms. It may seem there is too much curd for too few forms. Wait 10 to 15 minutes for the level of the curds to drop, and then fill them to the top again. Continue doing this until all the curd has been used. If clear that the curd amount is disproportionate, add another pyramid form. Set filled pyramids inside a tall, clean plastic aging bin, with an aging mat inside on the bottom. Place lid on tub and allow pyramids to drain for 4 hours. You will need to periodically remove whey from the tub so that the cheese is not sitting in liquid.

7. After 4 hours, invert the pyramids on the aging mat (when cheese has firmed enough to allow you to do so). Pour off any whey as it accumulates in the bottom of the bin.

8. After another half day at room temperature, remove cheese from their forms. Drain and dry the plastic tub, then return cheeses to tub (without forms). Set them them on top of the aging mats.

9. Sprinkle each pyramid with ½ -3/4 tsp of salt over all surfaces as evenly as possible. Allow salt to soak in the salt while continuing to draining in covered bin at room temperature (removing built up whey from the bottom of the container as needed). Drain for 12 more hours.

11. Once cheeses have stopped releasing whey, cover them with vegetable ash; In a draft-free area, use a saltshaker filled with ash to sprinkle all surfaces of each pyramid.

12. Finally, move the salted, ashed cheeses to a dry bin. Set on top of dry, clean mats. Cover with lid and place in the refrigerator for 3 – 4 weeks. Twice a week, rotate the cheeses and remove accumulated moisture. When the cheeses are covered in a downy grey / white mold, they are done. Wrap in breathable cheese paper and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 more weeks.

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Lambrusco: Cheese & Wine Pairing Fit for a Pool Party

LambruscoOnRight (1 of 1)There’s an old cheese & wine geek-honored adage that white wine always pairs better with cheese than red wine. Lambrusco begs to differ (and it also would like to formally invite you to a summer pool party while it has your attention).

There are reasons for this adage. Because white wine often has higher acid than your standard red, it can cut through a cheese’s richness as smoothly as lime does through a heavy coconut curry. And it has lower tannins, which can get into sparring matches with certain cheeses bacterias, yeasts, and rinds. White wine also can have less oak then reds, which can overshadow a cheese’s nuanced flavors.

But take a red wine, ferment it twice so it has bubbles, then serve it with cheese? That’s bliss. And that’s proof that adages aren’t always right.


Just ask me on a summer’s day, when I can be found sipping Lambrusco and downing cheese next to a pool, on a porch, or maybe even while sitting at my desk writing this post (it’s not technically summer, but let’s just say it’s a very hot 81 here in Oakland).

Why is Lambrusco a pool cheese-party wine and why is it so good with cheese? Thus commences the third segment of Bubbles & Cheese Pairing 101.

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Pools and large bodies of water favor bubbles over still wines and chilled liquids over room temperature ones. It’s a proven fact. Pictures of pool drinks always show a chilled liquid. The best photos picture chilled and bubbly liquid. Enter Lambrusco, a beautiful red alcoholic liquid.

Made in Emilia-Romagna or Lombardy, Italy, from the grape of the same name, Lambrusco is a red, bubbly wine that has great acidity, a dash of tannins to keep things interesting, and fresh red fruit. Lambrusco has gotten a bit of a poor reputation- not because it has been seen out late at night sneaking off to hang out with Nebbiolo or Sangiovese- but because a large amount of poor quality Lambrusco was exported to the states in the eighties and nineties that was sweet, overly fruity, and frankly, boring. The good stuff though, is a revelation.

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Bing cherries, red currant, fresh herbs and pepper are flavors common in Lambrusco. Add all this to cold bubbles and you have pure refreshment.

Despite that Lambrusco’s also fantastic for summer because it’s bright, delicious, cold, and bubbly and looks good next to pools, the main reason that Lambrusco is the perfect summer party wine is because it’s easy to pair.

Summer is meant for easy food, low amounts of cooking, light dishes, and relaxing. Since Lambrusco just happens to be one of the easiest wines to pair with cheese, this works out just right. You can pretty much set it out with any cheese and it’ll charm the plate like a lightening bug charms a child. Or me. The tiny bit of tannins Lambrusco has teams up with its bright acid to cut the richness of cheese. Its often herbal and peppery notes bring out grassy, herbal lemony flavors in sheep or goat’s milk cheese. And the bubbles? Well, that’s like a freebie. They wrap around the rich cheese molecules and keep everything light. And because Lambruscos are low, or no oak, they don’t overpower cheese.

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The Lambrusco’s I’ve served in pairing classes pretty much went with everything on the plate.

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But here are some guidelines.

Yes’s: Goat and sheep milk cheese, and many cow’s.

  • Anything from sheep’s milk ricotta to lightly aged wheels like Barinaga’s Txiki, Bellwether’s Pepato, or more aged like Pecorino Toscano. Soft and hard goat’s milk cheeses are great, too. Fleur Verte- the young chevre covered in herbs? Perfect. Sleight Farm’s Tymsboro or Vermont Cheese Bonne Bouche? Golden Tickets.
  • Even cow’s milk cheeses like Gruyere, Comté, or Cheddar can’t help but say yes to the bubbly red one. You can go with bries, but generally think more aged- as a cheese gets more mature and complex, it likes a little extra in its wine, too.
  • If you’re just not a sweet wine fan but like your cheeses fierce and want a wine that won’t be overhwelmed, know that Lambrusco’s love blues, too.  Roquefort or Bayley Hazen, and even funky washed-rinds like Époisses or Tallegio too.

Only no’s

  •  I know that Lambrusco comes from Parmesan land, which seems like a lovely and regional pairing, but stay away from the super old “grana” style like cheese with Lambrusco. If you’re going Parm, think a year or under. The wine’s high acidity and bubbles make the “grana” cheeses seem dry and grainy. Same goes for gouda.

What do you like with your Lambrusco?


Strawberry Rhubarb Balsamic Compote (Looooves Goat Cheese)

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In the theme of spring, baby goats jumping about fields, goat cheese, and the most amazing sweet strawberries I’ve tasted in years (are they candy, are they strawberries, are they candy-strawberries?), I wanted to share again with you one of my favorite recipes for cheese. I developed this recipe after talking to my relatives in Minnesota last year about our local farmer’s markets. Mine seemed almost completely red they were so flooded with strawberries, I told them. Walking through their’s, they said, felt like they were wading in rhubarb.

Now, I love the combo of strawberries and rhubarb. And I love pie. And I see where someone else might have gone with this. But since I also love goat cheese, and strawberries and rhubarb taste awesome with goat cheese, and and I am worse at making pie dough then I am at holding to new year’s resolutions of being able to do a pull-up by the end of May, I decided to focus on a strawberry-rhubarb balsamic compote instead that pairs excellently with cheese. Win-win?

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It’s sweet, but it’s also tart. It’s dessert-like, but it’s also has enough freshness to it that you could spoon it over your oatmeal in the morning and feel like you were getting a serving of fruit (in a completely gratuitous way).

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The cheese I created the recipe for is Pug’s Leap Pavé, above. Pug’s Leap is a much-loved Petaluma creamery that went out of commission for a while while transitioning to different ownership. Well, as of about two years ago, it’s back, and producing lovely bloomy-rinded, French styles that are lively, thick and flaky, and slice-ready for being put on a crostini with strawberry-rhubarb balsamic compote. And not only do they make their own cheese, they supply milk for the lovely Gypsy Rose family too. And did I mention that they have a flying pug on the label?

Try this compote next time you have brunch, serve a heavy meal and want to keep your dessert light, or, over ice cream or yogurt. Then keep your leftovers for toast or oatmeal the next morning.

Strawberry Rhubarb Balsamic Compote

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Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

1/2 pound rhubarb- sliced half an inch thick

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar

1 tablespoon honey

1/8 tablespoon freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

2 cups sliced strawberries- sliced a quarter inch thick.


In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, pepper, honey, and balsamic and stir with a wooden spoon. On high heat, warm until the balsamic starts bubbling. Once bubbly, reduce heat to medium-low. Cover the pot with a lid, leaving it slightly ajar so steam can escape. Cook for seven minutes, lifting lid to stir occasionally. Take off the lid and cook for two more minutes, or until half of the rhubarb in the pan is soft and dissolving, like in the fifth photo above. Add the strawberries to the pot and stir. Continue cooking on medium-high heat for ten to fifteen more minutes, until the strawberries start to soften, but still keep their shape. Cool, then serve with your favorite goat cheese!