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Archive for the ‘Travelogues’ Category

The call time was 6 a.m., but our first guests — just as excited as we were — were standing outside our door at 5:40.

Gradually, the rest of our sleepy customers arrived, picked up their coffee and croissants, and by 6:30, all 32 of us were on the road, headed for high adventure in the Green Mountain State. Our destination was the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, a gathering of about 50 local cheesemakers, 30 breweries and wineries, and a host of other food artisans making everything from mustard to nougat. The event, in its second year, was held last Sunday at the breathtakingly lovely Shelburne Farms estate outside of Burlington, and this year we organized a bus to bring our customers to the festival — a first-of-its-kind trip for Formaggio Kitchen.

The Shelburne Farms estate sits on Lake Champlain.

The Shelburne Farms estate sits on Lake Champlain.

We personally knew many of the cheesemakers at the festival and were excited not only to see them, but also to introduce them to our customers. (more…)

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Membrillo, quince paste, cotognata, marmeladaIf you love cheese, you’ve likely come across the sweet, tangy condiment called membrillo. Membrillo is the Spanish word for the quince fruit and is commonly used to refer to the sweet quince paste also known as cotognata in Italian and marmelada in Portuguese. Even though recipes vary, quince and sugar — cooked to a thick consistency, molded and cooled — are the primary ingredients. The resulting quince paste is a traditional accompaniment to many cheeses including the famous Manchego.

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Pigs drinking whey at Jasper Hill FarmOn a recent trip to Jasper Hill Farm, I had the distinct pleasure not only of tasting many delicious cheeses made and aged here in New England, but also of getting acquainted with some inhabitants of the farm who happen to be just as fond of dairy products — or by-products as the case may be — as I am.

The farm has acquired its group of piglets for the season, and man, do they love whey!

Farms producing milk and making cheese from it inherently find themselves with loads of whey, the liquid that separates out from the milk when cheese curds are formed. There are some great uses for this tangy liquid — in some cases, you can use it to make traditional ricotta and other cheeses. Or you can use it in the kitchen in place of water in breads, sauces and stews. Or you can just drink it straight, as it’s filled with protein, vitamins and minerals. You can really only consume so much whey though, and inevitably you can’t keep up with production. So the question becomes: what to do with the rest? (more…)

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To read Part I of Gemma’s post, please click here.

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Alessandro of Valli Unite

Alessandro of Valli Unite

One of the most memorable tastings I had at VinItaly was with Valli Unite, a cooperative I visited in 2006, located in the hills outside of Tortona (essentially in the DOC Gavi growing area). Dreadlocked Alessandro, who now greets me on a first name basis, excitedly mentioned that in 2009 he made all of his wines without added sulfur. He recalled all of the questions and concerns that I have had over the years about sulfur usage. After some successful initial trials with Barbera and Dolcetto, he is confident enough to move forward with a more natural, minimalist approach in the cellar. This courage impressed me a great deal as did his desire to express as much terroir as possible in his wines. One of the questions that I like to ask growers is with regard to the future of their wines and their farming practices. Some producers express an ambition to sell more wine, expand into additional markets and find new exporters. Others talk about trying natural yeast fermentations, yield-reducing practices and no-sulfur cuvées. The latter type of grower is the one with whom I definitely want to establish a relationship. One can ascertain very quickly and easily who is thinking, trying, experimenting and who is merely responding to the market. (more…)

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Le bellissime colline di Verona

Le bellissime colline di Verona

During the second week of April, I had the opportunity to attend VinItaly – one of the largest and most well-attended trade shows for wine professionals – and two smaller, organic off-shoot shows: VinNatur and Vini Veri. These tastings brought growers, suppliers, sommeliers, and wine buyers together near picturesque Verona. It was a very special opportunity to taste wines alongside the growers, a process that is important in gaining a true understanding of the wines on our shelves and the farming behind them. Attending a show like VinItaly is the next best thing to actually visiting a producer. (more…)

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A newly-flowering coffee plant

A newly-flowering coffee plant

My journey into coffee began in high school, with a styrofoam cup and copious amounts of milk and sugar.

I would snag some each morning during my first-period study hall, usually from one of those brown-rimmed glass pots. The addiction became full-blown in college, and when I entered the world of work, like many, I continued to depend on my morning cup as a necessary comfort. (more…)

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As a cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen, I have seen a lot of change in the Swiss cheese industry over the years. Cheese is not only a way of life in Switzerland, but also a large industry for the nation. To ensure steady production, subsidies were created for their main five cheeses: Emmentaler, Raclette, Gruyère, Tilsiter, and Appenzeller. A “fruitière” or cheesemaker would receive milk from the surrounding farms in their co-op and use all of the milk for the production of one of those five cheeses, depending on where in Switzerland they were located.

Appenzeller cheese

Over the past few years, policy and subsidies have changed, creating new opportunities for Swiss cheese makers. Many cheese makers will now produce the staple cheese of their region, but also create new recipes. One of the best examples of this is Käserei Stoefel, which produces over 30 different varieties of cheese and 30 different types of fresh milk products. (more…)

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We love cheese at Formaggio Kitchen, but we also love our beer.

You’ll catch a lot of us on the staff stopping by local beer tastings, seeking out new and hard-to-find bottles, and regularly checking out (and sampling) the rotating taps at our favorite Boston-area bars. A few of us also brew our own beer – recent undertakings have included a clone of Stone Ruination IPA, and a beer brewed with fresh cranberries that somehow ended up measuring a whopping 2% ABV (we lovingly call this one “Granny Cran”).

Whenever we can, we also visit breweries to see beer-making in action. It’s fascinating to see beer brewed on a large scale (though many of the craft breweries we like are still considered small players in a giant market), and it’s enlightening to talk to brewers about what goes in to making certain beers and why they taste the way they do. We’ve previously field-tripped it to Sixpoint, Ommegang and Brooklyn Brewery (see related post), all located in New York. Last month, I stopped by Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware, and last week, a group of us headed to Portland, Maine, to visit Allagash Brewing Company. (more…)

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Here at Formaggio Kitchen – despite our obvious allegiance to the Italian word “formaggio” – our dedication to French cheeses and other produits du terroir is the foundation for our entire selection. So, visiting France and meeting the folks who make the dozens of different products we regularly import is a special experience – kind of like when you visit a college friend at home and meet their parents, see their neighborhood.

Every two years, France hosts a huge fair in Paris, Salon de l’Agriculture, to celebrate the people and products that make up the country’s agricultural scene. Imagine eight convention centers, each with a different theme — one hall full of wine, another full of olive oil, and even one full of animals. It’s a giant country fair, complete with medals and honors – Paris-style.

We attended earlier this year specifically for the cheese show, Salon du Fromage. This particular salon is open only to industry professionals and is an opportunity for cheesemakers, affineurs and distributors to display their products and chat with clients. Cheese industry folks from all over the world crowd the hall to see what’s new and catch up with associates. We bounce from appointment to appointment: discussing packaging options for a new large-format Epoisses, for instance, then meeting with a cheesemaker from the Pyrénées to taste sheep cheese and learn about the new co-operative dairy they are building to support area shepherds.

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For cheesemongers, spring not only means longer days and warm weather, but also the start of a new season of cheesemaking. Some of the first spring-milk cheeses we see are from goat farms, which have been welcoming flocks of baby goats over the past couple of months.

Kids at Consider Bardwell

After giving their milk to their new, absurdly cute babies for a couple of weeks, the does will be able to give their milk to cheesemakers such as Michael Lee of Twig Farm in Vermont. From his herd of about 40 goats, Lee began making this year’s cheeses a few weeks ago — after proper ripening, we’ll probably see these new wheels (perennial favorites at Formaggio Kitchen) sometime in June.

Last week, a couple of us mongers went up to visit another local goat farm, Consider Bardwell in Pawlet, Vermont, where on an amazing spring afternoon we saw the herd of ladies-in-waiting — about 40 does who were due to give birth in the next day or so. The photo above shows two kids who were born the morning we arrived.

The cheesemakers at Consider Bardwell will also start using the new milk to make cheeses such as Manchester, an aged goat cheese that we like for its fresh, floral flavors and firmer texture. It’s the perfect match for a crisp white wine from the Loire Valley, or even a dry rosé.

Manchester cheese from Consider Bardwell

Here’s to spring!

For more on our trip to Consider Bardwell Farm, check out our travelogue.

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