Monday, October 23, 2006

Fin de Semana de Queso

A glimpse of Cowgirl on a Saturday in August. Stephanie, Daniel, and Janet working the crowd. Janet has moved to DC to work at the new shop on F Street. Stephanie wears many hats. Check out her blog The Grub Report.

I had a very cheese-filled weekend. I spent Saturday morning working from 8:00am -2:30pm working at Cowgirl Creamery. I called it a guest appearance. Several of my fellow cheesemongers asked if I was coming back for good. I love cheese. I love selling cheese. The customer interaction is really gratifying. I feel like the cheese fairy, spreading happy cheese blessings where ever I go. Offering tastes of creamy goodness to people who are eager to try something new. I like to share my passion. Returning to the cheese counter is fun for me also, because there are new cheeses! Yet, I get the most pleasure out of making cheese.

There is a new Cowgirl Cheese called Inverness. It is a "lactic" cheese and a work in progress. It has a bloomy rind like Mt. Tam, but it has a lighter texture. It is shaped like a large, white thimble. The taste is slightly tart, and dissolves on the tongue with a creamy finish. This is a style of cheese that I'm still trying to figure out. Lactic cheese is a type of fresh cheese but it is also used as a descriptive term. Starter culture and a little bit of rennet is added to warm milk and left to sit for several hours (usually overnight). The milk turns into a thick yogurt consistancy. This curd is not cut but poured into a colander lined with cheesecloth. The four corners of the cheesecloth are tied together and the curds are left to drain for several hours. Since the curds are not cut, less whey is expressed and the cheese is very soft and spreadable. It is used like cream cheese or fromage blanc. Cowgirl's is left to age until a bloomy rind has grown. P. candidum must be added to the milk or sprayed on to the young cheese and left to age for a couple of weeks. I'm just guessing. I haven't been to the creamery to ask.

But I digress. Other new cheese: Two from Vermont Butter and Cheese company, soft spreadable goat cheeses with funky rinds. They come in cute little wooden trays. Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont has a new blue cheese, similar to a stilton. Fun! There is a fresh sheep's milk cheese from Wisconsin in the fresh case. Similar in texture to a fresh chevre, but it is more mild and has a rich, slightly sheepy(?) finish. I like it.

Also new to Cowgirl, more cheese from Vermont: Willow Hill Farm. They are an organic sheep dairy, who also sell fresh lamb, wool, blueberries, blankets in addition to sheep's milk cheese and yogurt. Cowgirl is carrying Vermont Brebis and Alderbrook and their yogurt. Both cheeses are cave aged, bloomy rinded and very runny. I have a Brebis that I need to try. It looks like a small camembert and feels very soft.
I can't wait to try it this afternoon. I think I'll get a loaf of french bread and a spoon. It is quite ripe.

By the way, Jim has put me on notice. No more cheese can enter the house until we finish what we have. I've been on a spending spree it seems. I can't go into a market without examining the cheese section thoroughly. I call it research. Jim calls it overkill. "Enough, dear. No more cheese for the rest of the month," he said last week. "But, but....O.K. I guess the fresh goat cheese log from Spain, the wedge of Basque sheep/goat tomme, Parmiggiano Reggiano, cave aged gruyere, my own Faux Ticklemore - now called Sarahmore (thanks Cynthia!) and my own fresh chevre are enough. I'm not counting the overripe little morsels of soft, French sheep's milk cheese, nor the tiny reminants of Harbourne that are still floating around in the veggie drawer. The promise went by the wayside after Saturday's stint at the shop. I had to try that Vermont Brebis. I've also got some Straus yogurt in my fridge as well as Bellwether Farms Creme Fraiche. There are two gallons of Clover milk waiting to be turned into cheese. I do my best to support the dairy industry. If you follow the Clover link, look at the billboards on Clover's website and check out 1989. A few of my favorites are there, especially #3.

Sunday we drove down the San Mateo coast to Half Moon Bay. It is pumpkin season. Jim and I love roaming around pumpkin patches to find the "right" squash to turn into jack-o-lanterns. The more misshapen the better. We've had good luck at Bob's Pumpkin Patch in the past. The have acres of them and you can even pull them off of the vine. This year produced some good ones. We've found a huge, pear shaped squash that's still kinda green. We yanked it off the vine and put it into the wheelbarrow. Soon five more orange pumpkins were added to the wheelbarrow. We're ready for Halloween now! It was around 2:30, too early to head home, so we drove 20 minutes south to Pescadero to grab some soup and olallieberry pie at Duarte's (pron. Doo'-arts) a tavern that specializes in cream of artichoke soup, fresh seafood and pie. Their cream of chile soup is amazing, too.

Since we were in Pescadero, and I wasn't that hungry yet, I suggested we drive over to Harley Farms, a farmstead goat cheese maker. It is on the edge of town (three blocks from "downtown") in Pescadero. We drove up to the the farm and they were open. Yay! The goats were casually walking around the pasture and checking out the tourists near the gate. We went into the barn which is Harley Farms' shop and make room. Next door is the milking parlor. There are large windows to allow for plenty of light and lets folks watch the exciting work of milking goats or making fresh goat cheese.

Inside the shop, Dee Harley was selling her cheese and swatting flies. A big, grey cat was dozing in a patch of sun on the floor. We entered the small storefront and sampled Dee's assorted cheeses that lined the counters. They were hidden under cheesecloth to protect them from flies and the sun. We sampled her chive logs, goat ricotta, fromage blanc, and other delicious goat cheeses. Locals came in and grabbed their weekly supply of fresh cheese, paid and left. We bought a tub of fromage blanc and chatted with Dee. She's going to the Slow Food Terra Madre gathering in Turino, Italy this week. The Slow Food gathering is getting to be quite the shindig. Cheesemakers (and others) from England, the USA, and I'm sure most of Europe decend on Italy to meet and talk about sustainable food production and issues like EU and FDA regulations that kill traditional methods of food preparation. A lot of eating happens. I have seen photos of multitude of cheeses to try. I'd like to go someday, but I'd like to have something to show for myself. Slow Food's Terra Madre is to the food scene as South By Southwest is to the music world. Everybody shows up and people enjoy themselves. 600 international cheeses vs. 600 international bands. Dee was excited to be going and representing American cheesemakers (even though she's English).

We talk to Dee for a while. I told her that I've been making cheese at home and abroad. She was very supportive and gave us lots of advice. We really hit it off with her. She invited us to go and say hello to her 200 goats. How could I resist? We walked through the gate and were greeted by some very friendly Alpine does. The stinky billy goat was walking around making sure his girls were happy. We scratched ears and talked to the girls. It was a nice way to spend an hour. Dee invited us back in the spring when the kids are around and the milk is at its finest.
We'll be back!

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