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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The Cheese Nun

The last time I was at my local library (give it up for the Multnomah County system, what what!) I saw a copy of “The Cheese Nun” DVD. Of course, like a complete cheese nerd, I snatched it up! It’s a PBS documentary about a Benedictine nun, Sister Noella Marcellino, who goes in search of a deeper understanding of just what is happening to cheeses as they go through the ripening process. She ends up returning to college to conduct scientific research into the microbiology of cheese fermentation. She continues on in her studies to the cheese caves of France and the artisanal cheesemakers there who have been practicing their craft for hundreds of years.

The nuns of her Abbey are absolutely charming, working their land, milking their cows and making cheeses. The science behind the cheese fermentation process was fascinating and not something which I think I had even slightly grasped before. And the visuals of the cheesemaking process were really informative. If you’re at all interested in the history of cheesemaking and seeing how it’s done (in a variety of ways) then totally check out this DVD.

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Oregon Cheese Guild Cheese Festival

Beware: big, big writeup comin’ at ya!

Back at the beginning of the year, FUCheese made some general goals and we all agreed that we really wanted to go to more cheese events and meet more makers of cheese. Since we’d really only scratched the (delicious) surface of the cheese world, we were really wanting to broaden our horizons and get a better understanding of what our region had to offer. Amazingly and luckily, the Pacific Northwest has a lot to offer! We noted that the Oregon Cheese Guild was putting on a festival in March at the Rogue Creamery. My husband and I had such a good time visiting the Creamery last August that I was eager to go back again. Nicole and I started looking into accommodations since Central Point, Oregon, is a good five-hour drive from Portland, and discovered yurt rentals at Valley of the Rogue State Park. The price was right — $27/night — and we love camping so we made the reservation. Our friends Jen and Linnea decided to join us and we headed down Friday afternoon with a car loaded with camp gear and sleeping bags.

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Thank you!

Creamery Signage

We just got back from a weekend down in southern Oregon attending the Oregon Cheese Guild Cheese Festival held at the Rogue Creamery in Central Point and an open house at Pholia Farms, a dairy producing wonderful goat cheeses in Rogue River, Oregon. It was a fantastic weekend, packed with cheese and wine and wonderful people. Before we start sorting through our photographs and organizing a writeup, we wanted to thank some really wonderful people….

First off, the festival was amazing — very organized — and all the cheese producers and winemakers brought delicious products and were so enthusiastic about what they were making. It was incredibly informative and a lot of fun.

David and Cary, co-owners of the creamery — thank you for answering our questions and arranging a tour for us, you took the event from great to truly memorable and it was a delight and honor to meet you.

Cheesemaker Craig Nelson and Anna Campbell for the informative and entertaining tour of the plant. You’ll always be Captain Cheddar to us!

Vern and Gianaclis Caldwell at Pholia Farms for touring us around and answering our questions about home cheesemaking, living off the grid and chasing goats.

Last but not least, it was fantastic to meet Bret Gilmore of Madrone Mountain Vineyard, if he’s not the King of Applegate Valley then he’s certainly the Court Jester.

More writeup to follow….

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Yogurt! It’s not going to make itself, you know?

I can’t say that yogurt was at the top of my list when I set out on this cheesemaking adventure (oh, sweet mancheeeegooooo….) but I am glad that I tried it. It is fairly simple to make and easy to source the ingredients. Everything can come straight from your happy local grocer.

Yogurt ingredients

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2009 Blog for Food Campaign

The Oregon Food Bank serves the people of Oregon and Clark County, Washington, and has seen record levels of need over the past year. The best thing we can do to help is support the cause with funding. Blog for Food is a campaign running through the month of February 2009 to get food bloggers and lovers of food to donate to the cause. With your contribution the Oregon Food Bank can support over 340 food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. They provide emergency foods to individuals and families and support the elderly and children. No one should go hungry surrounded by so much bounty. Support the effort by donating funds through the Oregon Food Bank’s online donation system and make a note that you are supporting the “Blog for Food” food drive. You can also send a check to:

Oregon Food Bank
PO. Box 55370
Portland, OR 97238-5370
*mention “Blog for Food” in the check memo

You can also bring donations of food to Saraveza which is serving as a drop-off site for canned goods. Saraveza is located at 1004 N. Killingsworth, in Portland. For more information on what types of foods the Oregon Food Bank is looking for, go to their website. They stress, however, that any foods can be put to good use.

For more information and a list of all the participating bloggers, please check out Pacific Northwest Cheese Project who are the organizers of this drive. Please don’t wait — donate today!

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Beer & Cheese Tasting at Saraveza

Our friends Dave (BS Brewing) and Sarah (of FU Cheese) won tickets to a beer and cheese tasting at Saraveza Bottle Shop & Pasty Tavern. After promising them our first born, they invited us to go with them. It was so worth it!

Saraveza is a bottle shop and tavern owned by Sarah Pederson. They had their grand opening last fall, 2008. It’s in a very cute little building off North Killingsworth and they keep their for-sale beers in these great vintage coolers. They’re the kind of coolers that you might open a restaurant around since they are so adorable. The bar has a nice, casual vibe and we tried a couple of their pasties (all good) and a sausage plate (yum!). One of our favorite bartenders from the Green Dragon works here, too, so that was a nice surprise.

Steve’s Cheese is located in the Square Deal Wine Shop on 23rd and Thurman and is run by Steve Jones. He’s a young, very bearded guy who has a clear passion for cheese and cheesemakers. He was able to answer our many, many questions with enthusiasm and point us toward some great Northwest creameries.
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My husband and I joined an amateur bowling league last fall and had a great time with our team. (We are quite amateur, we’re like “Bad News Bears” — that’s us up there on election night at the bowling alley.) Anyway, one of the couples in our team let on that they had a raclette grill and so Thom and I instantly put forth the idea that they should host a raclette night. Thankfully, Marc and Kristen were happy to do that and so, after a long, harrowing bowling season which resulted in a shut-out by our team in the finals (the agony of defeat), we were ready to drown our sorrows with stinky, melted cheese.

* * *

I feel like there’s two kind of people in this world: people that don’t know about raclette and people that love raclette.

As a kid and a military brat, I grew up moving around and living in a lot of different places. When I was very young we lived in Germany and my parents were really great about picking up the local food culture and adopting it as their own. I can only imagine that that is where my mom picked up the raclette habit. As a kid, I wasn’t a big fan of it. As I got older, though, and my tastebuds matured, I started to really enjoy it!

Raclette is a semi-soft, cow’s milk cheese that has a very distinctive odor. The cheese hails from the french-speaking part of Switzerland and is made primarily in the Valais Canton. It is served hot over a selection of vegetables, typically boiled new potatoes, pickled onions and small gherkins or cornichons — little pickles. It can also be served alongside or over bread.

A few years ago, one of Thom’s coworkers was talking about raclette and Thom joined in (having had it at my parents’ house a couple times) and pretty soon the coworker was hosting a raclette night with her raclette grill. If you mention you have a raclette grill, we will force you to feed us stinky cheese!

Anyway, here’s the spread that Kristen and Marc put together for us in their lovely home: sliced raclette (of course) and also sliced gruyere and gouda. The grill is a two part contraption — the top part heats up and you can put veggies and meats there to cook. Kristen marinated some fresh shrimp in olive oil and spices and cooked that on top with sliced red and yellow bell peppers. The shrimp was phenomenal!

For smothering with raclette, they did the traditional boiled potatoes, gherkins and pickled onions. You can buy small white pickled onions in a jar or, if you are feeling special, you can do what Kristen did and pickle your own onions. They were out of this world — sweet and vinegary — and I could have eaten the whole pile just by itself! They also had on hand sliced baguette, marinated mushrooms, green olives and sliced apple. It was, hands-down, the fanciest raclette I have ever seen let alone eaten.

But, what about the cheese? There is a slot underneath the grill top where little paddles sit. You put your cheese on the paddle and slide it back in. Keep an eye on the cheese and when it gets bubbly, take our your paddle and use your handy raclette scraper(!) to push the cheese over the condiments already arranged on your plate. Get your fork out and dig in as it’s best hot.

The flavor of the cheese is mild and the cheese releases a bit of oil as it cooks so it’s quite creamy and blends with the flavors of the other foods. Something about the vinegar both balances the cheese flavor and enhances it. I may be tempted to get my own raclette grill as we had such a good time.

Here we are enjoying some raclette:

If you are interested in trying this and you don’t have to have a raclette grill, it’s no problem! While my mom has a number of wonderful, specialty gadgets in her kitchen, she does not have a raclette grill and she has made it for our family for years. She uses an oven-proof plate — a shallow dish or a cast iron skillet — slices up the raclette thinly and puts it in a 450 oven until bubbly. Then the hot dish is carefully set in the center of the table and everyone cuts a slice and uses a spatula to slide the hot cheese over their condiments already on their plates. Delicious!

* * *

Finally, in preparation for the event, Marc sent out a few emails about what raclette is and how it is served. He came across this amazing video which shows raclette being prepared in a way I’ve never seen before but I’m very excited to try someday. Thom and I are talking about a Europe trip and this will definitely go on the agenda.

If you haven’t quite got your mind wrapped around this, read this charming writeup from The Amateur Gormet where the author gets schooled on raclette by his young, Swiss nephew — lots of great raclette photos.

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Book Review: Making Your Own Cheese and Yogurt

I just had to give up my copy of Max Alth’s Making Your Own Cheese and Yogurt which I got from the library. I had to rush through it over the holiday as there are people lining up get it. Our local library system has a “hold” system and I had to wait weeks for the books I wanted on making cheese and there’s a line up after me. So, I’m overdue with this one because it was really good and I wanted to read as much as I could before I had to get back in line for it.

This book was published in 1977 and has a very entertaining history of cheese in the front section and then very good explanations of the various processes that take place during the making of cheese. There are tables and charts which give you info on nutritional content, butterfat and yields as well as other handy info. I think I will be looking for a vintage copy of this book as it seems like a really great reference book to have on hand. It is out of print and not available from Powell’s or Amazon!

While searching around for a copy I discovered that Max and his wife, Charlotte, created a number of books on DIY household projects including plumbing, masonry and repairing furniture. He also wrote books on maintaining wells and septic systems and collecting old radios and “crystal sets.” Sounds like a very handy and eclectic guy! If you see a copy, pick it up.

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2008 Cheese Year in Review

LaMancha goats have weird eyes!

It was a really great year for making cheese! We started talking about cheese a little over a year ago. I think it was our friend Greg who brought some fromage blanc to our 2007 Thanksgiving dinner. That got us talking about cheesemaking and I remember talking to Nicole in particular about how fun it would be to make our own. She was interested and Sarah was interested. Nicole got the Ricki Carroll book and the mozzarella kit for Christmas and that’s where it started.

Nicole hosted the first cheesemaking day for us and our friends (a truly amazing and diverse group of women) and we made mozzarella and it was pretty darn good. We drank wine and noshed on various goodies and ate the whole thing. We also talked about starting a blog to keep a record of our cheesemaking adventures and misadventures.

I hosted the next event which was dubbed the Weekend of Whey. We did five batches of mozzarella and made ricotta from the whey and also whey bread and whey drinks which, I still contend, are fine and delicious! I recommend a tablespoon of simple syrup, crushed mint, served over ice.

We went out and visited a goat farm and got our first gallons of goat milk. With the two gallons of goat milk we made chevre (I can’t wait to make it again), goat fromage blanc, “french style” goat cheese (little pucks of chevre), goat milk gelato and Sarah took the last pint of it and used it in a chevre ice-cream recipe from “The Perfect Scoop,” David Lebovitz’ inventive ice-cream recipe book. To sum up: you can make a lot of wonderful things with two gallons of goat milk! 

We also paired a few goat cheeses with different beers for a tasting which I think went over very well and I’m eager to do that again. If you haven’t figured it out we’re very closely associated with the guys who run and write for the BS Brewing Blog which is over there on the sidebar always so I think we’ll be seeing some more collaboration with them in the future. Does anyone want to start GD Wines and be our friend?

Our last big project was doing a farmhouse cheddar, our first hard cheese. We made a cheese press and got all the necessary ingredients together and aged it for a month. It was quite a production but unfortunately it just didn’t turn out right. That was a little bit of a bummer but we learned so much from the process.

We also were inspired by the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project to try our hand at butter which was a lot of fun and very satisfying. It’s great to have something so simple and easy to make on hand and people are almost as impressed with homemade butter as they are with homemade cheese!

We lost a little steam after the cheddar incident and with the holidays quickly upon us… that was it for 2008. I’m calling 2009 my cheese year and I’ve already started making plans for what I want to learn and do in the new year. It’s going to be yummy!

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