Friday, September 28, 2007

A Field Trip, a Book and a Soap Box

Jim and I are taking a trip down the coast of San Mateo tomorrow. We're getting together with our friends Jim and Ali and we're touring Harley Farms, a goat cheese producer in Pescadero. Dee Harley is from Yorkshire, England. She came to the Bay Area years ago and stayed. She's makes beautiful, fresh goat cheese and is winning awards for it. Her signature cheeses are little discs covered with edible flowers and dried fruit. She makes a tasty, goat milk ricotta, too.

I can't wait to hang out with some goats again. Harley Farm milks American Alpine does. Oh boy! Jim and I wandered into Dee's farmstore about a year ago. We spent an hour talking to her about cheese and getting started in the business. Dee was really supportive and encouraging. I love meeting folks like her. I'm always nervous about telling other cheesemakers what I want to do. Sometimes I get a very cold reception. Dee was the exact opposite. I'm eager to go and see her place again.

After the tour, we're going to eat at our favorite roadhouse: Duarte's Tavern. (Pronounced DOO-arts) I can't wait to get a big bowl full of their cream of artichoke soup. Creamy, silky, and slightly tangy. AAA's VIA magazine published a recipe for the soup several years ago. It is close but not the same. You can tell it is full of cream and artichokes. Lots of artichokes grow in the area. They like the coastal breezes and sandy soil. Duarte's seafood is local and super fresh. Right of the boats in Half Moon Bay. They also make great ollalieberry pies. Second only to Linn's pies in Cambria. BTW, an ollalieberry is a delectable cross between a blackberry and a raspberry. They make excellent pies and preserves.

Tomorrow is going to be a fun day.

Book tip: I picked up a copy of The Vermont Cheese Book by Ellen Ecker Ogden. It is a book documenting the artisan and farmstead cheesemaking explosion happening in the hills of Vermont. She writes profiles of each cheesemaker, their cheeses, where you can buy them, and if and how you can visit them. She covers thirty-three cheesemakers along the Vermont Cheese Trail. I'm looking forward to sinking my teeth into this tome. I see a good road trip in my future with this book as my guide.

Stepping onto my soap box:

Raw milk cheeses are under scrutiny by the Feds: Janet Fletcher wrote a very informative article in Wednesday's San Francisco Chronicle about the government seeking to redefine the rules of manufacturing raw milk cheeses and the response by cheesemakers. As someone who loves flavorful cheese, this threat is not good. How can hundreds of years of traditional cheesemakers be wrong? The government seeks to minimize risk of exposure to pathogens like listeria. That's great. But sometimes their actions do more harm than good. Plus science can't always explain why food is good when it should be lethal. Just look at the ducks hanging in the windows of Asian markets. The ducks hang without refrigeration. They hang all day long in the open air. They should be rank by the time you eat them. But they're not! The skin is crispy and delicious. It is a cultural thing. The Chinese have eaten like this for centuries. They're not getting food poisoning. I have not been poisoned. Eating shellfish or cold cuts are far more dangerous than raw milk cheese, in my opinion.

I just don't get it. If you look at the recent cases of listeria that have been documented, they usually come from cheese made from PASTEURIZED milk . Often, an uncleaned valve is to blame, letting bacteria build up in the sterilized milk. Raw milk still has the natural pathogen fighting micro-organisms still in it, so it can deal with exposure to bad bugs better than pasteurized milk. The feds are looking at how long listeria lingers in raw milk cheese when raw milk cheese is intentionally exposed to the bad bugs. Right now the law states that raw milk cheese is safe to consume after 60 days of aging. The government is re-examining this time frame. The implication is that cheese must be aged longer, or all cheese must be pasteurized, effectively killing traditional, European style cheeses. The depth of flavor is lost in pasteurization. In fresh cheeses, the flavors as pronounced, but in harder, aged cheeses, you can tell the difference. Just compare cheddars. Raw milk cheddars have a flavor that lingers on the palate for minutes after eating. Cheddar made from pasteurized milk is blah. No staying power.

Somehow the government's premise seems faulty to me. I am totally for maintaining standards for public health and safety. I just want sensible oversight. If cheese wasn't safe, humans would have never made it this far. Nomads in the desert would have food poisoning from their traditional cheese. Cheesemaking is a form of food preservation. You get sick when things are dirty or not preserved properly. Dirty valves, dirty spoons, dirty hands. We don't get sick when we honor the traditional methods of production.

-Stepping off my soap box again.

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