Azure Skies and Snowy-white Rinds

by Caitlin Griffith

At your next party – perhaps even celebrating the warm weather streak that we hope is here to stay – you absolutely need to serve a citrus-y Saison with a bloomy rind goat. Now, I am biased because farmhouse Saisons scream sunshine and warm weather to me. Give me a tangy straw-colored beauty any time of year and visions of verdant grass and azure skies swim before my eyes.

Before I become too mushy and emotional here, let’s revisit Saison history. In French, Saison means season, and originally the lightly hopped beer was brewed in the wintertime to be enjoyed during the late summer harvest. There was no refrigeration back in the day (cue entrance of cheese, which is milk’s leap toward immortality) and so the chilly winter months protected the bottle-conditioned brew from turning rancid. Perfect! This style is witnessing something of a revival right now and I, for one (if you couldn’t already tell) am psyched because of its excellence in pairing with food. Those French-speaking Belgian farmers were really on to something. Most Saisons boast a tartness and dry finish and many display citrus flavors, as well as a grassiness and biscuit-y yeast quality.

I tasted the Saison Dupont, arguably the world’s most famous and unmatched expression of a Saison, with hints of lemon, cardamom, clove, and pear, with one of my favorite goat’s milk cheeses, the Haystack Peak from Colorado. This pasteurized bloomy-rind goat is based on the pyramid-shaped goats from the Loire Valley in France but with an American spin. The snowy-white exterior hints at its milky, harmonious flavor. Its brightness is well-balanced by three distinct textures (thanks to time spent aging in Murray’s caves): a velvety rind, followed up by a delightful whisper of a creamline, and a pasty interior. The Saison Dupont and Haystack Peak danced all over my tongue in a sprightly tango that will light up the life of anyone interested in cheese and/or beer in the least bit.

Let’s not further complicate things here and say more than is necessary, as we already possess a flawless pairing, but throw in some nice crusty bread, whole grain mustard, and a log of the classic French Saucisson Sec and call it a day. Happy Spring!

Meet A Monger Monday: Cate!

I spent several years as an editorial assistant, buried under unpublished manuscripts, with dreams of running away to a dairy farm upstate. I took Cheese 101 in the Murray’s classroom, where a one ounce piece of gooey, bacon-y Epoisses exploded my mind and abducted my heart.

The class instructor directed me to the Cave Internship program at Murray’s, where I would spend many meditative hours patting and flipping Selles-sur-Cher and Brillat Savarin. This led to a year as a cheesemonger at the Grand Central Station store, and then to a position as an Associate in the ecommerce department, assisting cheese lovers across the nation.

No matter how many cheeses I try, my all-time-when-in-doubt-go-to-favorite is a baguette with Gruyere, Jambon Royal, and a liberal dose of spicy Dijon. Classic and freaking amazing, it’s particularly perfect before or after running a marathon.

 

Cate Peebles is a cheesemonger for Murray’s By Mail. When she’s not taking an order on the phone or taping boxes shut to ship cheesy goodness all over the USA, you can find her running marathons and making the rest of us look lazy.

 

Jasper Hill Harbison: So Earth-Friendly the Tree Hugs the CHEESE

Cheesemonger Sean Kelly gives us the scoop (pun intended) on this gooey Earth Day pick.

We really never hear about cheese when talking about Earth Day. It sounds like a bit of a stretch to discuss cheese on a day that’s supposed to be focused on environmental conservation, awareness and activism.  But why not? Really, it makes perfect sense for cheese and cheese farming to enter into the topics of discussion for Earth Day. When done right and responsibly, cheese can represent a certain closeness to our food sources. Cheese comes from milk, milk comes from cows, cows eat plants; how many things does the average American consume on a daily basis that can have their genealogy traced so clearly and with so few steps? Indeed, it seems as if the best cheese almost always comes from the smallest, most traditional and most natural sources.

A perfect (and delicious) example of just how well cheese can fit in on Earth Day is Jasper Hill Farms’ compact and beautiful creation, Harbison. Harbison, in production, flavor, and concept, is the definition of terroir and brings a true taste of place to anyone fortunate enough to dive into its creamy and buttery paste. The cheese, named for Greensboro resident Anne Harbison, is produced at Jasper Hill Farms from their small herd of Ayrshire cattle. The farm itself is a picture of sustainability, maintaining a small herd and closely monitoring the health and well -being of the animals, as well as finishing up a project that will recycle manure solids from the cows and wastewater and whey from the cheesemaking process to help power their facilities. Once this project is completed, the farm will produce almost zero waste.

Harbison sets itself apart from its other bloomy-rinded cousins not just by way of its noble upbringing, but also by its outfit choice. The small wheels each come wrapped in a small girdle of spruce bark obtained from trees on the farm, which are naturally composted to enrich the soil after the bark has been harvested. The bark wrapping affects the flavor of the cheese in an interesting way; the flavors that shine through in a wheel of Harbison don’t simply remind one of the plants and scents of the woods, but rather are evocative of the forest as a whole. Herbal flavor notes (mustard, fennel, and tarragon, to name a few) dominate the start, while the finish highlights the buttery and rich milk produced by the Ayrshire cows. These flavors yearn to be paired with a crisp sparkling white, or a bright, hoppy IPA to match the powerful herbal notes. Cured meats and dry salamis are enlivened by the creamy spoonable wonder and bring a new depth of flavor to a ripe Harbison.

So, this Earth Day, show your love for Mother Nature by enjoying cheese the way nature intended. Grab a wheel of Harbison, peel off the delicate top rind and let your cheese plate proclaim your love for the Earth.

Prairie Fruits Angel Food: A Taste of Heaven on Earth (Day)

Robin Minkoff tells us why Prairie Fruits Farm makes the perfect cheese for Earth Day.

Back-to-the-landers Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperband started Prairie Fruits Farm in Champaign Urbana, Illinois in 2003, sowing buckwheat and modern farming ideals. To start, they planted hundreds of fruit trees and berry plants, and obtained three Nubian goat does and one buck.  Nine years later, they produce up to thirteen different cheeses, mostly from the milk of their goatherd.  The farm takes on many roles to achieve an admirable goal:  educate the local community about the connection between food production and consumption.  Cheeses like the young bloomy rind Angel Food are the delectable delivery system of their message. Organic growing practices ensure that the, ahem, fruits of their labors are tasty (Wordplay: rhymes with Earth Day!).

In keeping with the tenets of sustainability and small-scale, diversified farming systems, Jarrell and Cooperband run a pasture-based, seasonal dairy.  These farmers take the greatest care with their animals, using rotational grazing methods to keep them on fresh pasture during the growing season, and feeding them alfalfa hay and locally grown grain during the winter.  Chickens partner with the goatherd to manage pest control in the goat barn, helping to maintain sanitary conditions and healthy milkers.  Because of the careful attention to their animals’ health and quality of life, they are certified as Animal-Welfare Approved.

The orchard and berry patch are similarly cared for, deterring pests, weeds and disease through ecological and biological controls rather than conventional herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers.  Flowering plants grow in the orchard to attract beneficial insects, especially honeybees.  As a testament to their sustainable agriculture vision, nothing goes to waste at Prairie Fruits Farm: food waste and manure gets turned into compost for the fields, and even excess whey produced during cheesemaking finds purpose as fertilizer and as livestock feed for other farms.  Like the cheeses, orchard and berry fruits are sold at local farmers’ markets.

One standout cheese, Angel Food, is a soft-ripened goat cheese made in the style of a French Coulommier.  Similar to a Camembert, this interpretation is aged two weeks.  Beneath the downy white rind lies a gooey creamline and a fluffy paste that melts into a silky, flowing mess of deliciousness as the cheese ages.   To make this sensational treat, the curds are hand-ladled into round molds.  A ripe wheel of Angel Food can substitute for the Brie you’re planning to serve at your next gathering.  But it’s spring – pack it in a picnic basket with a bubbly beverage and some fresh fruit as a part of your outdoor Earth Day celebrations.  Sarah, of Prairie Fruits Farm, recommends a Normandy Apple Cider to wash it down.  Bring it all together with berries like those you’d find growing near where the goats pasture. Prairie Fruits Farms’ intent is to help connect in their patrons’ minds food production and consumption; be at one with the pure terroir of Angel Food; free of unnatural elements and fresh from the prairie.  Angel Food, you make me feel like a natural woman.