Monthly Archives: October 2010

Happy Cows vs. Picture-Perfect Cows

Jersey Cow

Jersey Cow

There was a bit of a backlash to a recent story I wrote for the LA Times, called “Artisan cheese-making brings them a new slice of life.” It wasn’t concerning the topic, the farmer’s stories, or inaccuracies in the article, the issue was about the cow in the photo. Some readers were convinced that she was on death’s door.

Because of  reader reaction, the Humane Society paid a visit to the Bianchi-Moreda’s Valley Ford farm.


Lady The Cow

The Bianchi-Moredas thought nothing of taking a picture with Lady, the cow in the photo. They were proud of her. Cheesemaker Karen Bianchi-Moreda calls her “one of my girls, ” and boasts that she has won numerous awards in fairs across the state. And, although some say she has the spirit of a cow four years younger, she looks a little more frail than the average heifer wandering around a dairy farm. She is also a Jersey, a very angular breed that weighs 500 pounds less than the average female milking black and white cow (Holstein) featured on milk carton pictures.

Is this a case of reader’s expecting to see a plump cow that they see in pictures who’ve never visited a farm? I wasn’t certain. After responding to reader letters, I found that some of reader’s families grew up on farms with different cow breeds, so they had quite a bit of experience with farm animals, but they didn’t know what Jerseys looked like. Others were animal lovers concerned about jutting rib bones.

Want to get more of the back story about what the Humane Society found out when they visited the farm? Read about it here. LA Times Editor Russ Parsons blogs about reader reaction.

How many of us might make think the same about the photo? What does this mean to you?

Artisan cheesemaking brings them a new slice of life

Karen Bianch-Moreda of Valley Ford

Karen Bianch-Moreda of Valley Ford

There’s more Wisconsin cheese love to come on “It’s Not You, it’s Brie,” but in the meantime, I wanted to share my latest article. It was published last week in the LA Times and focuses on how, due to fluctuating milk prices, some dairy farmers are turning to making cheese to keep their passion and farm alive. Hope you enjoy reading about Valley Ford, Achadinha Cheese, and Landaff Creamery. I’ll be back soon!

Wisconsin Cheeseathon: Hobbit Caves & Rush Creek

Bleu Mont Chese Cave

Bleu Mont Chese Cave

After eating a meal richer than David Lebovitz’s Roquefort honey ice cream recipe, the Wisconsin dairy tourists tucked into bed to rest for the the big day ahead: Bleu Mont, Uplands and Roth-Kase. The plan was something like this: cheese, cheese, then fondue and cheese plates.

If hearing about the Crave Brothers Poo Power wasn’t enough to convince us that Wisconsin is ahead of the dairy curve, then the underground cheese hobbit caves built under a hill on Bleu Mont property was enough to do it.


Bleu Mont's under hill cheese cave, shown with hobbit to demonstrate actual size.

Modeled similar to Vermont’s Jasper Hill’s underground cave, which was inspired by Fort Antoine in the Franche-Comté Jura region, Bleu Mont has constructed a cellar that is the perfect mix of humidity, temperature, and Lord of the Rings cool factor to age cheese.

Bleu Mont Cloth-bound cheddar

Bleu Mont Cloth-bound cheddar

Trained by his father and by traditional cheesemakers in Switzerland, Owner Willi Lehner is a skilled artisan and ages his own beautiful bandage-wrapped Cheddar, his new cheese Alpine Renegade  (my favorite of the fantastic duo) and some other wheels for local cheesemakers in his cave. Put his, Japser Hill’s, and Fiscalini‘s cheddar on a board, and if you’re a fan of savory, buttery, sharp, beefy cheese, you’ll be amused for hours.

After Bleu Mont, we headed to Uplands Cheese. They have the most famous grass in the United States.
Upland's cheese prairie

Upland's cheese prairie

Cheesemaker Andy Hatch only makes the famed Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheeses with milk from his grass-fed cows from April to October. He rotationally grazes his cows on the pasture to make sure they’re getting the tastiest greens possible, rich with clover, wild grasses and the occasional yellow daisy. This makes better milk. Uplands’s mixed herd also promotes flavor complexity. Unlike many dairy farmers, Uplands breeds Holsteins, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Tarentaise, and Montbeliards of the French-Swiss regions. By using such a mixed herd, they have milk with varying fat content, protein, and flavor, and pretty cows of different colors prancing around the field.

One look in the cheesemaking vats shows an immediate pay-off – Upland’s milk is already the color of French Vanilla ice cream or freshly churned butter.

Read more about Hatch’s three-time award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve here, here and here.

Upland's winter Rush Creek

Upland's winter Rush Creek

During the cow’s resting season, Hatch has started to make a new raw-milk cheese crafted from the subtle winter milk not used for Pleasant Ridge, called Rush Creek Reserve.

jura Spruce at Uplands

jura Spruce at Uplands

Inspired by the oozing, creamy Vacherin Mont D’Or in the Swiss-French Alps, Rush Creek is aged 60 days and wrapped with spruce imported from the Jura region. Jasper Hill already makes a cheese in this realm that if you haven’t tried it before, well, lucky you- it’s almost Winnimere season too! But while Winnimere is washed with a local brew as it ages, Rush Creek is washed with a salt and water brine and should produce a cleaner, more milky taste.

We didn’t get to taste this cheese- it wasn’t ready. But I looked at it. A lot. And I shot some photos of it so you can dream about it too. They say it will hit the stores in November. Please save me one.

After dreaming about oozing wheels and hobbit caves, we went to Roth-Kase.

Roth Kase cheesemaking facilities

Roth Kase cheesemaking facilities

Roth's Private Reserve

Roth's Private Reserve

A large cheese plant packed with stainless steel, workers wearing matching white crocs, and more sanitizing stations than a new hospital, Roth Kase started out as a small family creamery who made America’s first “Gruyère.” The family had big dreams and now makes more than 15 styles of cheeses. Some are made to appease people who want low fat or low-flavor cheese. Others are full-fat and stunning. My favorite is their Gran Queso and Roth’s Private Reserve.

Fondue at Roth Kase

Fondue at Roth Kase

At Roth-Kase we were serenaded by a yodeler, ate a fondue lunch, and served cheese plates paired with Woodford Reserve (god bless them), a Riesling from Wisconsin, and kirsch.

Believe it or not, all of us made it back to the bus alive. I took a nap on the way home.

Next Wisconsin adventure on “It’s Not You, it’s Brie”: Otter Creek, Cedar Grove, and Carr Valley.

Dirty boards are kept separate.

Boards that cheese has already been aged on are kept separate at Uplands. Because they are very dirty.

Wisconsin Cheese-a-thon: Day One



As many of my twitter followers may know, I just came back from a cheese curd-filled, sweet milk blessed and L’Etoile-studded Wisconsin adventure. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing board contacted some of us cheesy media folks to see if they could take us to their land of milk and corn, wine and dine us, and take us to some of the best creameries around the state. I said hell yes.

I had never been to Wisconsin. Like many good Scandinavian-Americans, I have relatives in Minnesota, and although I did manage to eat eat lefsa and hit up the tallest Paul Bunyan statue in the nation while in the land of a 10,000 lakes, the visit didn’t quite satisfy my dairy urges.

Wisconsin in fall, Carr Valley

Wisconsin in fall, Carr Valley

But you can imagine how excited I was to see our agenda.

1. Crave Brothers

2. Bleu Mont

3. Uplands Reserve

4. Emmi-Roth Kase

5. Carr Valley

6. Cedar Grove

7. Otter Creek

Not bad.

If you’re on your cheese toes and very familiar with Wisconsin creameries, you may have noticed that the aforementioned companies focus almost entirely on cow’s milk. You’re very keen.

This is because the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board is funded by cow’s milk. A while ago, cow dairy farmers in the state got together and decided that in order to properly promote their product, they were going to fund a marketing company. To fund them, dairy farmers give the marketing board around ten cents of they make from every 100 pounds of milk they sell. Goat and sheep’s milk dairy farmers opted out. Because the marketing board serves the people whose money funds them, the trip focused on cow’s milk. Since Wisconsin has excellent goat’s milk cheese and more sheep’s milk dairies than any other dairy state around, I was a little sad to hear this, but I’m sure that I will make it back one day to visit the smaller animals.

The first night we visited the Crave Brothers, a larger dairy and creamery run by four brothers. We learned about their Poo Power practices where they convert all their cow’s waste to renewable energy and fertilizer (more to come on this topic). We also toured their farm, drove the bus through the barn in twilight, and snuck a peek at their cheesemaking facilities.

Then, we feasted. The Crave Brothers make fresh milk cheeses- everything from ricotta to mozzarella and Oaxacan-style string. Under their factory they have a visitors center where local chefs can test recipes for their products and prepare dishes for visitors.


Crave Brothers Mozzarella Caprese Salad

First, we sampled the Crave’s Petite Frere cheese. It’s a soft, semi-aged, mild washed-rind packaged like a brie. According to George Crave, they experimented a lot with this cheese. Their first batch was super funky. Too funky, many suggested. People not accustomed to the strong flavors wafting from the cheese wanted it to tone down. I’m betting that I would have preferred it stronger- it’s a nice cheese, but more of a breakfast, mild style rather than the focus on a cheese plate.

The chef baked Petite Frere with local, wild mushrooms. It was delicious and heavy, and fit for a Wisconsin winter. Next we had wild mushroom and mascarpone soup with local foraged fungus. Then, caprese salad with three different shapes of Crave mozzarella. The entre was duck focused and, thankfully, cheese free. The break was terrific. For dessert we had mascarpone chocolate cake and truffles, and lemon chevre custard.

It was a good dinner, great night and an excellent start to the trip.

Keep posted for more write-ups on Wisconsin.  Next post: Bleu Mont, Uplands and Roth-Kase.

Have you visited Wisconsin creameries? Which ones were your favorites?

Dutch Suitcase Cheese

Dutch cheese plate with mustard and tangerine marmalade

Dutch cheese plate with mustard and tangerine marmalade

Every morning in Dutch dairy land, people breakfasting in the nation of Holland spread unsalted raw-milk butter over a slice of sweet rye bread, then top it with local cheese. In case you didn’t catch that, they spread slices of sweet, salty caramelly Dutch gouda goodness on top of more sweet cultured milk, a.k.a fresh butter. Every morning.

We have a Dutch friend and customer who recently brought in cheeses to taste that she had her father pack in his suitcase when traveling from Holland to Berkeley. She came in with two plates full of nearly all raw-milk beauties, including a triple-creme on the cheese board aged under 60 days. After she told me of her daily breakfast, I shed a milky tear of happiness. Then I feasted.

Aged Goudas

Aged Goudas

Somewhat rare to form, I might have consumed more butter that day than I did cheese. I don’t say this without considering all the cultured cream I’ve had in my life, from Strauss, from Affineur Rodolphe le Menuier, from Italy, but the Dutch know exactly what to do with the most luscious milk of their prized cows.

And they’re not bad with cheese either. Unfortunately for us, there is a cornocupia of Dutch cheese we’ll never try in the United States- either because it’s raw-milk and aged under 60 days, hence not legal to import, or just because so little is made, they’d rather keep it for themselves.

Below is a list of cheeses that Lidewey served us. As a side note, as stated by Janet Fletcher in Culture Magazine, flavored goudas are not faux pas in Holland. Rather than adding fennel seeds or cloves to their traditional cheese styles to provide cheese snobs with something to gossip about, the Dutch add flavorings for variety’s sake- it’s just to another way to eat cheese on butter in the morning. Hallelujah.

I need to visit this country.

1. Demeter fenugreek goat (gouda): mild, fresh, sweet, floral, fennel seeds.

2. Vlaskaas, Beemster  traditionally made only during the flax harvest. Pastuerized

3. Jonge Komynes, cow’s milk, with cumin

4. Leerdammer: cow’s milk, light, fresh milk and hazelnut flavors

5. Zeeuwse Ronde: triple creme raw cow’s milk. tastes like sweetened creme fraiche- definitely only available in Holland. This is sad.

6. Belegen goat- aged 10 weeks.

7. Belegen goat- aged 30 weeks.

8. Friese Nagel kass, cow’s milk cheese spiked with cloves. Uber strong.

9. Blue de wolvega, cow’s milk, mild, buttery blue, firmer than many blues.

Ouwe Beemster

Bastiaanse, young and old

Leidse Kanter

Had you tried many of these in the states? If so, let people know where they can find them in the comment section below!

What other great, unusual, Dutch cheeses should readers try?