Monday, March 15, 2010

Good Milk Makes Good Cheese

Twelve dedicated students and one administrator made the two hour journey through driving rain, wind, and potholes to visit Sprout Creek Farm near Poughkeepsie, New York, last Saturday.

The farm's primary purpose is to promote responsible stewardship of land and animals through educational farming programs, and they just happen to also make really delicious cheese while they are at it.

We were met by cheesemaker Colin McGrath, who took us into the creamery for a tour and tasting of the cheeses. Sprout Creek is an artisanal operation with only two full-time cheesemakers, yet they produce an impressive amount of cheese—about 12 different kinds made from cow and goat's milk equaling about 40,000 pounds of cheese a year. All of the cow's milk cheeses are made with raw milk, which contains enzymes that naturally protect the cheeses from harmful bacterias and molds while they age.

We learned that over 100 gallons of cow's milk is needed to produce just one 12-pound wheel of cheese and that different cheeses are made by adjusting the amount of moisture and acidity, controlling the amount of lactose, and introducing various strains of bacteria and mold as needed to complete the fermentation process. Yes, cheese is a fermented product, just like beer or wine, and can continue to age long after it's been brought home from the store. We also learned that the types of grasses, the time of the year, the temperature, the soil content, the amount of people that visit the creamery, and a myriad of other variables can affect the final product.

Some of the cheeses we tasted are as follows:
Barat: a 10- to 16-month dry-aged cow's milk cheese
Batch 35: a 3-month smear ripened cow's milk cheese
Bogart: a 3-month mold-ripened cow's milk cheese
Camus: a 3- to 5-month aged cow's milk blue cheese
Do Re Mi: a pasteurized fresh goat cheese
Madeleine: a 5- to 9-month dry-aged goat cheese similar in taste to pecorino
Eden: a 3-month aged washed-rind cow's milk cheese, which has won an award from the American Cheese Society

In addition to the delicious cheese we tasted, we also got to meet some of the new kids and calves at the farm, and we finished our tour by watching the "working girls" (cows) get an afternoon snack and some affection while getting milked. It was a great way to spend a rainy day!

Pati D'Eliseo is currently enrolled in the Italian Culinary Experience at The Italian Culinary Academy, sister-school to The French Culinary Institute, and will graduate in July 2010. Her favorite restaurant in New York City is Via Emilia, a Modenese restaurant featuring specialties from that city and the region of Emilia-Romagna.

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