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ACS 2010 Conference

The Space Needle in Cheese

So, who is ACS and what is this conference? The American Cheese Society claims membership across the U.S., Canada and parts of South America. It’s an organizing body that helps the membership stay on top of trends, studies and industry changes. The conference is an annual event that brings together retailers, cheese makers, farmers, distributors, food scientists and more. The conference has a few events and presents topics of interest to these people. On our tour from Portland to Seattle, we had a few cheese enthusiasts. As an enthusiast, the conference is not really geared towards you. However, the topics are fascinating and with my volunteering hours, I was able to make it to a few seminars. I focused on the two topics that were of interest to me most: business and science. Here’s what I attended:

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Three Washington Creameries

Baaaaa!

To kick off the 2010 American Cheese Society conference, there were three tours originating from points a few hours away from Seattle and visiting various creameries and retail stores along the way. After the Portland Wedge Cheese Festival last year, I got roped into volunteered to help lead the Portland to Seattle tour which left the morning before the festival, arriving in time for the opening keynote address that evening.

Our itinerary had us starting early in the morning in downtown Portland, visiting the Hollywood Whole Foods for snacks and then heading up to three Washington state creameries on the way to Seattle. We picked up cheese along the way and on the last leg, had a cheese tasting with wine and beer on the bus! My partner in crime, Bill Stephenson from DPI Northwest, was very adept at cutting the cheese at the front of the bus as I wandered the aisles with wine and some of the finest Oregon craft beer (graciously donated by the Oregon Brewer’s Guild).

We all had a lot of fun and only lost a little cheese when the bus braked hard and Bill’s cutting board went flying. For my part, I only spilled a little wine and beer on one poor guy who was very good-natured (and luckily wearing navy blue pants!). Here’s just a little wrap-up about the creameries we visited.

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2009, the Year of Festivals

What a year. What a jerk of a year. I think every year finds people sorting it into a winning year or a losing year. I have a lot to be grateful and thankful for here at the start of 2010 (Twenty-ten! The future!) but there were parts of 2009 which were terribly trying. The bright spots, for me, revolved around cheese and for that I can’t complain.

Cheese Plate

Boerenkaas from Willamette Valley Cheese Co, a 2009 favorite

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Hearty Winter Cheeseplate

In an effort to expand our general knowledge of cheese we’ve been trying to get together at least monthly to kick back, try a few new cheeses and drink some wine. I encourage everyone to do this.

For December, we went back to Foster & Dobbs and put together a tasty cheeseplate of some European heavyweights.

Foster & Dobbs Cheeseplate

The cheese case at Foster & Dobbs.

The staff there is so helpful and are excellent at listening to your likes and dislikes and recommending something that hits the mark. They’ll also keep track of what cheeses you’ve purchased before! We were all in the mood for some hearty, stinky, battle-the-frigid-winter cheese and were not disappointed in the least.

Our Cheeseplate

Starting with the semi-soft cheese on the bottom left that Linnea is pointing to, we have Le Porteaupre from Belgium. It’s a cow’s milk cheese that is delightfully stinky and is pretty creamy and spreadable – we put it on baguette. It’s a bit on the salty side, tangy and very satisfying. Seems like a good pair with meats.

At the top, is Jura Erguel from Switzerland. A raw cow’s milk, this was firm, stinky and a little sour. Definitely hearty and quite good. Next, clockwise, is Blu di Bufala, a buffalo milk from, of course, Italy! This was a moderate blue with distinct mushroom notes and I wrote down “cardboard” but I don’t mean that in a bad way, there was an earthiness to the rind that was good. This was a stout flavor without being overwhelming.

The large wedge in the center was a big favorite for all of us, the Bastardo del Grappa Nero, another raw cow’s milk from Italy. This one from the Veneto region which is in the Northeastern part of the country, a stone’s throw from Austria. The Bastardo was light, firm, creamy, tangy and lemony. It hit all the right notes for me and I’d get that one again anytime.

We stuck with our Europen theme and rounded that out with the St Cosme Côtes du Rhône syrah. So delicious and a pretty perfect accompaniment to some stick-to-yer-ribs cheeses.

Thanks again Foster & Dobbs! What cheese theme should we explore in January?

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Claudia Lucero & Urban Cheesecraft

I was at Foster & Dobbs three times this week. I may have a problem. Last night they were having a meeting of the occasional DIY Cheesemakers group with a demonstration by Claudia from Urban Cheesecraft. She has started her own line of cheesemaking kits with products all sourced on the west coast. The whole kickoff for the FUCheese cheesemaking adventure was the Ricki Carroll mozzarella kit that Nicole got for Christmas two years ago. Ricki Carroll has great products but her supplies are in New England so you have to order and wait. It’s great to have a local option and Claudia’s kits are super adorable!

mozzarellaKit

Claudia did a mozzarella demonstration for us and she was absolutely charming and very clear. She has a great, relaxed attitude about cheesemaking — you can’t mess it up! While cheesemaking is a science it is very often an inexact science so it helps to have a cheerful can-do attitude for when things go a bit sideways. I picked up some great tips from her and look forward to sharing them when Nicole and I do our own mozzarella demo for some friends next month — eek!

Claudia is planning to be at the Wedge Festival (be there!) with her kits and may also do a ricotta demonstration on the main stage. Kits are such a great way to jump in to cheesemaking, I highly recommend picking one up. You can find out on her website which stores in Oregon are selling them or order from her etsy shop. They would make such great gifts!

Also, if you want to get notified when Foster & Dobbs do their next DIY cheesemakers meeting or to hear about any of their other many events, sign up for their mailing list!

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How to Drain Cheese

Fresh Chevre!

The main steps in making cheese are generally heating the milk followed by cutting the curds and then draining the curds to get rid of the whey. The less moisture in the cheese, the firmer and denser the cheese will be and the longer it can age. If you are making cheese at home, any of these steps can seem daunting, but sometimes the thing we have the most trouble with is the seemingly simple task of setting it up to drain properly.

The most obvious thing to do would be to have a hook in your ceiling over your sink which would allow the whey to flow right down the drain or be captured in a stock pot for another use. However, because of the soffit in my kitchen and the placement of the sink under it, this proved impossible. You may have other limitations. This post is a roundup of some of the devices we have conjured to drain our cheese.

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Cheese Plus Beer

So, the Mister and I are big beer fans around here. He has been homebrewing for a couple years and I swear that he has never made a bad beer. There has been one or two strange beers but nothing undrinkable. In fact, most of them have been highly drinkable! When I started getting interested in making cheese I felt like there was some kind of crossover potential there. They both relate to the science of applied heat. They both relate to farm life — beer is made from grains, cows eat grains and grasses. But, obviously, these are tenuous connections. The light came on, though, when I started reading about pairing cheese with beer.

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Making Yogurt Again

Gallon of Whole Milk for Yogurt

I probably won’t post every time I make another batch of yogurt as it’s so easy and I have a feeling that I have a lot of yogurt making in my future. But, for this batch, we took the yogurt making another step further by using a starter from our last batch.

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Hard Cheese Class at Kookoolan Farms

Sometime last year, Sarah had scoped out that there was a place called Kookoolan Farms doing cheesemaking classes. They are $50 which isn’t a bad price at all but not so low that you wouldn’t think twice about it. We all agreed that we were interested and have been keeping an eye on the schedule. I saw that they had a Hard Cheese class for March and decided to go. Due to schedules, I was the only one of our group that could make it but I’m so glad I did.

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Pholia Farms

Passion is a word that gets bandied about a lot in artisanal food circles. While it is easy to taste the passion that these craftspeople put into their foods, farms, and lifestyles, it is a rare opportunity for those of us living the more urban lifestyle to get out and see it in action.  That is why after a delicious day at the Oregon Cheese Guild Cheese Festival and another dry, warm night in our yurt we were off for what, to me, was a major highlight of our southern oregon cheese weekend, Pholia Farm’s Open House.

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