Cherry Valley Dairy

The morning after the election was a dreary one. The rain poured down and a heavy feeling sat in the pit of my stomach. I didn’t sleep well due to staying up late to watch as the results came in, but I had scheduled this visit a while before and honestly, there were few places I could think of that I would rather be than out on the farm.

Tucked away in the Snoqualmie Valley, Duvall is not so far from where I live. A 40 minute drive out of the city will get you right in the heart of Washington farmland. It was dark and rainy drive but not at all hard to find.

Cherry Valley Dairy is a sustainable, Jersey cow farm that produces butter, cheese, buttermilk and other dairy delights. They keep a small herd that they rotationally graze on the pasture to allow for the flavors of the land to truly come through. When the pastures flood in the winter, which they do, sometimes up to 10 feet, they use a haylage from local farms around the area. This fermented hay keeps the flavor of the land present while allowing for the natural ebbs and flows of the pastures. There is a creek that runs through the land that has been certified salmon safe since 2013. The Snoqualmie tribe has restored the creek bed, ridding it of invasive plants, replanting native grasses, and replacing boulders with logs to ease the path for salmon spawning.

Early mornings at the farm are an everyday thing even if I’m not used to waking up before dawn. I rolled in around 6am and Blain, the head cheesemaker, and Emily, head of marketing and sales, were already busy getting orders prepped and preparing the milk for it’s new life. Ann-Marie, their herd manager, was already busy milking and awaiting a delivery of a newborn calf from her cow that she keeps with the herd. Meghan, the assistant cheesemaker, came in a bit later to help with some of the new projects they have making their way on to stores’ shelves very soon. They had warned me that butter making days aren’t necessarily the most action packed days on the farm but there was plenty being done and I was more than happy to be there. The fact that they weren’t as pressed for time made it easier for them to give me a tour of the land.

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I’ve always loved butter but my obsession has really grown over the last couple of years. I honestly think it’s one of the truest expressions of quality milk because so little is done to make it happen. I love that with cheese you get to see how milk changes through time and proper care but butter, it’s really all about the simplicity. Cherry Valley Dairy won big this last year at the American Cheese Society conference in Des Moines, IA with three of their butters taking a ribbon in their category.

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It really is just as simple as that. (As simple as taking care of animals day and night, milking them twice a day, ensuring that the animals live in an environment that keeps them healthy and safe so they can produce high quality milk, and to have the equipment and testing abilities to make healthy and safe food for the masses. You know, simple.This is why I just write about it!)

They also make a delicious cheese that is aged right there on the farm. The Dairy Reserve is rubbed with cocoa, black pepper, and cinnamon. It has won it’s fair share of awards at ACS also.

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I suggest that if you come across some of this butter (or cheese!)while out shopping, buy some. Try the herbed rose butter on your next piece of toast. (I did this morning and man, what a wonderful treat!) Not only will you be getting something tasty, you will be putting money back in to the community. Now, more than ever, it’s important to bridge the gap between cities and rural communities. If you have the ability to make the choice to spend a bit more on your monthly food budget, use it. Your tongue will thank you.

Now, it wouldn’t be me without some cute animal photos. Here ya go.

One of the main things I walked away with was the fact that life continues no matter what political mess may be happening. A new life came to be at the farm that morning and it was the perfect reminder that the work continues. It continues in ways that help benefit people, the land, and the animals. We just have to find it.

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Local Farm Focus: Heyday Farm

There are often those times when creativity can be hard to come by. The act of sitting down and writing can feel like a chore. Last week, I was in that funk so when I found myself with a free Sunday and a chance to hang out on a farm, I jumped at it.

Bainbridge Island is not far from where I live in the grand scheme of things but the ferry is not the quickest way of traveling. What it does do is offer some gorgeous views and time to get out of the car and be on water.

Situated on a 30 acre, historic, sustainable farm, Heyday Farm has put in the time and work to recreate what this piece of land could have looked like when it was first inhabited at the turn of the century, albeit with modern amenities. Honestly, I was blown away at its beauty. This land had been slated for development but during the economic downturn that idea got shelved and gave the opportunity to create something longstanding and wonderful. Heyday’s model is one that could be used by many farms. After going through so much growth, they realized that just a couple of people can’t do it on their own. Now, they have key people handling all the in’s and outs of the business. From fresh eggs and meat, produce, cheese, and even agro-tourism with an executive chef in house, they’ve really dialed in what they serve and how they service it.

They were having an event based around the use of their cider press but since I didn’t bring any receptacle to transport it, I didn’t get any. It was still quite fun to watch and the kids seemed to really enjoy the whole process.

They were tasting their cheese and it was all quite lovely. They do fresh cow and goat milk cheese. Their Fromage Blanc had a nice tang to balance the creaminess, and the truffle and porcini chèvre was nicely flavored. I’m not usually one for truffle cheese but I love it if done right. This was pretty delicious. I would have bought some but I made the mistake of not bringing cash with me. I also made the mistake of not looking in to more things on Bainbridge because they actually have a farm shop in town where they sell all of their goodies. It just gives me more to look forward to seeing the next time I take a trip to the island.

They have handy walking maps that you can grab and take a tour of the grounds at any time and so I decided to walk around and snap some pictures. It was a great place for me to play around with my camera. The beauty is just begging to be captured.

They have lodging available to rent on the property and some above the Farm store in town. Not gonna lie, I’m tempted to take a weekend. It’s so peaceful and beautiful.

Across the street from the farm is a cemetery that was built in 1880. Of course, I had to trek across and take some pics.

If you find yourself out on the island, do yourself a favor and stop by. It’s a nice little jaunt around the farm.

I took the Edmonds/Kingston ferry on the way back and even though I waited for over an hour to even get in line for the ferry, this capture made everything worth it.

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Yes, this picture was taken with effects, I don’t care because, look at it.

ACS: The Sessions

While the ACS conference is a great way to spend some time in a huge group of like minded cheese nerds, one of the best parts is the access to information that is everywhere.  From tasting sessions to history lessons, the information is wildly dynamic and reaches a scope that everyone in the industry should find useful. It can be difficult because there are often concurrent sessions that you have to make the choice as to which one is more pertinent to your life/job/interest. I’m just going to talk about the ones I went to.

 

The Opening Session:

This is always a keynote speech during breakfast that kicks off the conference and sets the tone for the weekend. This year was no exception. Ari Weinzweig is widely known in the cheese world because he owns the empire that is Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, MI. This deli/cheese shop (now with a bakery, roastery, cheese making facility, catering, mail order, leadership training, etc. Basically, they do it all) is widely known to be one of the most unique stores in the country and a lot if it has to do with the fact that Ari is an innovative business man and does things a bit differently. Ari recently released his newest book called “The Power of Beliefs at Work” and it addresses how a positive belief system can change the atmosphere and end outcome in a place of business. Ari is a dynamic speaker and he is very keyed in to what people need in their businesses and in their lives. We had group exercises that we talked about what we believed or moreso, what we believed about ourselves and our businesses. It was an interesting exercise and one that I actually feel impacted me in a way I wasn’t expecting. We all have a set of beliefs based on things that have occurred in our lives and sometimes those beliefs need to be shaken up and looked at again to make sure they are best serving us. This is what a lot of this was talking about and I’m honestly pretty interested in reading the book to learn more.

“All of us are in the same gutter but some of us are looking at the stars” Oscar Wilde

Session 1: Better Butter

Tasting sessions are everywhere during the conference and I usually don’t partake in them because I don’t drink. There are many that are pairing sessions with local cheeses and beers/wines. They sell out quickly and often have a lengthy line for people trying to get in.I’m more than happy to leave a place in line for those that are more interested in these sorts of tastings. I will say though, the butter tasting was the first thing I signed up for.

The session was run by Bob Bradley, PhD, from the Center for Dairy Research and Elaine Khosrova, author of Butter: A Rich History, due for release in November. It was an interesting take on the different ways of making butter. Elaine shared with us her travels of butter making from around the world. Small batch, cultured butters being churned by hand and cultured naturally whereas Bob showed us how industrial butter is produced and what producers are looking to make on a large scale basis. Then, we tasted butter. It was a blind tasting so we didn’t know what we were sinking our teeth in to but the butters from the milk of sheep or goat were pretty obvious from the outset. It was immensely satisfying and even more so when I was able to pinpoint one of my favorite butters on the plate.

I actually scooped up the leftovers of my favorites in a cup because I couldn’t bear for them to be wasted. I was seen walking around the conference with a cup of butter and I’m not sorry.

Cheese 201:

Yes, even at nerdy cheese events we get even nerdier. Zoe Brickley works for the Cellars of Jasper Hill in Vermont, who are a major source of scientific information in the cheese world. They have a microbiologist on staff and are committed to researching every aspect of microbiology in dairy and in the cheese making process. So much of that information can go over most people’s heads, so this session was an addition to one she did last year where she broke down some of that scientific information in a way that was accessible to those of us that that are a bit more scientifically dense. This is not information that a customer would ever ask you about but the desire for more information is needed and desired by those of us in the industry. The Cellars are also on the front lines in any squabbles with the FDA because they have the science and ability to bring to light any unnecessary actions from the government agency. As nerdy cheese people, we want to know more also. It was a heady and intense session but thats why we were all there.

 

Improving Profits by Analyzing Data: Understanding All the Rules and When to Break Them:

Hosted by Hunter Fikes from DiBruno Bros in Philly, this session was all about how to maintain a cheese selection that appeals to consumers yet drives the passions of the mongers while still making a profit. It’s a finely tuned balancing act that all cheese buyers play because if given the choice, most would buy artisanally crafted and small batch cheeses but we all know that most consumers balk at the price tag. Finding that balance can be tricky because sometimes our perceptions of what is selling is much different then what the numbers tell us. Using the data at our disposal, and some carefully crafted tricks, can make it easier for retailers to curate their selection in a way that makes those three cross sections find the perfect balance. Though I knew a lot of this information and have been using the practice for years, it stood as a great reminder to the industry that though we need the passion and drive in our mongers, we also need to be making money and giving consumers what they want.

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General Session: FDA update

Lunch time saw a huge group of people in the room due to the fact that it was the annual update from the FDA. If you may not know, the cheese industry has taken some hits from the government agency and we, as an industry, are doing our best to work with them and help educate them to what we do. The artisanal cheese industry is still pretty new in the United States so the need to have this conversation is necessary. We all want the same thing, healthy and safe food for everyone. It can be frustrating when talking about microbes with a government agency because where we see flavor and biodiversity, they see sickness and danger.

The biggest take away from this was that the FDA is pausing testing of non-toxigenic e-coli in cheese, including raw milk cheese. This is huge because we’ve had issues getting imported cheese in the country (like Roquefort) due to this testing and some small companies have scrapped making their beloved seasonal cheese due to the possibility of the FDA coming in and deeming the product unsafe and destroying months worth of work. They determined that this testing did not prove that harmful e-coli would be present in testing the non-harmful strains. If you’d like to delve in to the specifics of the update, you can find them here. It was a quiet and somewhat tense lunch, though there were moments and outbursts of clapping and cheering, but the air afterwards felt light and wonderful. It is clear that all of our hard work in educating the FDA and the general public is working.

Creative Financing

This was a panel talk from some people on the front lines of making things happen and how they gained (or are gaining) the capitol to build the enterprises of their dreams. Oliver Dameron and Sarah Dvorak from Mission Cheese in SF, Seana Doughty from Bleating Heart Cheese in Tomales, CA, and Elias Cairo from Olympia Provisions in Portland, OR, sat down for a very frank discussion about how to raise money and continue to get money for growth in an industry that isn’t know for profitability. From crowd funding, to grants, and risky ventures in between, they really laid it on the line as to what you need to have to get the  capitol to create the businesses you see today. It’s not easy and most of the time you have to put everything and then some on the line to be able to get something off the ground. So many of us dream of starting something for ourselves but the realities of the situation can be very scary and overwhelming. It was an amazing conversation about the side of things that people don’t often think about.

All Cultures Great and Small

Tom Perry was the DZTA recipient last year and this year he presented his session after months of travel and research. DZTA is the Daphne Zepos Teaching Award and it is a grant that is given to people to learn and to educate others on the history, culture, and techniques in making, aging, or selling of cheese. Tom is the third recipient and his presentation was all about the cultures that cheese makers use to craft and flavor their cheese. Nearly all of these cultures come from abroad and he posed the question about how terroir (the taste of place) in the US is affected by using microbes created elsewhere and what it would look like to start creating our own microbes here. Studying abroad and seeing what they do poses so many questions for us here at home. How will we create a terroir based solely on microbes harvested from our own areas? Where/how do we even begin to do this? What would this look like and better yet, what would this TASTE like? Once again, another heady and nerdy subject, but one that I’m excited to see explored.

 

Closing Keynote with Sandor Katz:

This year we had the pleasure of bringing Sandor Katz to give our first ever closing keynote. Sandor is widely known in the food world due to his books and lectures about fermentation. He considers himself a Fermentation Revivalist. We’ve seen so much growth and popularity in the realm of fermentation in the last few years. Kim Chi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and the old classics, beer, wine, and cheese are more popular than ever before. Sandor has helped spurn this along with his book Wild Fermentation. I feel like Sandor was a great way to end everything. We talk a lot about cleanliness and sanitation throughout conference, which is extremely important, but it was nice to see such a focus on microbes and how they benefit and are instrumental to our industry. Learning how to harness those microbes and make them work for us is exciting, crazy, and wonderful. Sandor helped remind us of that.

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This is by no means an exhaustive list of the sessions that happen at this sort of conference. There were at least 3-4 concurrent sessions going the entire time. I also took Saturday morning off from conference so I could go and enjoy Des Moines farmer’s market, which was just as wonderful as everyone said it would be. I was a little bummed I was leaving the next day so I couldn’t stock up on lots of goodies.

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If you are at all interested in the full line up of sessions offered this last year, head over to the American Cheese Society website for all the info. They also offer webinars and updates around all things cheese.

Conference, to me, is the time where we all get to come together and share in this slice of thing that we love. It’s not a sales event, though sales meetings do happen. It’s more about camaraderie and education. I’m fortunate that I get to meet so many people and learn so much every year I’m a part of this world.

My focus on the ACS conference is far from over though. Next up: PARTY TIME. Cheese people know how and love to party. I also still need to talk about the Festival of Cheese! And the awards ceremony! And the DZTA run! So much happens in the course of a week!

ACS: Judging and Competition.

To me, judging is one of the hardest jobs of the American Cheese Society conference. It may not be as physically taxing as say, a cooler captain, but it can not be understated how difficult it can be on your brain and taste buds. There is a whole lot of cheese to get through and only two days to do it!

DSC_0180This is what the racks look like when they come out and the cooler captain is in charge of making sure that the racks are in order with the right cheeses and in the right category. Depending on the category, there can be 20 or more cheeses that need to be tasted for judging. There are often multiple pieces for each entry and only one piece needs to be tasted but it’s just easier to keep them all together because their life extends well beyond judging.

Judges are separated in to teams. One aesthetic and one technical. This is an important thing to note because both are looking for different things and if we had multiple teams of aesthetic judges there would very different outcomes than what we see today. Aesthetic judges tend to be cheesemongers, shop owners, or general cheese enthusiasts and the technical judges are those that are often dairy scientists, working at the center for Dairy Research, or a university with an active agriculture program. The judges go through trainings to calibrate their palates so everyone is on the same page but the amount of tasting fatigue experienced can be hard to remedy when tasting so many cheeses. It is also difficult recognizing some of your favorite cheeses come through and being perfectly honest and frank about their flavor profiles or inconsistencies in the batches they have selected for judging. One of the things that people don’t realize or know is that every cheese gets feedback. Positive and constructive criticism. Sometimes it can be difficult to say anything constructive because it can seem like the cheese is perfect (and there were even a few this year that took home a perfect score, which is unheard of) and sometimes it can be hard to say something positive because you’ve either exhausted your words for the day or the simple fact remains that in a numbers game like this, there are bound to be some real duds.

Just imagine, also, that you’ve already tasted through a bevy of cheese and then have to prepare your tastebuds for the ultimate tasting, the Best in Show category. The blue ribbons in each category are pulled to the side and set up for a round table tasting of epic proportions. This year we prepared 105 cheeses for Best in Show tasting. It’s an amazing ordeal and I always feel so proud to be able to be a part of this particular tasting.

From here, the results are tallied and sent off to the printer to prepare for the Friday night awards ceremony. The J&C committees jobs, including my time as a cooler captain, are done but the cheese is passed on to the next set of volunteers for the Festival of Cheese.

To see life from the other side of the curtain, check out my friend Gordon Edgar’s post on being a judge. There is some great info on how they can judge all those cheeses.

 

The next installment though, regional tours. I went on a PORK TOUR!

ACS: Best in Show!

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This is a face of a life changed. A face of hard work and determination paying off. A face of generations of American cheesemaking.

There was not a dry eye to be had when the Best in Show winner was said to be Little Mountain from Roelli Cheese company out of Wisconsin. Chris Roelli was overtaken with emotion and joy that touched everyone in the room. The regeneration of the Roelli plant in 2006 has culminated in this moment.

Chris Roelli is a fourth generation cheesemaker and is one of Wisconsin distinguished Master Cheesemakers, a job he takes quite seriously. The Roelli plant had been closed since 1991 and since the reopening, Chris Roelli has dedicated his time and life to regenerating the past of his predecessors.  Little Mountain was a cheese made to honor that past and the family that have made cheese in the US for nearly 100 years and it is huge to have won in one of the hardest contests we’ve seen in years. Out of 1843 cheeses submitted for judging this year, Little Mountain reigns supreme.

I have so much more to say about the conference as a whole but I just really wanted to share this joy.

All Right, Let’s Talk ACS.

For those that may not know, ACS is the acronym for The American Cheese Society which started as a grassroots organization for cheese appreciation and for home and farm cheesemakers. Starting in 1983 with 150 people, the organization now boasts thousands of members and is a self managing entity with a committed staff that works year round to better serve the cheese community. Every year they host a conference in an up and coming foodie city and this year happens to be Des Moines, Iowa.

The conference is a three day powerhouse of cheese information with sessions ranging from cheese and beer pairing to the science of taste or a session about leadership and culture within your company. Before the conference even starts though, there are three days of cheese judging that happen. Last year there were over 1700 cheeses entered in for the competition. It’s a big deal for a lot of these cheesemakers to get their cheese recognized as the one of the best in the country. The teams of judges are paired up based on technicality and aesthetics. One is usually a dairy scientist and one is a monger or someone in cheese that deals with it in more of an appreciative sort of way. The cheese is all blindly tasted so the judges don’t know what they are tasting. It’s a way to make sure that there aren’t certain biases within the judging. It all culminates with the awards ceremony on Friday night. It can be quite an event and there seems to be a healthy competition thats been brewing between California and Wisconsin the last couple of years.

My first experience with conference was when it was in Portland in 2006. I didn’t actually get to the conference but the cheese counter where I worked was quite busy with visitors the entire weekend. I remember looking up at one point while working and feeling like I was in a fishbowl because there were over a hundred people watching me cut cheese.  I played host to some pretty amazing visitors like the Appleby’s from the UK. I wasn’t as much of a turophile then as I am now but I was still working where I belonged.

My first actual conference was in 2010 in Seattle. I got to enjoy every aspect of the conference and really came to understand why it is affectionately known as “cheese camp”. I met a ton of people and learned so much from all the sessions we attended. It was a fantastic experience.

I pretty much vowed from there that I would attend as many conferences as I could go to but sadly, the next couple years were on the other side of the country and a bit unaffordable for me.

The next conference I was able to go to was in Madison, WI in 2013. I went to take the Certified Cheese Professional test which I passed! It was the second year of the test and I felt pretty fortunate to be a part of it. It’s a cool way of letting people know about your commitment and knowledge concerning cheese. It’s a moniker I’m proud to represent.

I’m sure if I went through my mess of photo files I would find more pictures from these past conferences but the only one I could really find of Madison was this one of the Best in Show winner. None other than Winnimere from Jasper Hill Farms.winniwinner

My next conference was Sacramento in 2014. I saw the conference in a much different light this time around because I was volunteering for the entire week. I couldn’t afford to go to the conference itself but I still wanted to be a part of the action so I signed up to work, and work I did. I volunteered for judging where I was a runner for a team of judges and I got to help stage the top 100 for the Best in Show judging. I volunteered to proctor the CCP exam and make sure that everyone got to where they needed to be. I volunteered for cheesemonger shifts where I helped the official cheesemongers get things together for the numerous tastings. I was also a table captain for The Festival of Cheese which is the grand coup d’etat. It’s an event that’s open to the public where people can taste all the cheeses that were up for judging. It’s a great way to see the enormous amounts of cheese that we have available to us in the US. It’s quite overwhelming, actually. It’s a feat to get all the tables ready to go.

All of that volunteering helped me secure my spot as one of the Official Cheesemongers for the next year in Providence, RI. Because it’s an intense amount of work and there isn’t time to enjoy any of the sessions, one of the perks of being an official monger is that the next years’ conference is free. Last year really secured some strong friendships and connections to the cheese world that continue to buoy me to this day. It was an experience that I will never forget and I would encourage anyone that wants to bust their butt and have fun with cheese to apply.

I leave for the conference tomorrow night. I’m going early to volunteer my time before I enjoy the conference fully. I find volunteering satisfying and it puts me in a place to create relationships with people I never would have expected. I plan to blog about my experience this year as much as possible so I hope that everyone follows along including on Facebook and Instagram. Depending on how busy I am, I may only get to really post on those formats for most of it. I’m really excited for this year and I hope you will join me for the ride!

Time flies.

I can’t believe it’s been a month since my last blog post at the Ice cream festival but time has a way of slipping through your fingertips. It’s not that I haven’t been doing some fun stuff, it’s just I’ve had a lot going on and a computer that was conspiring against me. Now that my class is over and I have a fancy, well running computer, things should move forward in the way I’d like them to.

Big things are on the horizon so I have lots of future posts and goals planned but for now I’ll just show you what I’ve been up to for the last month.

One of my sisters in cheese, Erin Clancy, came for a quick visit to Seattle and we wandered around seeing the sites and eating some tasty food. We went to Hellbent brewing, which is in my neighborhood, for dinner and beers. They have different food trucks everyday and this one was Papa Bois, a Caribbean sandwich place. My neighborhood is not really known for great food or beer but Lake City has some new friends that are upping the “cool” quotient. We hit up the gum wall and DeLaurenti’s while we were downtown and made our way to Golden Gardens at sunset with the dog. It was a great evening and it was nice to hang with someone that is somewhat in the same boat as me cheesemonger/work wise. We have a similiar background with Whole Foods and now we are both in places where we don’t get to be so hands on with cheese but we are finding ways of staying in the game. You’ll be seeing many more pictures of her at the end of July when we reconvene at The American Cheese Society conference. We’ve filled an AirBnB house with Cheesemongers and it’s sure to be a sight to see.

I’ve spent the last few months in an Entrepreneurship bootcamp working on getting some stuff together to open a shop in the future. It was an intense experience because it changed our lifestyle quite a bit. Four nights of the week I was sitting in class from 6-9pm for two and a half months. Our last night together was a potluck and of course, I brought a cheese plate. Needless to say, it was bittersweet evening since I had really begun to get to know and enjoy the other people in my class.

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From L to R: Catamount Cheddar, Harbison from Jasper Hill Farms, Capricho de Cabra with The Ginger People’s Ginger syrup, and Spring Gouda made from the first spring milking. Add in fresh Skagit strawberries, dried figs, Oregon hazelnuts, and golden berries. 

Lastly, I enjoyed an event put on by Seattle Made that was a Food and Beverage connection. With the thought of opening a business, these things are a good way to get my name out there and to see what kinds of products are being produced right here, deliciously. I was already familiar with most of the vendors but it was nice to take some cards and to try the full line up of what they offer.

All of this didn’t even come close to encompassing all the things I did but it’s a good snapshot of all the food events and things I’ve done. There is so much more coming so I hope you’ll stay tuned!