There was a time not too long ago that if you put those first two words together – American Cheese – it suggested something else: processed cheese. Today, however, we can take great pride in artisan cheeses produced in the United States. The quality of American cheeses has grown rapidly, to the point that American Cheese suggests something else entirely today. In some ways it was the processed cheeses themselves that helped improve overall quality of our cheeses. They improved because Americans demanded better. With regard to processed cheeses, I have often stated that there are far worse foods you can choose.
As the weather turns cooler and we snuggle together a little more closely, cheese becomes especially appealing. I know of no other food that typifies romance better than cheese. Some would say chocolate perhaps, which has its place too. Yet cheese is the food that is more closely associated with the fall than any other. October is the month when there is a greater diversity of cheese types available in top form. I have written about this before. Should you need a refresher please read on.
For the cheeses that require less aging, the best would have been produced during the warmer months, which in case you forgot, September is one of those. For the cheeses which require a little more aging the ones produced at the beginning of the northern hemisphere’s natural lactation cycles – late winter, these would have received sufficient aging so that they are now coming into their primes. The more aged cheeses requiring over a year of curing, those that were produced this time in 2011, have reached their optimal levels of ripeness.
There is only a minor drop-off of diversity available in November. Some of those very young and tender cheeses become a little scarce. Kind of like fresh tomatoes, you can still find them but fewer of the best. Up until mid-September many people in the northern hemisphere simply do not have the bigger appetites that come along with the arrival of chillier nights. Cheesemakers look forward to this time of year; last October was a long time ago.
Along with our fall cheeses, many of us better appreciate beers or Scotch, even Cider. Through the remainder of this month we have three classes focused on those and the cheeses that pair best with those beverages: Cider, with Eleanor Leger – owner/cider maker for Eden with our Fromagère Erin Hedley; Scotch and Microbrews, with Candela Prol, our expert on most every type of beverage, as well as an expert on October cheeses.
When I learned that I would have an opportunity to teach alongside Eleanor Leger of Eden Ice Cider Company, combining hard ciders and artisanal cheese, it immediately brought to mind my first taste of this elixir while traveling in the mountains of northern Spain.
Hard cider and cheese make a naturally great pairing. When combined, they form a panoply of complex earthy aromas and flavors. Regions of the world known for hard cider production include the Normandy region of France, the West Country of England (the UK has the highest per capita consumption) and the Northeastern United States. In Spain, the production of natural “hard” ciders takes place mostly in the north: Asturias, Galicia and Basque country. The climate here is ideal for apple growing; mild, wet summers and mild winters.
It was in this very locale that I experienced the wonder that visiting a new land, a new culture and new culinary encounter can bring. The location was Asturias, part of the gorgeous, green and rugged terrain of the Picos de Europa mountain range in northern Spain.
Our family had embarked on a Cabrales cheese making tour in a little town called Asiegu, about 20 miles from our Parador in Ovieda. We set out early in the morning, our car ambling slowly up the high mountain pass with our tour guide and translator, Juan. A single-lane dirt road, dotted with a mule cart or two on the way up the steep, winding mountain road seemed to head straight up into the clouds.
At the top of the mountain was a tiny village replete with breath-taking vistas from every angle. We spent the whole day learning about the village culture and their way of life. We also learned about one of their other great native treats—hard apple cider. Plentiful apple, chestnut and sycamore trees populate the valleys all around. These apples make for some good drinking…if you know what I mean. The chestnut makes for great honey and the sycamore leaves are used in the creation of another famous blue cheese, Valdeón.
At day’s end we sat down to an enormous, lengthy and traditional Spanish lunch, complete with local cheeses, fabada, salmon with cider Asturian style, sopapillas, honey, blood sausage, apple tarts and fizzy, dry apple cider.
The cider was the theatrical star of the feast. But the cider isn’t simply poured into your glass. Here, it shoots out of the ceiling from a maze of specially designed tubes that lead from their stainless steel cider storage tanks. On the way through the tubes, the cider is activated with carbonation. The cider bursts into your tiny glass with the guidance of the pourer who seems to be very nonchalant about making sure that the cider actually fills your glass, not your lap. It can also be poured, with great finesse, from a bottle, or spewed from a giant chestnut barrel. The act of serving or pouring the cider is called “throwing”.
Cider is produced in all the principality of Asturias from several varieties of acid, sweet and bitter apples harvested in September and solely used for this purpose. After six months’ fermentation in chestnut vats, the apple juice with a low-alcohol content and possessing its own carbonic gas is bottled and sold: “new cider” is therefore delivered in spring. The inhabitants of Asturias not only claim the historic invention of cider (which nevertheless already existed among the Hebrews, Persians and Arabs who called it sicera ?”the beverage that intoxicates”) but also consider their cider to be the “world’s best.”
When paired with the cheese, especially the Cabrales, we were awestruck. Terroir never tasted so good. The sharp, salty, yet creamy curds were tempered by the earthy flavor and effervescent bubbles in the cider – both contrasting and complementing the flavors inherent in the cheese and the apple cider alike.
I can’t wait to hear Eleanor Ledger educate the class on the art of cider making while we taste some great matches with several artisan cheeses. Hope you’ll join us on October 15th at Artisanal.
During this election year it is important to remember that there are several political components to the cheese world. It would be great to hear a few choice cheese questions posed to the candidates during the debates, such as: where do you stand on raw milk cheeses?
For many of us this is an important question. Many livelihoods depend on this one: the raw milk cheese producers, and many retailers and distributors.
Case in point: our federal regulations regarding raw milk cheeses have not been updated since the 1940’s; it is high time they be revisited in an unbiased and scholarly way. It’s kind of like we are living in another silly but extended Prohibition. When will the regulations be aligned with reason?
I heard about a recent Boardwalk Empire episode that had a woman sickened by raw milk. Interesting to note: it was a New Jersey physician, Dr. Henry L. Coit who began a serious effort in the late nineteenth century to control the cleanliness of milk by instituting a certification process for the milk industry. This was well before the booze Prohibition, and several decades before cheese suffered its own prohibition, which is still in effect today and may never be repealed.
Cheese is not the same thing as milk. Just because it is derived from milk does not mean that the risks are the same. People have rarely been sickened by cheese yet less rarely they have been sickened by milk. With regards to safety, cheese has its advantages over milk.
Milk is fermented to produce cheese; this more acid environment is less attractive to pathogenic contamination. Cheese has salt added, salt being the great preservative that it is. Milk has no salt added. Cheese has less water than milk, and with less water available for breeding, bad bugs have a tougher time in cheese. Of course some cheeses are wet, but any cheese worth its salt (no pun intended) has that lower pH, a little extra salt, and a little less moisture. Three strikes against contamination.
There was a time when American-made cheese was a valuable export commodity. We even sold cheddar cheeses to the country from where it originated. Our cheese exports today comprise a miniscule fraction of our export market.
It is a good thing that we are eating more cheese than ever, not only because our domestic demand helps keep our cheesemakers in business, but also because we will all be better off with a little more cheese in our diets.
Which brings up the nutritional angle. This election the education topic is near the top of the list. We cheese educators believe that cheese education is at least as important as any other field of study, granting that cheese study has so many branches.
What we would like to hear in the debates is how cheese is actually a good food we should celebrate and promote – one that not only tastes good but is also especially nutritious. We may help solve our nation’s obesity epidemic with a diet that includes a little more cheese, and we could put a small dent in our trade deficit eventually.
There are other cheese studies, including: religion, philosophy, history, economics, chemistry, physics, biology, geology and soil science, climatology, art, politics, and others. For some people, cheese study includes its astrological component. Cheese study is endlessly challenging. Whatever your particular interest may be, cheese will offer its tangents. Cheese alone could make a core course curriculum for a liberal arts college.
Now all we need to do is repeal the cheese Prohibition that denies us the right to enjoy young uncompromised milk cheeses throughout our fair land.
It brings out the tea party in me. Interesting to note that there are blue cheeses and red cheeses.
Starting this Saturday, September 29th, residents of the northern hemisphere will be treated to the sight of a full moon. And not just any full moon – a harvest moon, so named because its light allows farmers to work in the fields later into the evening than usual. Since we’re all cheese fanatics here at Artisanal, whenever we hear anything about the moon we cannot help but think of that famous tongue-in-cheek line collected in John Heywood’s 1546 Proverbes: “You set circumstances to make me believe/Or think, that the moon is made of green cheese,” green in this case denoting not color but newness. Although only the credulous will swallow such a claim, the notion of a large celestial body made entirely of cheese is a rather tantalizing thought for some of us.
This moon-made-out-of-cheese fancy saw an imaginative realization in Nick Park’s 1989 animated short, “A Grand Day Out,” starring Wallace (perhaps cinema’s greatest turophile) and his canine pal Gromit. The claymation duo want to go “somewhere where there’s cheese” – what better place than that pockmarked hunk of deliciousness orbiting the earth? Click here for a glimpse of their enviable excursion.
The ancients recognized the moon-cheese resemblance long before either Heywood or Wallace and Gromit. One of the first-ever cheese brand names was “La Luna,” developed by the Romans around 300AD. This was a highly popular precursor to modern-day Parmesan.
Enjoy the moonlight this weekend, folks – and if you feel a craving for cheese, Artisanal’s got your back.
The question arises, what is a cheese “progression”? What is it exactly and why does it matter?
The fundamental principle of a cheese progression refers to tasting cheeses in a particular order, from mild to strong. It does not refer to the progress of a cheese itself: from the time that is made to the point when it is consumed, with all that transpires along that path – the influences of the rennets and cultures, the influences of the curing environments, the various treatments the ripener (affineur) can apply to the cheese, and the influences in the milk components themselves. All those factors certainly affect the strength of a cheese; the commonly accepted understanding of cheese “progression” refers to the order in which cheeses are tasted, after the cheese has reached its optimal level of ripeness.
Quite simply, tasting a mild cheese before a strongly flavored cheese should make more sense than vice versa. To fully detect the nuances in a mildly flavored cheese it would be better not to taste a stronger cheese before it. What makes one cheese stronger than another may be a little subjective, yet there are some empirical qualities to consider. One of the easiest to detect is the salt intensity. The saltier the cheese, the more assertive it would be, all else being equal. A smoked cheese would be stronger than a non-smoked version. A highly aromatic cheese might be considered stronger than one that is less so.
When I looked at the cheese selections for this Friday’s Cheese & Wine 101 class (sorry, it’s sold out!) I thought: this is a classic progression. We will begin with a mild goat cheese – Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery’s Bonne Bouche. This multiple award-winning cheese is made with pasteurized milk, which helps keep it mellow. The Bonne Bouche has plenty of flavor but it is milder than the next cheese in the lineup, Pierre Robert – a triple-crème cow cheese that is also young and pasteurized. The cow milk cheeses generally follow the goat cheeses better than they precede them. The extra butterfats in Pierre Robert melt into the palate so that the fresh flavors of the Bonne Bouche would go unnoticed if it was tasted after the Pierre Robert.
A good follow-up to a triple crème is a firm pressed sheep milk cheese, and this time of year the Idiazábal is in great form. A couple of things this old-world cheese can boast of enables it to follow the decadent Pierre Robert, besides the fact that it is a type with a much more ancient history. The pressed sheep milk cheeses usually have a nice “bite” to them which closes down the lingering butterfats of a triple-crème cow cheese. The more aged, firm texture helps, and oily butterfats in the sheep milk hold their own just fine; their delightful nutty olive oil aromas linger. The Idiazábal is also gently smoked, not so much for the sake of the smoked flavor as it is for the traditional methods of curing the cheese.
A good follow-up to the pressed sheep milk cheeses is one of the “stinky” cheeses, and at this time the Taleggio is looking better than ever. Full aroma for a pasteurized version, with a very buttery flavor, resplendent, a bit salty, savory and chock full of umami.
A medium aged Comté makes a good successor, not especially “stinky” but with plenty of aroma and layers of flavor. Back to this firm cheese, after the unctuous Taleggio; this makes a nice break. In a sense, the Comté is related to Taleggio, with similar surface washings, cow’s milk, produced not too far from one another. The Comté is made with uncompromised milk however, as is mandated by law.
If this were a well-aged Comté, and the next cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano – were a younger version, these two could be flip-flopped in the progression. As with most Parmigiani Reggiano there is that little bitter note, which gives them a little more depth compared to the brighter flavored Comté.
Then you have Shaker Blue. Once you have a blue cheese it is much more difficult to detect the subtleties in most other cheese types. There are the occasional “blue” cheeses where the blue is applied externally instead of veined in the paste. These can be relatively mild. In most cases the blue is a dominant note for a cheese. They are generally a little saltier than other cheeses, the extra salt is required to keep competing bacteria and molds from thwarting the blue.
So there you have it – a classic cheese progression. Now, to choose the corresponding wines; they have their progressions too. With four contrasting wines we hope to find some unexpected marriages-made-in-heaven.
Clubs offer something special – a place for like-minded people to be part of something they enjoy. A club offers a sense of belonging. In many Clubs there is an initiation fee and recurring dues. If for whatever reason you withdraw from the Club these payments are forfeited. However, with the Artisanal Owner’s Club you enjoy all the privileges for as long as you like and never forfeit anything. Your “dues” is an actual ownership stake in our company that you can hold onto for as long as you like. You can even bequeath it to someone in estate planning.
Belonging is what the Artisanal Owner’s Club is about – www.artisanalcheese.com/ownersclub. It’s not about the stock price – it’s personal and much more than just owning stock – at least for now! Ownership of stock in Artisanal is essentially your key to our front door – your Club membership is what makes you really belong to our company. Very quickly you will be embraced by our company – you will learn about our business with our newsletter, you will develop closer relationships with our staff, you can help us make Artisanal better by telling people what we do and sharing your own thoughts about our products, services, and new products we may offer. All of this will make us a better Company.
Once you enter our front door, you will see how the most valuable asset in our Club is our quarterly newsletter. It’s so exciting to see the first edition coming into form. You will get to know the people inside our company. You will learn about our company and our industry. We will share with you our plans, tell you about the cheeses we are marketing, our expansion into retail and what we are doing with the best chefs and hotels in the country. You also will learn how the artisan cheese business works “inside and out” – of the caves and how “we” are doing as a Company. And, you will most definitely enjoy the limited supply cheeses we will bring you every quarter that aren’t available in public markets or even on our website – these Special Reserve Cheeses are in limited quantities and available to Club members first. As you can see, your shares of Artisanal stock will mean much more to you than just another line item on a stock brokerage account statement.
Our quarterly deliveries of Special Reserve Cheeses will give entire households a chance to “stop” and celebrate “Artisanal Nights”. By offering 4 cheeses every quarter you will have a great reason to use the new porcelain Artisanal CheeseClock™ platter, plates and knives that come with ownership to improve your knowledge of cheese and pairings with your favorite wines and beers. It will be about the cheese for sure, but even more on these nights. Because in reading our newsletter, you will learn that among our first Special Reserve Cheeses this Fall, one is from a new cheese maker we found in Bucks County, PA. With only 20 cows and 9 children, you will learn the roles that his children and his wife play in producing this cheese of amazing quality. Can you envision how much better this cheese will taste once you have learned the whole story behind it?
Our Club members will also be part of a national movement that is growing rapidly. Artisanal’s success in building the largest offering of American Artisan Cheeses ever will evolve through our work with hundreds of cheese makers in rural towns nationwide. These cheese makers often have 2 -to 4 milk suppliers. Our success will, in turn, feed more business into hundreds of cheese makers and thousands of local milk suppliers. You will be a part of this story as it unfolds. Few industries can have this kind of impact on small overlooked farms and towns. If we succeed, we will create a thriving permanent industry in the USA. Sound good?
As a small publicly-traded company, our stock jumps all over the place. From morning to night it can swing a 100% “in either direction”, and sometimes even more. We can’t be distracted by this. We need to build a business and, if we do, the market for our stock will even out and become a more meaningful measure of value. For the longest time our stock had traded at $.35-$.45 per share and earlier sales of stock that we sold to investors had a common stock conversion price of $.30. We believe the benefits of the Club, if you had to pay for all the merchandising items out-of-pocket, would amount to close to $.15 per share. So keeping in mind the value of these benefits, our company having a much stronger cash position as the Club membership rises, and our stock history, we selected the price of $.50 a share as a reasonable measure of value. Our stock trades under the ticker symbol “AHFP” and if it rises above $.50 per share we aren’t planning to increase the Club price for now. We feel that strongly that our share price in the open market is not really an exact measure of value. Several Club members agreed and went ahead and bought into the Artisanal Owner’s Club to gain the benefits of the Club and then purchased lower priced stock in the open market.
As with all businesses, there is always a looming question of risk, competition and a requirement of hard work that has to be committed to by passionate people. I can assure you that the latter happens every day at Artisanal. There is always that intangible called “luck” in any successful business, but often luck can be found at the intersection of hard work and standing the test of time. Our team has put five hard years into Artisanal because we believe in Artisanal and its role in the industry. We have been undercapitalized all the way, and the Club is our means to bring on new partners and give us the financial standing we need to go after our plans.
There are thousands of investment options to choose from. Belonging to the Artisanal Owner’s Club is just different. If you are in it solely for a short-term stock trading play, then perhaps our Club is not for you. But if you love cheese or the idea of getting in on the ground floor of a company whose goal is to become an industry leader while revitalizing the dairy farmers’ industry, then join the Club – our door is open to you!
More bad news for America’s dairy farms and cattle, from Agri-View:
Manufacturers remain concerned over future milk supply. High feed prices and limited supply is expected to result in heavy culling. Most cattle from foreclosures or those throwing in the towel are going to slaughter. Many farms are not interested in purchasing more mouths to feed at this time. Many farms are moving into survival mode. July dairy cattle slaughter totaled 239,000 head. This was an increase of 10,000 head from June and 32,000 head more than a year earlier. This pattern is expected to continue for some time with numbers increasing as the rest of the year progresses. Total year-to-date slaughter is 1.762 million head. This is 97,000 more than the same period of the time last year.
The United States Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, has announced a two-month extension of emergency grazing on Conservation Reserve Program acres, intending to offer more forage and feed to farmers struggling from the effects of the drought. According the numbers, this extension is well-needed: “The U.S. Drought Monitor indicates that 63 percent of the nation’s hay acreage is in an area experiencing drought, while approximately 72 percent of the nation’s cattle acreage is in an area experiencing drought.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also announced that 147 additional counties in 14 states have been designated natural disaster areas.
Despite all the gloom this summer, some small shafts of sunlight have broken through. Consider the seven Maryland dairy farmers who have developed a new source of income by opening ice cream shops on their farms. According to NPR, they have banded together to form Maryland’s “Best Ice Cream Trail,” which holds the title of America’s first farm-based ice cream trail. It may not be a solution for the entire industry but it certainly testifies to the enterprising spirit of America’s dairy farmers. Cheese lovers, support your local dairy farm! Skip the processed cheese – purchase artisan cheeses sourced from the nation’s local farms. Help them break out of survival mode into one of continuing prosperity.
That line from G. K. Chesterton – “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese” – is familiar to cheese lovers. But cheese lovers have been mysteriously silent on the subject of G. K. Chesterton. The line we know to be poignant and true in ways we can’t quite explain is from Chesterton’s full article on cheese (titled “Cheese”). Turns out the little essay is a brilliant call to gratitude–for local farms, for biodiversity and especially for “the holy act of eating cheese.” Today we help break the silence by posting Chesterton’s article in full. Here it is, for your reading pleasure, from his 1910 collection, Alarms and Discursions.
My forthcoming work in five volumes, `The Neglect of Cheese in European Literature,’ is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it is doubtful whether I shall live to finish it. Some overflowings from such a fountain of information may therefore be permitted to sprinkle these pages. I cannot yet wholly explain the neglect to which I refer. Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. The only other poet that I can think of just now who seems to have had some sensibility on the point was the nameless author of the nursery rhyme which says: `If all the trees were bread and cheese’ – which is indeed a rich and gigantic vision of the higher gluttony. If all the trees were bread and cheese there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where I was living. Wild and wide woodlands would reel and fade before me as rapidly as they ran after Orpheus. Except Virgil and this anonymous rhymer, I can recall no verse about cheese. Yet it has every quality which we require in an exalted poetry. It is a short, strong word; it rhymes to `breeze’ and `seas’ (an essential point); that it is emphatic in sound is admitted even by the civilization of the modern cities. For their citizens, with no apparent intention except emphasis, will often say `Cheese it!’ or even `Quite the cheese.’ The substance itself is imaginative. It is ancient – sometimes in the individual case, always in the type and custom. It is simple, being directly derived from milk, which is one of the ancestral drinks, not lightly to be corrupted with soda-water. You know, I hope (though I myself have only just thought of it), that the four rivers of Eden were milk, water, wine, and ale. Aerated waters only appeared after the Fall.
But cheese has another quality, which is also the very soul of song. Once in endeavouring to lecture in several places at once, I made an eccentric journey across England, a journey of so irregular and even illogical shape that it necessitated my having lunch on four successive days in four roadside inns in four different counties. In each inn they had nothing but bread and cheese; nor can I imagine why a man should want more than bread and cheese, if he can get enough of it. In each inn the cheese was good; and in each inn it was different. There was a noble Wensleydale cheese in Yorkshire, a Cheshire cheese in Cheshire, and so on. Now, it is just here that true poetic civilization differs from that paltry and mechanical civilization that holds us all in bondage. Bad customs are universal and rigid, like modern militarism. Good customs are universal and varied, like native chivalry and self-defence. Both the good and the bad civilization cover us as with a canopy, and protect us from all that is outside. But a good civilization spreads over us freely like a tree, varying and yielding because it is alive. A bad civilization stands up and sticks out above us like an umbrella – artificial, mathematical in shape; not merely universal, but uniform. So it is with the contrast between the substances that vary and the substances that are the same wherever they penetrate. By a wise doom of heaven men were commanded to eat cheese, but not the same cheese. Being really universal it varies from valley to valley. But if, let us say, we compare cheese to soap (that vastly inferior substance), we shall see that soap tends more and more to be merely Smith’s Soap or Brown’s Soap, sent automatically all over the world. If the Red Indians have soap it is Smith’s Soap. If the Grand Lama has soap it is Brown’s Soap. There is nothing subtly and strangely Buddhist, nothing tenderly Tibetan, about his soap. I fancy the Grand Lama does not eat cheese (he is not worthy), but if he does it is probably a local cheese, having some real relation to his life and outlook. Safety matches, tinned foods, patent medicines are sent all over the world; but they are not produced all over the world. Therefore there is in them a mere dead identity, never that soft play of variation which exists in things produced everywhere out of the soil, in the milk of the kine, or the fruits of the orchard. You can get a whisky and soda at every outpost of the Empire: that is why so many Empire builders go mad. But you are not tasting or touching any environment, as in the cider of Devonshire or the grapes of the Rhine. You are not approaching Nature in one of her myriad tints of mood, as in the holy act of eating cheese.
When I had done my pilgrimage in the four wayside public-houses I reached one of the great northern cities, and there I proceeded, with great rapidity and complete inconsistency, to a large and elaborate restaurant, where I knew I could get a great many things besides bread and cheese. I could get that also, however; or at least I expected to get it; but I was sharply reminded that I had entered Babylon, and left England behind. The waiter brought me cheese, indeed, but cheese cut up into contemptibly small pieces; and it is the awful fact that instead of Christian bread, he brought me biscuits. Biscuits – to one who had eaten the cheese of four great countrysides! Biscuits – to one who had proved anew for himself the sanctity of the ancient wedding between cheese and bread! I addressed the waiter in warm and moving terms. I asked him who he was that he should put asunder those whom Humanity had joined. I asked him if he did not feel, as an artist, that a solid but yielding substance like cheese went naturally with a solid, yielding substance like bread; to eat it off biscuits is like eating it off slates. I asked him if, when he said his prayers, he was so supercilious as to pray for his daily biscuits. He gave me generally to understand that he was only obeying a custom of Modern Society. I have therefore resolved to raise my voice, not against the waiter, but against Modern Society, for this huge and unparalleled modern wrong.
Attention cheese lovers: America’s dairy farmers are suffering under grim conditions and need your help!
As a severe drought holds much of the nation in its grip, the specter of bankruptcy looms over the dried-up pastures of many a desperate dairy farm. The Fresno Bee reports of a situation so pervasively bleak that “at least one dairy cooperative is launching a crisis hot line for despondent dairymen and their families.” This news wouldn’t surprise Rich, a dairy farmer from Kentucky, who contributed his gloomy tale to an NPR interview yesterday. “Just five years ago, we were operating with about 500 heads,” Rich explained. “And now we’re down to feeding the calves from cows that we use to have to try to hang on…We are down to a hundred head. And it’s yearling cattle. And these are calves from the mothers that are gone.”
Many small dairy farmers describe the crisis as a nightmarish pile-up of harsh circumstances. According to NBC News, farmer David Franscka and his family have resorted to hauling thousands of gallons of water to their cattle herd now that nearby ponds have dried up, and because pastures have produced insufficient amounts of grass for the herd to graze, Franscka has been forced to buy feed at higher prices than the milk he sells. Feed has grown expensive because of a spike in the cost of corn, one of its major ingredients. MarketWatch crunches the numbers: “arid conditions in the Midwest prompted the Department of Agriculture to cut its corn-harvest forecast 17%, sending corn prices to an intraday record of $8.49 a bushel on Aug. 10. On Tuesday, corn futures notched a record closing level of $8.31 a bushel.”
In fact, The LA Times reports that feed is currently so expensive that one Kentucky farmer prefers feeding his cows candy rejected from retail operations. If you think that’s unfortunate, Bloomberg Businessweek News reports that the drought has allowed anthrax bacteria to proliferate, which recently caused the deaths of 60 cows in Colorado. Scientists warn that similar outbreaks may afflict herds in other drought-stricken states.
Cheese lovers, we must do our part to help the small dairy farmer get by! Spread the word about the crisis in any way you can and urge the powers that be to take effective action – a good way to start is signing this Farm Aid letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. And if you want an especially delicious way to contribute to the livelihood of struggling dairy farmers and cheesemakers, check out Artisanal Premium Cheese’s RocketHub campaign, The Great American Cheese Project.
I recall a session at an ACS conference I attended years ago; the topic was comparisons of dairy cow breeds. Back then the membership was so low that you did not have to choose between multiple concomitant sessions; there were not enough of us to break out into groups. There were several dairy farmers in the room that afternoon and like most others along the cheese trail, there were strong opinions among them. The discussion quickly narrowed down to weighing Jersey versus Holstein: which breed had the best milk (as though there were no other dairy cow breeds). One side of the room was pro-Jersey and the other was pro-Holstein.
If you are going on looks alone you might prefer the Jersey girls; they are sooo cute! [Thanks Redjar for the photo.] They remind me of deer: with their beautiful brown coats and seductive eyes. Most of them are not terribly large animals either, making them a little less frightening compared to some other bovine breeds. Not to take anything away from the Holstein girls; they’re attractive too (though they remind me of oversized Dalmatians with the indifferent personalities of cats).
Past the looks and personalities, it comes down to the milk, both the quality and the amount produced. The average Holstein produces more milk than the average Jersey but comparing the two breeds on the volume of milk each produces is only part of it. Cheese yields are determined by protein and fat content, which is only a fraction of the milk itself. Cow milk is about 87% water, on average, and looking at the solids from which the cheese is produced, you should expect that Jersey milk is only about 85% water. More solids in Jersey milk means that you get greater cheese yields. This makes the calculations a little more complicated.
Besides the percentages of solids, there are other qualities to be considered: are the flavors different, and if so, which breed’s milk is ‘better’? Assuming that you had one Jersey alongside one Holstein, and all else is equal including their aliments, would the organoleptic profiles of the milks be all that different?
From what I hear, the breed is secondary in determining aroma/flavor, after the feed. No doubt, there would be nuances distinguishing the Jersey milk from the Holstein. After converting the milks into cheeses, those breed influences play a diminishing role.
So long as a breed is suited for the terroir where it is situated (with differing climates, topography, etc.) then the dairy farmer is concerned about the economics. The margins in dairying are tight so any little yield advantage one breed has over another will make that breed the choice. We have witnessed gradual transitions to dairy breeds based on economics; this is difficult to counter. However I do have concerns. As mentioned above, dairy farmers have strong opinions on breeds. At the end of the day, it is business, but those subtleties in milks of different breeds are worth celebrating. In a time when standardization of foodstuffs tends to limit our food choices, there remains a wide diversity among cheese styles, even with the increasing use of commercial starter cultures, rennets, and secondary cultures. Surely a part of that prevailing diversity can be credited to differences among breeds.
It is less about which breed is better; it is simply nice to know that we have more than one of them.