Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Getting in shape

In less than a month I'm leaving home. I have finalized all plans for my internship at Goat Lady Dairy in Climax, North Carolina. Three months is a long time to spend far away from home, but I think the sacrifice will be worth it. And guess what? I'll be taking my laptop with me! Stay tuned while I report on life in the Intern House at Goat Lady Dairy. I have no idea what's instore for me when I get there other than a lot of hard work, early mornings, and some good barbecue.

My roommate will be a young woman who recently graduated from college. The age difference doesn't bother me, I just hope she is well trained and well mannered. And don't forget that I am a huge music snob. I don't want to hear jam bands blaring across the fields when I'm tired and hungry (and cranky.) With a bit of luck, she might be into such bands like the Shins, Of Montreal, Tom Waits, or the Decemberists. If she wants to learn all about cheesemaking, I'm guessing she'll be good company. I'm bringing my headphones, just in case.

Why am I going?
Good question. As I review my past experiences at Cowgirl Creamery as well as Ticklemore Cheese Dairy, I realized that I have no idea how to handle raw milk in cheesemaking. Goat Lady Dairy works with goat and cow's milk cheese that are raw as well as pasteurized. Sounds like a good deal to me! I won't have a chance to try their cheese before I go, nor will I visit them before hand. I'm going on faith. They seem like a good operation who support sustainable agriculture. The milkbarn is built from recycled wood from old farms around the area. They grow much of their own food. They support other local dairymen and want to see them succeed, too. Folks who know Goat Lady Dairy, like their products as well as their business practices. It sounds almost too good to be true.

I leave on February 27th and fly into Greensboro, NC via Washington, DC. I'm starting to collect a pile of things to take with me. Books, music, contacts. I'll need a hairdresser. Gotta keep my curly locks looking good, even on the farm! I'm also looking for some good places to eat some real North Carolina BBQ. Just like Vicky used to make. But that's another story.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Learning can be fun!

The Fancy Food Show wrapped up today. I spent a good portion of the show exploring the world of European cheeses. I walked miles, up and down the aisles looking (and sampling) eight different types of Parmiggiano Reggiano. I also studied a variety of cheeses from France, Spain, Germany, Holland, England, and Greece. Whew! It was a lot of work, but somehow I managed to pull it off. I had to pace myself, so I didn't get palatte burn-out.

I strolled down aisles full of booths displaying their brightly packaged products. Anything and everything was available to taste. I had some Tuna Poke on a crispy wafer (excellent) to start my lunch plate. Then I moved onto a shrimp ball and crab puff (just o.k.). I then tried some cappuccino goat milk ice cream from Petaluma (LaLoo's, also delicious). I made my way over to the Cheeseworks booth and proceeded to snack my way around the display table. They distribute a wide variety of Domestic and European artisan cheeses, as well as cured meats, salami, crackers, jams and things I just glossed over. I was all over the cheese. They import stuff that Cowgirl doesn't carry.

My first stop was the Spanish corner of the booth. A nice couple who work for an exporter in Madrid proceded to walk me through the six cheeses in front of them. They were very proud of their Majorero cheese, a semi firm goat cheese rubbed with paprika from the Canary Islands on the island of Fuerteventura. As they said, "It is from the Islands, not the Peninsula." Peninsula? Oh, yeah. Spain IS a peninsula. A very large dangly bit that separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean. I enjoyed a Torta de Cesar, a smooth and creamy sheep's milk cheese that's made with a thistle "rennet." It just dissolved on my tongue and spread joy through out my body. A garrotxa was available. It was a bit softer that the garrotxa that Cowgirl sells. Still tasty, just a bit less complex.

Other hightlights from the show: All of the cured meats from Europe. I just can't get enough of them. The vast variety of Italian cheeses to examine and sample were almost overwhelming. I loved the varieties of tea available to taste and cleanse my palatte. There was a tall vase full of black and white truffles on display. Yes, they were real. I sniffed them. I'd say there were at least $4000 in truffles piled high. Apparently, the rep was freely handing out truffles to his clients and friends. Oh my! I wish I had been around to see that.

My plan paid off. I ignored all things chocolate, baked, and non-cheese or meat related. I did quench my thirst with a nice bit of Pomme Lambic, a margarita from Tommy's on Geary Street, as well as some fine teas from around the world. Gotta stay hydrated after eating all that cheese and cured meat.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Beyond organic

This just in:
Something to think about: How close are you to food producers?
How to farm without the stink. A guy in Florida is succeeding. Today's San Francisco Chronicle reprinted this article from the St. Petersburg Times.

If you're interested in someone in the Bay Area who thinks along the same lines, check out Knoll Farms outside of Brentwood.

There's a great audio slide show from Florida, too.

It's his nature

Some say organic farming is the future. Dennis Stoltzfoos is already there - and one step beyond.

Published January 14, 2007

LIVE OAK -- Dennis Stoltzfoos once told another farmer he planned to spray his own pasture with molasses.

"He said, 'You don't want to do that. You'll have loads of grasshoppers.' I'm thinking: Grasshoppers! Yeah! That's more food for my chickens!" Stoltzfoos said, pumping his fist.

"We just think so differently here."

Call him a radical, even, because using blackstrap molasses as fertilizer and a feared pest as feed are just the beginning of his unusual ideas.

While most U.S. farms consume huge amounts of fossil fuels, Stoltzfoos, on one day in mid December, fired up an internal combustion engine only twice.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture views raw milk as an incubator of dangerous bacteria, and state ag officials once banned Stoltzfoos from selling it. Stoltzfoos fills his 2-year-old daughter's sippy cup with milk still warm from the udder.

He is so sure animal fats are the cornerstone of health that he worries the slight thinness of his eldest daughter's face is due to the candy his wife ate during pregnancy.

He fumes about the organic movement's alliance with soy-eating vegetarians. He has never bothered to pursue organic certification because he thinks it has become meaningless as regulated by the USDA or U.S.-duh, as he always pronounces it.

Stoltzfoos, 43, is tall, slim, hunched and balding, with a curtain of blond-gray hair hanging over the back of his neck. His baggy jeans and manure-splattered rubber moccasins suggest clothes are of little consequence to a man bent on saving the nation from its diet.

But fanatical as he seems, many his concerns are completely mainstream: E. coli outbreaks in bagged spinach and Taco Bell lettuce, high rates of childhood allergies and obesity, the destruction of farm land and culture. What's more, he says he knows how to fix all these problems.

"I think 20 years from now, we'll look back on conventional farming and see it as a flat-earth approach," he said. "I think this is the future of farming."

Taking the lead

Stoltzfoos, the youngest of 11 children in an Amish-Mennonite dairy family, left the farm at age 20. He worked part-time as an emergency medical technician, he said, but soon felt as if he was just rescuing the same heart attack victims over and over. In 1989 he moved from Pennsylvania to Tampa, where he set up practice as a natural diet consultant.

He became disillusioned with this job, too, he said, as he began to think of herbs and supplements as poor substitutes for nutritionally complete natural food. Convinced this was the path to true health, he and his wife, Alicia, bought the farm near Live Oak two years ago and embraced "beyond organics," which he describes as the growing rebellion against commercialized organic foods.

"He's a real pioneer. He's out there and he's leading the way for other farmers in the state," said Sarah Pope, a raw milk advocate from Lutz.

After a breakfast of eggs and milk on a warm morning last month, Stoltzfoos left the red-roofed house he shares with his wife and three daughters. Walking south with his helper, Steve Moreau, he came to his "eggmobile" - a galvanized steel chicken house on wheels attached to a lemon yellow Chevy truck splotched with primer gray.

Rolling forward about 100 feet, Moreau revealed the principles of grass-based agriculture pioneered by Joel Salatin, a Virginia farmer featured in Michael Pollan's acclaimed 2006 book, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Every plant and animal is a tool, according to Salatin. By doing what they do naturally, they bolster the efficiency of the most important tool of all: the grass that works as a solar cell to convert sunlight to food energy. The farmer's job is to put the plants and animals together at the right time.

The rust-colored chickens climbed down from their roosts and into the fresh pasture, clucking as they found and devoured blades of green rye. In the patch of grass where they had spent the previous day, they left behind nitrogen-rich droppings.

Besides fertilizing the soil, his cows distribute seed in their manure. During the growing season, the cows stimulate grass production by grazing, which Stoltzfoos controls by moving cattle in and out of pens formed by portable, solar-powered electric fences.

On conventional farms, these jobs would be done by diesel-powered combines and chemicals manufactured with artificially generated heat and pressure.

Organic farming has eliminated man-made chemicals but otherwise plugged in to the same system, Stoltzfoos said.

The growing market for organics has attracted companies, such as Kraft Foods and General Mills, which ship their organic products as widely as their conventional ones. Large producers have lobbied for loopholes in organic standards to allow hens to be packed into vast chicken houses; organic dairy cows may be raised in feedlots, which have been linked to the most dangerous strains of E. coli.

Joan Shaffer, a USDA spokeswoman, acknowledged a "lack of specificity" in the rules but defended them as providing a uniform nationwide standard for consumers.

Stoltzfoos, of course, disagrees: "The idea of the U.S.-duh regulating organics is the most repulsive thing I've heard in years."

A pet peeve

The day's next job, milking the cows, starts with more walking.

Moreau, Stoltzfoos and his two eldest daughters, Caroline, 2 and Lily, 4, wandered through a grove of oaks to retrieve a herd of Jersey cattle and shoo them back to the milking barn, a corrugated metal lean-to jutting from a converted truck trailer.

The cows, lured by troughs full of natural mineral powder, formed a loose line behind milking stalls made of nailed-together 2 by 4s.

Anyone who has visited a conventional dairy would notice what was missing: the powerful smell of waste, the slurry of manure hosed from the floor of the milking parlor - and the remarkably large quantity of milk produced by one herd.

The 11 cows available for milking produced a total of 10 gallons, which Stoltzfoos poured into a white plastic bucket and then decanted into plastic jugs.

The yield is higher in the summer, when the cows eat grass rather than hay, and he plans to double the size of his herd. But also consider that he charges $12 per gallon, which is reasonable, he said, because his milk is the distilled essence of the natural world, a "white, liquid superfood." Along with selling eggs for $6 per dozen and poultry for $4 per pound, he grosses more than $8,000 per month.

"People will pay a lot of money for pet food," he said.

That is a standard, bitter joke with him. After the state Department of Agriculture shut him down for five months in 2005, he received a license to market his eggs, poultry and dairy products as pet food.

Selling raw milk for humans is illegal in Florida, and, according to many food scientists, dangerous and foolish. The fat-soluble vitamins in milk, A and D, stand up well to the heat of pasteurization and even ultra-pasteurization, when milk is heated briefly above the boiling point. Raw milk drinkers risk E. coli outbreaks, such as the one that swept through a natural foods co-op in Washington state in 2005.

Other scientists say there is no doubt milk from grass-fed cows is higher in vitamins and essential fatty acids and that pasteurization destroys some nutrients, including beneficial bacteria. Also, they say, raw milk from small farms is safer than milk from the filthy, urban dairies that created an outcry for pasteurization in the early 20th century.

But none of them actually recommend drinking it.

"If I were a dairy farmer, I would be very careful not to sell raw milk," said Ron Schmidt, professor of food science at the University of Florida. "The benefits do not outweigh the risks."

The costs of farming

The underground market of consumers who ignore these warnings is small but "rapidly, rapidly growing," said Sarah Pope, leader of the Tampa Bay chapter of the Weston A. Price Foundation, a raw milk advocacy group.

Founded in 1999, it now has more than 9,000 members nationally, Pope said, and the 350 local members purchase about 1,500 gallons per week from a secretive network of small dairy farmers.

When Stoltzfoos started raising cattle five years ago at a tiny dairy outside Dade City, supplying these buyers was easy because most of them lived nearby. Forced north by high land prices and neighbors hostile to his methods, he now relies mostly on one of his customers to distribute his products.

This customer drives to his farm from her home in Bradenton and stops to supply several co-ops on her return trip, consuming more gallons of gasoline than the amount of milk Stoltzfoos' herd produces in one day.

This causes Stoltzfoos to think, after lunch and before he heads back outside in the afternoon to move his broilers and beef cattle, how he could make his kind of farming efficient enough to feed 300-million Americans.

Prices must come down to attract a larger market. But consumers must also learn to pay more for naturally raised products - enough to lure more families into farming and to allow them to compete with developers to buy land closer to cities.

Some organic farmers also suggest redirecting the billions of dollars in federal subsidies away from industrial agriculture and back to family farms.

Not Stoltzfoos.

"Subsidies come with strings attached," he said.

"And the U.S. will not tell me what to do."

Dan DeWitt can be reached at or (352) 754-6116.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Coming soon

Starting Saturday, the Fancy Food Show kicks off, here in San Francisco. This is a huge gathering of people who produce specialty foods, buy specialty foods, import specialty foods, and market specialty foods. Moscone Convention Center is filled to the rafters with tasty consumables from around the world. Walking through the halls you can sample everything. Indian curries, barbecue sauce, chai tea, countless varieties of tea, soft drinks, bottled water, wine, beer, crackers, sausages, serrano ham, spiced nuts, hot chocolate, dark chocolate, candy, marinated duck, cajun seasoning, and of course CHEESE!

The official gathering starts on Sunday and runs through Tuesday. Since everyone is already in town, Cowgirl Creamery is hosting a gathering of the members of the American Cheese Society. Last year the later it got, the more out of hand the gathering became, since the wine was free flowing. I think they want to keep a better lid on things this year. I'm planning on going and reaquainting myself with the folks attending the show. Mary Kehn from Cypress Grove usually attends, as does Alison Hooper from Vermont Butter and Cheese. I'd also like to catch up with Cowgirl Sue since I've been unable to reach her by phone lately. I hope to make it a productive gathering.

I'll be working at Cowgirl on Sunday, so I'll miss the first day of the Food Show. Not a problem, as I'll have two more days to cover the two halves of Moscone Center. I have learned how to pace myself at this thing. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the scale of the show. My trick is to make a list of the booths I want to see and plot my course. Inevitably, I'll come across a new discovery along the way. And then there are the cured meats. Oh so delectible! I love seeing the creative packaging ideas. It just gets my creative juices flowing. My favorite destinations are the Spain, France, and Italy booths. So many good things to try.

Tuesday is the fun day to attend because that's the day of freebies. Folks don't want to take stuff home, so if you can get stuff past security, you can take home some nice things to try in your own kitchen. I stocked up on some nice spices and teas last year.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Q&A time: So what's in that cheese, anyway?

It is time for another episode of "Ask Sarah." Today we look at cheesemaking from another angle.

I received the following email recently:

I am interested in learning how to make cheese, but the “kits” I have seen in my limited research all have additives I don’t want to use. Any advice on where to get recipes of how to make it like they did way back when, before additives? We have lots of farms around and I get my milk from a small Jersey operation.

You're lucky to be able to buy milk directly from a farm. And Jersey milk, too. Try making clotted cream. Jersey and Guernsey milk works best for clotted cream. Try the recipe on Dr. Fankhauser's website (see below) or try this one:

A great place to get cheesemaking info is from ,, and . They all have good resource pages as well as recipes.

One of my favorite books is by Ricki Carroll, "Home Cheese Making." She runs The New England Cheesemaking Supply Company as well as the website She's been doing it for years and is a great teacher. She even tells you how to make your own rennet.

I agree, I don't want to put additives or dyes in my cheese and I want to honor traditional ways of cheesemaking. The additives in the kits are not strange substances but usually include some form of acid like citric acid or tartaric acid. Citric acid is used as a substitute for lemon juice. The acidity in lemons can vary a lot, so using something with a consistant level of acidity can be easier when you're making cheese. You can make ricotta with either lemon juice or citric acid, or you can even use vinegar. It is the addition of acid that gets the milk to separate into curds and whey when making soft cheeses.

Most cheese is made by taking milk, heating it, culturing it, adding rennet, cutting the curds (if called for), draining the whey, pressing the curds if needed, and then aging the cheese in a humid environment.
Pasturized and homogenized milk has been cooked and beaten up in transit. It gets a bit of help by adding calcium choride in order for the curds to set properly.
Cultures and molds are selected strains of beneficial bacteria that produce and regulate acidity and give milk a nudge in the right direction for the style of cheese that you want to make. If you have access to raw milk and you want to find out what the flora is like, don't add the starter culture and just add rennet and see how it turns out. If you're lucky, it just might be something that tastes good.

That being said, if you want to make certain style of cheese, like a brie, you've got to innoculate your milk with P. candidum in order to get the fluffy, white mold to grow. The mold gives it the flavor of brie and helps the enzymes break down the curds and make it soft. Many European cheesemaker make their own cultures such as traditional cheddar makers in England. They've been using the same culture for generations. It is like sourdough bread starter. It is a critical part of the flavor of cheese and they take great care to keep their starter strain alive.
Don't be afraid to give cheesemaking a try. It is a slow process, but the results are so tasty and gratifying.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Time to take a break from cheese and look at my other love, my little garden.
Green space is a cherished thing here in the city. I love my tiny plot o' land in front of my house. A few years ago, I tore out everything in the yard and started over. The only thing that remained was a dwarf gravenstein apple tree in the center of the yard. With the tree as a focal point, the rest of the garden is landscaped in California native plants. It is full of plants like irises, bunch grasses, elderberry, toyon, white sage, artemesia (mugwort), ceanothus (Calif. wild lilac), Calif. fuchsia, flannelbush, wild currants, and even a wild grape vine. For the past year I've been bugging my friend Mike, my landscaper about a few spots in the garden that need work. Mike helped me build my vision. If I did it, the garden would never be done, nor would it have a working irrigation system, nor be gopher-proof (gopher baskets around the roots,) nor weed-resistant (fabric weed barrier). I turned up the volume of my whining in October. Autumn is when you want to put plants in the ground, so the winter rains can help them take root and keep everyone happy. We finally went plant shopping on Tuesday.

We spent big bucks at Yerba Buena Nursery, a nursery specializing in California native plants. It is located in a wooded canyon on the west side of Woodside, in the hills of San Mateo County. Woodside is home to some very wealthy citizens who made their fortune in Silicon Valley. If they don't live in Atherton or Hillsboro, they live in Woodside. Neil Young and Larry Ellison (Oracle software) live in Woodside. Interspersed with the billionares are a few hold-outs from the radical 60's. The second growth redwood that crowd the canyons on the Peninsula also attracted hippies and nature lovers. Some of them are still there. Yerba Buena Nursery is located on an old farmstead on a Western facing slope of a hill, over the ridge from the craziness of Silicon Valley. Founded in 1960 on what was once a cattle ranch, the family run business has been devoted to selling native plants ever since. Their demonstration gardens alone are worth a visit. The gardens are overrun with birds, inects, and cats looking for an easy meal. We had a cat follow us around the nursery until she spied a gopher under a shrub. A minute later, she was happily playing/torturing the squealing rodent. She eventually ate it. Yum! Rodent control at its finest.

We came, we saw, we bought some plants. A lot of plants. I now have two magnificent manzanitas to go in the garden. Along with bush lupine, redwood sorrel, ferns, clamatis, achillea millefolium (pink yarrow), buckwheat, dudleya, and a myriad of countless beauties with long latin names that I've got to try to remember someday. Lot of plants to flower throughout the year and provide seeds and berries, too. I might need to add a few more plants, but I can fill in later. I want to get these things placed in the garden and then see what else I might need. I think I might want one more manzanita. I like the Louis Edmunds variety.

There will be light in the garden, as well as better drip irrigation. The path around the apple tree is being redone, too. A few hummingbirds have been giving Mike and his crew a suspicious eye because he's messing with their garden and their lavatera which is still blooming (it never quits). The lavatera (tree mallow) has been pruned way back, so now we can walk on the path again. The ceanothus is beginning to bloom right now, but they don't need to be touched. That will keep all of the neigborhood honeybees and bumblebees happy. I love the fact that my garden is providing a healthy habitat for local wildlife. This tiny patch of growth in the Sunset District is still teaming with life, and I've seen lots more, since I put in a garden full of native plants.