Friday, August 31, 2007

Matt Corbett, Executive Chef at Punch/ Wined Up, Recommends:

Re-Discovering the Flavors of Spain

When discussing the topic of Spanish cuisine in today’s world, it is almost essential to divide it in to two categories: traditional and progressive. Most anyone in the food world will agree that some of the most progressive and forward thinking cuisine is emerging from this country from names like Adria, Arzak and Andres. However, forward thinking needs to be rooted on a strongfoundation of flavors and textures and traditions.

This simple, tapas inspired dish is one of bold flavor, contrasting texture and brilliant color. It combines a few of the most essential ingredients in the Spanish pantry. It will accommodate 4 guests a starter course or you slice the cheese thinner and serve it family style as a platter.

6 ounces Manchego

4 pieces of Piquillo peppers, seeds removed, cut in to thin strips

4 ounces of Membrillo (Spanish quince paste)

2 ounces of Marcona almonds

2T dry Sherry, such as Manzanilla

3T Extra Virgin Spanish olive oil

pinch high quality sea salt (optional)

Allow the Manchego to stand at room temperature for 20 minutes prior to serving. Slice the cheese in to 4 equal parts and place on an appetizer size plate. Divide the Piquillo peppers, Membrillo and Marconas in to 4 equal parts as well and arrange on the plate so as not to touch any of the other ingredients. Finally, spoon the Sherry and Olive Oil over the top of the cheese and serve immediately. For an extra dimension of flavor and texture, sprinkle a high quality sea salt on the cheese after it has been arranged on the plate. Sample the condiments individually and in pairs to determine which best suits your palate.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Have you seen this cow?


you remember the calf on the roof of the car?

felicitas, tasio & I stopped off at cornell to have a
look at the campus as I'm sure you & nina do often
with young julian and, in the midst of thousands of kids
(& their parents) returning to school for fall semester
we got pulled over by the cornell university campus police
somewhere around the school for agriculture & sciences
only to be questioned about the 'cow on the roof of the car...'

fortunately, we'd already been quizzed while at the head
of the gorge at watkins glen state parkby a state policeman,
who said,
what's with the cow...

and, once I explained about murray's cheese
& being a food-making dairy farmer
it suddenly got unbelievably complicated...

until tasio walked up & told the state trooper:
we're taking the cow to the farmer's market
to let kids ride on it...

it turns out, a couple years ago some kids stole the cow
and her calf off the roof of the cornell creamery
where they make & sell the ice cream
and then, after some deep time & mystery,
the cow was discovered early one morning,
grazing the infield at the big red ball field...
yet her calf, to this day, has never been seen
( I think the cow might even have been stolen twice)

sergeant scott r. grantz of the cornell university police
explained, with genuine apology, when I handed him my card
(with a picture of a cow on it) that it would have been
a dereliction of duty for him to not have pulled us over,
seeing as they still had that cold case case concerning
the calf lost @ the cornell creamery

I immediately offered to donate the animal
on the roof of our automobile while explaining that
he was a 'blue & white' bull calf of about 8 or 9 months
which would never be seen at the side of a lactating holstein
and sergeant grantz seemed to appreciate both the offer
& the animal insight

but I was thinking
maybe murray's ought to get a new calf for that cow
@ the cornell creamery
the problem is: the fiberglass holstein calf
in my farm catalogue
is something like $1,800...
which is absolutely crazy

(it might be necessary to look deeper into this subject)


Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Affineur Zoe Discovers Synchronicity at ACS

Summer Camp for Caseophiles - or - My First Trip to ACS

Imagine hundreds of us, fidgeting in the summer heat, loitering around outside the convention center. We’ve been camped out here all weekend, and as the moment draws nearer to the main event our anticipation is palpable. Finally, the doors swing open and we scramble through, cherished tickets preceding us.

This isn’t about the Police concert last weekend – though the crowd’s demographic is much the same. No, in this case we are the moths and the American Cheese Society’s Annual Conference and Grand Festival of Cheeses is our lantern in the night.

Twelve hundred different cheeses, all crafted in the US of A, artfully displayed and ready for whiffing, sniffing, nibbling and expounding upon. Each table, arranged by category, is endless. Breathtaking. They are draped with fat bunches of grapes, bejeweled with fresh figs and tumbling with the season’s blueberry harvest. Life-like murals of farm life, sculpted from cheese, are the crowning glory. Complimentary beverages circulate and condiments abound. I am in heaven.

And then I want to hurl. I probably eat half a pound before I realize that I should be taking notes so that I can report back to the crew on the latest and greatest in cheese. And I haven’t even gotten to the Cheddars yet. Still, I press on - barely scratching the surface of this bounty. Now and then a cheese hero breaks my concentration (Is that Cindy Major of Vermont Shepherd fame?!?) and I am forced to taste that last one again. The rush of cholesterol actually makes me dizzy. The rest is a blur.

This was by far the most satiating part of the weekend’s activities: I won’t be able to eat more cheese for at least a day or two. The lectures on dairy science and HAACP plans, though, I just can’t get enough of. Seriously. The experts leading these seminars are as well versed in all things cheese as anyone in the world. And they’re telling me everything they know.

Cheese retailers, cheese makers, cheese mongers, enthusiasts, distributors, legends, Canadians – everyone is there, mixing it up, making deals and trading secrets. And now I’m a part of it. A rookie for sure, but at least I’m on the team. It makes me want to keep practicing; improving my stats and developing more sports metaphors to explain the mystery of affinage to anyone who will listen.

For those of you who couldn’t make it - keep an eye out for this year’s winners. (My nod goes to the wildcard champ ‘Barely Buzzed’ a coffee and lavender coated revelation) In fact, buy all of them at once and eat them as fast as you can for a little taste of what you missed this year.

And here’s my message in a bottle to ACS – I can’t stand losing you. I’ll be watching you in the Windy City 2008 – warning rival tasters, “don’t stand so close to me,” with a new game plan for victory so I don’t have to turn on the red light again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Requiem for the Small Family Dairy Farm

by Tom Lyson, CFAP

Does a rural development policy that over the next fifteen years puts out of
business more than 6,000 family run enterprises and replaces them with100
large consolidated operations really make sense? It is time for everyone
concerned about the future economic and social vitality and viability of rural
New York to seriously address this issue.

This policy sets the stage for the collapse of small farm dairying in New York.
Areport published last summer by Cornell’s Program on Agricultural and
Small Business Finance, “Future Structure of the Dairy Industry,” shows
that the number of smaller dairy farms in New York, those with under 200
cows, are projected to decrease from about 7,300 today to only about
1,100 by 2020. The decreased milk production caused by the projected
disappearance of the 6,000 dairies will be compensated by the increased
production of a small handful of very large dairy farms. These large
consolidated farms (averaging about 1,400 cows) are projected to increase
in number from 120 today to 213 by 2020. About two-thirds of New York’s
milk will be produced by these 213 farms.

As long as the price of milk remains low, small dairies are forced to either
get big or get out, and agricultural lenders seem increasingly reluctant to
make operating loans to small producers. In the world of conventional farm
finance, bigger is better, less risky and more profitable. As the number of
small operators dwindles, their cows and sometimes their land are being
merged into large consolidated operations.

Economists like to talk about efficiencies and economies of scale associated
with large enterprises, but whether large dairies can thrive without the
current system of agricultural subsidies is an open question. Clearly,
federal agricultural subsidies now favor large operators. In Wyoming
and Cayuga County, the two New York counties with the most
large dairy operations, tens of millions of dollars have flowed to the
biggest dairy producers over the past seven years as crop subsidies
and waste management assistance.

For example, most of the large dairies in New York are classified by
the government as CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations).
In the dairy industry, CAFOs are farms with 700 or more cows.
To deal with nutrient management on these farms (i.e., waste disposal),
the federal government is earmarking billions of dollars in outright
grants. Under the EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program)
provision of the 2002 Farm Bill, large dairies are eligible for up to
$450,000 each to relieve the financial stress associated with
complying with the new environmental regulations.

The seemingly endless low prices dairy farmers receive for their
product, the tightening credit market, and a system of subsidies
that favor the largest producers have led to a Wal-Mart-like
agricultural development policy. The shortcomings of Wal-Mart
are well known. When Wal-Mart comes to town, Main Street businesses
typically suffer. With their increased production, the largest dairy
farmers in the stateare putting tremendous pressure on the
smaller producers. If the predicted consolidation of the dairy industry
takes place, by 2020 the mantra of the New York milk industry
is likely to be a Wal-Mart-like “Low Milk Prices Everyday.”

Some of the 6,000 dairy farmers who leave the business may find
other jobopportunities in agriculture, most likely as wage laborers.
But it is our experience that most dairy farmers simply retire or,
if they are lucky, find employment in other fields, often out of state.
The situation is grim not only for the smaller dairy farmers
and their families, but for the small businesses that provide
the infrastructure and support for family dairy farming.

When family dairy farms disappear, so too will these businesses.
The NYS Department of Agriculture and Markets, the Farm Bureau,
University and the rest of the agricultural community have
yet to address the issue of what rural New York will look like in 2020
after the 200 Wal-Mart-like dairies displace the 6,000 family
operations. We owe it to the small dairy farmers, the businesses
they support, and the rural communities of the state to start that
conversation immediately.

Thomas Lyson is a Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Rural Sociology at Cornell
University and the Director of the Community, Food, and Agriculture Program.

He can be reached at 607-255-1684, or by visiting

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Raw Milk in the News

The New York Times Dining section explores clandestine milk clubs.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Liz's Cheese Tour, Ithaca New York, Part 1

With so many guidebooks available, I’m setting out to tell the broader story of real American cheese, and I’ve got until June, 2008 to do it. Ever wonder why there are practically no producers of sheep milk cheese? Or why Vermont seems to suck in young entrepreneurial types like moths to the flame? Or why formerly desert landscapes in California have become the home of (traditionally) grass-eating cows? I do.

I love the cheese; it’s what brought me to Murray’s more than 5 years ago. But the longer I do this the more I’ve started to wonder why and how we’ve gotten to our present landscape in American cheese (and American food in general). The teeny-tiny obscure-o producers are fascinating and fun to find, but there is an entire of larger producers that support whole local dairy economies through their purchases of fluid milk that go to foundational, but less sexy cheeses, like Cheddar, Jack and Colby.

Part of writing my book is traveling to various areas and talking to producers: the big, the small and the renegade. Last weekend I was in upstate New York, zooming around the greater Ithaca area to visit a goat cheese producer (Lively Run), a sheep cheese producer (North Land Sheep Co.), and two cow folk: Finger Lakes Farmstead Cheese Company and Sunset View Creamery.

I began at Susanne Messmer’s place outside of Trumansburg. Lively Run began in 1982 in Interlaken, and is one of the oldest goat cheese producers in the country. Clue number one right there. One of the oldest in the country, and it only dates to 1982. That’s a key theme, I’m finding. The American renaissance of handmade, small production cheese is fuelled by the small goat dairies that began popping up in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The culprit? Women looking to make yogurt and milk for their small children. Mainly this was women in northern California, but not always.

The land this way is beautiful, more like Maine that the Catskills I associate with “upstate” New York. It was one of those blowy days with liquid blue sky and huge, fat gray clouds rolling wavelike across the sky. Susanne’s house and barn are surrounded by flat fields of corn and stubby patches of sun-bleached wheat. Everything was bright and almost too clear to look at it, cold, clear, rattling wind. When Susanne came out of the make room her hands were sticky and damp from cheesemaking.

I was killing time while she talked to a couple from Pittsburgh, swinging through to buy some fresh chevre, and noticed four ducks with their beaks tucked under wing. It was a little offputting: they had that broken-necked look of peking ducks in Chinatown. When I wandered over and they sat up I realized I wasn’t looking some morbid lawn ornament.

Susanne and her husband Steve have bought Lively Run from the original owners, a couple named Feldman, who moved to Africa in 1995. After a 6 week crash course they began making cheese and moved Lively Run from Interlaken to its present location. In a barn built for cows, they’ve got 55 milking goats, a combination of Alpine (the mischievous ones), Nubian (the floppy-eared sweet ones) and Saanen (the generic white, bearded ones).

One of the things I’m trying to understand is: what’s wrong with New York State (in terms of cheese, I mean). Meaning…New York is the third largest milk producer in the United States. Factory cheesemaking (at its inception, in the mid 19th century), an extremely efficient and progressive thing, was invented in Herkimer and Oneida counties. There is a long, strong, and well established history of dairying in New York. Considering our size, though, there aren’t very many artisan cheesemakers. Why? And why when dairy farms are closing right and left, unable to stay in business on fluid milk production alone, are they not turning to cheesemaking to make a value-added product?

Susanne has a few thoughts. The first is actually the thought she gave me. Susanne’s German, and moved here when the Wall came down and her husband no longer needed to be in his military post. They were very committed to creating a program through which refugees could come to the U.S., learn skills and make a viable life here. This was their vision. The farm was very specifically chosen as part of this plan. Very rarely does a cheesemaker say they just fell into the business. I think it’s simply too much work to be accidental. Most of the time, people tell me that farms, or animals, or cheese was in their blood. More than a few times people have told me that they just can’t be still, they need a job that’s physical, and farming/cheesemaking fits that. Nota bene 1: you’ve got to really want to do it.

Back to Susanne, and New York. She was quick to point out that New York is a hard place to be a cheesemaker. In fact, I believe she said, “If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do it in New York.” The 2nd highest tax rate in the country is a big part of that, but so are stricter regulations and government involvement. Over the weekend I started to see that New York’s well-established history as a milk and cheese producer on a larger scale, makes it increasingly complicated and cumbersome to operate on a smaller scale.

Add to that tradition a sizeable population of dairy farmers. And herein lies Nota bene 2: dairy farmer does not equal cheesemaker. The routine of dairying is more about farming than it is about milk. Cheesemaking, meanwhile, if it’s going to be good and successful, has to be about cheese, first and foremost. It’s got to be about gathering and holding milk to craft a product. It’s about marketing and selling that product. It’s about understanding the market enough to make a product people want, and these are all skills that many farmers couldn’t care less about. They’re happy being farmers. It’s what they like, it’s what they’re good at. Just because they have cows that produce milk doesn’t make them cheesemakers. Nota bene 3: milk does not equal cheese.

Lest you think that I took the word of a goat-milking lady with an interest in agro-tourism, I’ll have you know that I spent an afternoon with a 4th generation dairy farmer who said many of the same things, though his story includes a wife that was hellbent on expanding their business, and so there is now cheese. But that’s Sunset View Creamery, a story for another day.