Ballymaloe Food & Wine Lit Fest 2015

by Dan Belmont, Murray’s Cheese Education & Events Manager

Irish cuisine – what comes to mind? Pub food, Irish Breakfast (see: MEAT), shepherds pie, Guinness, heavy, rich foods, right? As I ate my way around County Cork, Ireland my preconceived notions were shattered in just three short days. Now – don’t get me wrong, the Irish Breakfast served at the Ballyvalone House was the perfect way to start the day (especially after a night of local gin cocktails) – four kinds of meat on one plate? YES PLEASE. However…

The “Emerald Isle” is a wildly appropriate moniker. Despite mainly overcast days, I still utilized sunglasses to shield my eyes from blinding bright green foliage and rolling pastures almost everywhere you looked. Its comes as no surprise that the Irish Government and OHRUA (formerly the Irish Dairy Board) is on a mission to grow the country’s agricultural sector significantly over the next decade. What they lack in natural gas or coal, they make up for ten-fold in beautiful lush grasses. And what do we know about amazing grass? Makes for very happy cows. Happy cows = delicious milk. Delicious milk yields incredible butter and cheeses and yogurt, etc., etc.. Ireland is poised (and very excited) to share this bounty with the world.

The unofficial theme for the weekend was LOCAL. We heard from Alice Waters (Ballymaloe LitFest Keynote Speaker) and her adventures opening Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA. in the late sixties. Tales of local growers trading fingerling potatoes for meals – long before anyone had heard of fingerling potatoes and now they’re a familiar staple on many a restaurant menu. The simple of idea of sourcing ONLY local ingredients started the farm to table revolution. Ms. Waters introduced gardening and cooking education to elementary schools that was based off a pilot program hosted at a penitentiary! The restaurant (still open today) was built on idyllic pure concepts, and a “This may not work, but let’s try it anyway.” attitude. Her spirit and accomplishments are admirable to say the least.

I did my part to embrace the local theme. Rather than Guinness, I opted for local Cork County Stout and drank Green Spot Pot Still as my whiskey of choice. (More on Whiskey later.) After a tour and butter making demonstration at the Cork Butter Museum (yes, that’s a thing)

IMG_2507

we ventured out to West Cork where we met Clodagh McKenna – chef, cookbook author and TV personality – for a private garden party, complete with cooking demonstrations all using locally sourced ingredients from the nearby village. She’s essentially the Martha Stewart of Ireland (sans incarceration).

Take a look at this (HANDWRITTEN!) menu:

IMG_2518_low

 When you think of Irish Cuisine, do you picture this plate? Flower arrangement by yours truly!

IMG_2040

 At the end of our first day, I was convinced that the Irish are the just the nicest damn people in the world. The Green family welcomed us into their home at Ballyvalone and Clodagh was convivial hospitality incarnate. Gracious doesn’t begin to describe it. It all became a very personal experience, I felt like family meeting long lost relatives. And dinner was divine.

We spent the next day visiting with the Grubb family at Cashel Blue Farm. The operation there was nothing short of impressive, with innovations at every turn. The warm curd, newly formed was light, fluffy and sweet on the palate – like the most delicate panna cotta you could ever imagine. The curd is then packed into moulds but not pressed to maintain a high moisture level, and ultimately less dense paste. The process is a mix of hands on labour and high-tech computerization. For all my cave apprentice alumni, check this out: With this simple “turn-key” design, you can rotate a dozen wheels at a time!

IMG_2556_low

Flipping of the wheels was also automated, encouraging uniform density. The curd is not salted directly; rather the newly formed wheels are only brined encouraging that sweet creamy paste. After piercing, in just two short weeks the blue mold is activated and begins to work its magic from the center of the wheel. 

IMG_2554_lowIMG_2565_low

The Grubb family only pressed upon me further the through-line of family and superb Irish hospitality. We were invited into their farmhouse for lunch. One of the family’s favorite recipes is a simple pizza of caramelized onions, rosemary and Cashel Blue. We were even shown the original copper kettle where Mrs. Grubb made the first batch of Cashel Blue!

IMG_2570_lowIMG_2569_low

The community assembled at the Ballymaloe House and Cookery School for the third annual Kerrygold Ballymaloe Food & Wine Lit Fest is nothing short of impressive. 10,000 guests descended upon the farm for a myriad of tastings, seminars, lectures, demonstrations, garden tours, and sheer indulgence on a smorgasbord of specialty food and drink offerings. The opening night festivities were ripe with merriment and revelry, bolstered by a sense of like-minded community. We were joined by fellow New Yorkers Garrett Oliver Brewer at Brooklyn Brewery, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig fame, and a long list of internationally celebrated chefs, authors and wine and spirits experts. The festival host, Darina Allen buzzed around with youthful energy like a proud mother, facilitating introductions and bridging connections between attendees. Again, it just felt like a big family reunion.

What can I say? I like my whiskey. But as I have never been a big fan of Jameson, I was curious to see what the panel and tasting titled “Irish Whiskey Renaissance” had in store for me. Here’s the flight:

IMG_2600_low

 Color me impressed. The whiskeys were delicious, and unique, quaffs worthy of contemplation. The panel, comprised of two Irish distillers and a Scottish whiskey writer/expert was thoughtful and enthusiastic. Outlining the history of Irish distilling (thank you English taxation), differentiating between the pot and column still production methods, and looking ahead to what can only be described as, well, a renaissance, — but the number of new distilleries that will open their doors and their barrels over the next 5 years is incredible, the industry is exploding. Few had anticipated such a growth in global whiskey consumption, and the Irish are vying for their share of the market. If the five bottles we tasted are any indication of quality, I welcome increased availability in the states wholeheartedly.

The “Emerging Wine Regions” panel included popular wine writer Alice Feiring – known for her crusade against Robert Parker and the 100-point sale, among other passionate wine professionals showcased bottles from the Ukraine, (The Best Damn Wine Label I’ve Ever Seen), Greece and unheard of regions of Spain. I found it humorous that these ‘emerging’ regions all have rich wine making histories – some thousands of years old. They may be just emerging on the international wine market radar, but they’re established in their history and wine making traditions. Enter a region like New York’s Finger Lakes region, which has only been producing vitis vinefera for 50 years!

IMG_2066

Wine from the Ukraine

Our visit to the festival culminated with the Kerrygold Gala Dinner at the Ballymaloe house. A lovely meal featuring potted lobster, roast lamb, the famed Ballymaloe dessert cart, and of course CHEESE. Speeches by Kevin Lane, OHRUA President and Simon Coveney, Irelands Minister of Agriculture set the tone for celebration by outlining recent successes (removing limitations on milk production, championing Ireland’s agricultural products abroad) and what lies ahead – increasing availability of food and agricultural education, sustainability, and growth of both production and economy.

Ireland is on the verge of a food renaissance, and I couldn’t be more excited to see it happen. While I did not spend any time in Dublin, and never stepped foot in a pub, it was an unforgettable visit. County Cork is a DO NOT MISS part of the country, and I hope to return again soon.

Oh… and we were told maybe 200 times over the course of the weekend – BUTTER IS GOOD FOR YOU. Spread it on!

Dan Belmont, Simon Coveney, Darina Allen, Amy Stonionis

Dan Belmont, Simon Coveney, Darina Allen, Amy Stonionis

Celebrate Raw Milk Cheese!

rawWhile we appreciate all cheese, those made from raw milk hold a very special place in our heart. While we won’t make the argument that one is better than the other, we will say that the tradition and heritage of unpasteurized cheese is near and dear to our hearts. Having a whole day devoted to celebrating these traditions is important, not just because it helps expose the public to raw cheeses, it also helps to preserve and elevate the presence of cheese made from unpasteurized milk.

So, what is the deal with raw milk cheese? Let’s start with a brief history of cheese itself. Long before refrigeration, the need to preserve liquid dairy was a necessity. It ensured that nothing went to waste, and there would be food available during the times of year (winter) when it was not possible to yield crops. Cheese making is essentially caloric preservation. By removing some of the liquid from milk, condensing it, and through various aging techniques, we were essentially able to control the spoilage of liquid dairy, allowing the final product (cheese) to be consumed with little fear to human health.

What’s the deal with pasteurization?

As agriculture became increasingly more industrialized and centralized, there was an increase in foodborne pathogens. This created a huge risk top human health, and because products like cheese were shifting from farm production to factory production, there was a need to ensure that the final product was homogeneous and fit for human health. Essentially, when we pool liquid dairy from a bunch of different farms into a central processing facility, there is a much greater risk for contamination than just processing the milk on farm. Pasteurization was applied to cheese and liquid dairy (named after the French scientist Louis Pasteur.) This process essentially raises the temperature and keeps it there long enough to kill anything that might be harmful.

So, what’s wrong with pasteurization?

Well, this question is tricky. The short answer? Nothing! Pasteurization is good in the sense that it keeps the milk and cheese that we buy at the grocery store from getting us sick. However, when talking about small cheese makers, pasteurization can be quite harmful for a number of reasons. First, we have been making and consuming these cheeses for hundreds of years, with incredibly scant amounts of sickness. In many foreign countries, these traditions are protected, and certain cheeses MUST use raw milk. In the US, there is a move to increase the limitations and regulations on these cheeses, which would result in the loss of many of our favorite old world favorites from making it to the states. The second issue that many argue that raw milk is an expression of the farm. This milk contains a microbiological community that is unique to the farm on which it is made. By killing these microbes with pasteurization, we are essentially killing the elements that make these cheeses special.

So, now that you know a little more about raw milk, make sure to visit your local cheesemonger and celebrate Raw Milk Appreciation Day with us!

5 Cheeses that Love Champagne

moet-70566_640It’s that time of year again! Break out the bubbles, chocolate hearts, and turn up the romance. Here are some of our favorite cheese and Champagne pairings you will totally fall in love with.

Love at Mast assortment_love_at_mast_2015

We get very young wheels of Champlain Valley Triple Creme and add Mast Brother’s chocolate both inside and out before it grows its fluffy white rind. We’ve been developing and aging these guys for several years now (check out the video of how we make them here) and with the help of the Mast Brother’s, we’ve developed a cheese you can really toast to!

Cremont – Vermont Creamery

This tangy and sweet mixed-milk cheese is one of the most luscious little buttons out there. Made in Vermont by one of our all-time favorite cheesemakers, these wheels are crafted with love. While primarily made of goat’s milk, the addition of a touch of cream makes this cheese so creamy, the effervescence of Champagne is the perfect pairing.

Moses Sleeper – Jasper Hill

Yolky, slightly mushroomy and unbelievably spreadable, this Vermont Bloomy Rind is ready to be slathered all over some crusty bread, and begs to be enjoyed with something bubbly. If you’re not so big on Champagne, or just in the mood to change things up, hard cider is also a mind-blowing pairing.

Hudson Flower

00000008828_cavemaster-hudson-flowerThis cheese starts its life as Kinderhook Creek, but when we are finished with it, the transformation is hard to miss. Rolled in local herbs and hops flowers, these sheep milk wheels are then aged in our Natural Rind cave for several weeks. The end result is a deeply herbaceous flavor bomb is elevated with a crisp, citrusy bubbly.

Humboldt Fog – Cyprus Grove 

California sparkling wine has meet its match with this go-to Cali goat’s milk cheese. Humboldt Fog has become synonymous with artisan American cheesemaking, and is at the top of the list for cheese aficionados and novices alike! Uncork some bubbles to bring out this cheese’s minerality.

How Stinky Cheeses Get Their Funk

greenswardWe aren’t afraid to say it: we love the stinky stuff. The stinkier the better! But, how does a cheese get it’s funk? Well Matt Spiegler from Cheese Notes, one of the best cheese blogs out there, gives us the run-down on how these stinkers are made in this month’s Edible Brooklyn.

Matt brings up one of the most important factors in making a stinky cheese, the washing of the curd in booze. This is what gives this family of cheese its name — Washed Rind. Wheels of cheese are washed in many different styles of alcohol, ranging from beer and wine, to even absinthe and cider. While this does not necessarily impart the flavor profile of the booze, it does have some interesting effects on the rind of a cheese. It introduces a new set of bacteria and yeasts. As Matt explains:

The best known are the Brevibacterium linens, which impart red and orange hues and distinctive aromas — meaty, wet grass, broth, barnyard, even “gym sock” — to prized washed-rind cheeses like nose-searing Époisses or funky, custardy Taleggio. But not all washed rind cheeses are “stinky”; some range toward fruity, floral, pleasantly sour and yeasty; others might not even read as “washed” at first taste, so subtle is the influence.

Matt calls out some of his all-time favorite American washed rinds, and Murray’s was lucky enough to get a shout-out for our Cavemaster Reserve Greensward (pictured above)! This cheese starts its life as Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm, but comes to us very young, where we bathe it in booze and develop its orange rind. Matt describes Greensward as “rich, milky and meaty, with bacon and caramelized onion notes and a distinctly woodsy infusion from its time in the bark belt.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.