Friday, September 17, 2010

Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise

We've kidnapped cheesemaker Jeremy Stephenson for the day. At the ACS conference last month Tarentaise, made on Spring Brook Farm won first place in the farmstead cheese category and third place in the all-around Best of Show competition. For your tasting pleasure, we've kidnapped cheesemaker Jeremy Stephenson for the day. Starting at noon today you can stop by the shops, meet Jeremy, taste his cheese, and pepper him with as may questions as you can imagine.

Lake St. from 12-1:30
French Market from 4-5:30
Broadway from 6:30-8

Shockingly, the Tarentaise is our cheese of the week. Tarentaise is a washed rind, semi-hard, raw milk, cooked curd, farmstead cheese. What's farmstead cheese? It means that the cheese is made on the same land where the animals are raised. Having the cows and the cheese at the same location allows the cheesemaker and the herdsperson to work closely together in producing a truly unique and distinctive artisinal cheese.

Nutty, grassy and slightly sweet with a nice buttery mouth feel this cheese is one of two Vermont farms making Tarentaise. Spring Brook Farm isn't just about making delicious cheese, they're also giving back to the community as a part of the Farms for City Kids charity. This program takes city kids and their teachers and gives them an educational week on the farm. The kids learn how to apply their school work to life outside of the classroom and they get a great education in where food comes from. They help take care of the animals, help turn cheese, garden and have a fantastic learning experience in the process. We are very excited and proud to help support this great organization.

Xian suggests the Ommegang Tripel Perfection to sip alongside this fantastic cheese. In it's traditional style, tripels are fruity, malty beers with well-hidden warming alcohol notes. It's kind of conjecture, but the story goes that these beers are called "tripels" because the monks brewing the beer indicated the high alcohol level (8-10%) by marking "XXX" on the jugs.

The makers at Brewery Ommegang in upstate New York took three years to formulate the "perfect" recipe in the style of a traditional tripel, but with a touch of spice here and there to add complexity. the Tripel has notes of vanilla bean, tropical fruit, banana bread and just a hint of bubblegum. This is a one-time-only beer, and they only brewed 2,000 cases total. Although very tasty now, this beer can be aged for two or three years.

This is a great example of a truly harmonious pairing. The cheese serves to emphasize the sweet, yeasty nature of the beer, and the naturally produced bubbles in the beer soften the mouth feel of the cheese, creating a wonderfully buttery flavor and texture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Is a Cheesemonger?

This year during the conference held in Seattle the ACS held their 2nd annual Cheesemonger competition. Cesar, our senior buyer and head fromager and myself-Cristi, the store manager at our French Market location- paired up to represent Pastoral.

The competition is modeled on the internationally recognized Caseus Competition held every other year in France. Some of the other retailers involved came from Whole Foods, Murrays, DeLaurenti and St. James Cheese. There were four areas, critical to the job requirements as cheesemonger on which we were judged: building a cheese case, wrapping, customer service and product presentation.

Building the cheese case was the first event of the day. Each team were given twenty cheeses of differing sizes and formats and two hours in which to build a case. Instead of the open case that we have at each of our stores, we had to work with a closed case. A bit tricky, but we worked hard to not just make the case beautiful, but to keep it close to what you see represented in our stores every day.

Up next was the wrapping challenge. Cesar took the reigns here. He was given five pieces of cheese paper and five cheese of various sizes and shapes. There was a scant 10 minutes on the clock in which to wrap all of the cheeses without using tape of any kind. Wrapping cheese perfectly under the experienced and watchful eyes of David Lockwood of Neal's Yard Dairy wasn't easy, but Cesar did a fantastic job and finished in record time.

Customer service is one of our strengths here at the shops and we brought those skills to Seattle. While Cesar was busy wrapping the cheese I was engaged in an exercise with three of the judges. For 10 minutes I was ask a series of situational questions designed to coax out the kind of responses we would give in a real world situation. While answering questions like "What's the difference between soft and hard cheeses?" and "I'm having a party for five people, what would you recommend I serve?" are easy to answer in the shops, trying to sell cheese to Herve Mons-one of the judges and easily one of the most well respect affineurs in France- was quite unnerving.

Finally came the product presentation. Cesar and I chose to do our 10 minute presentation on Pleasant Ridge Reserve (the eventual winner of Best of Show) from Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, WI. For us picking that seasonally-made, farmstead cheese was the obvious choice. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a prime example of what we at Pastoral strive to represent: small handmade batches of cheese made in a traditional manner by cheesemakers who are not just extraordinary craftsmen, but excellent stewards of their land and their herd.

In the end the fantastic team from DeLaurenti's in Seattle won the competition. We did walk away having learned something, and with a reaffirmation of why we do the things we do, and the way we do them. We are very proud of the work that we did and look forward to the competition next year. Montreal, here we come!

This part of the competition was at 7am. We look perky and focused though don't we?