Something Special from the Farm

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Farm Table signBack in the old days when my parents “decided” I would spend a summer milking cows with my older brother near Amery, Wisconsin, the only place to eat was the “C Store” as we liked to call it. In fact, it was a gas store where we would fill up on gas and pizza before heading back to the barn. Over the years whenever I was travelling back to see my brother, our go to place was the “C store” for a slice.

Well I’m pleased to say there’s a new game in town and I’m turning in the day-old pizza for fresh, locally grown cuisine at the Farm Table Restaurant in Amery, Wisconsin.

A short drive from Minneapolis and an even shorter drive from my brother’s, the restaurant has simple but beautiful dishes to savor.

Farm Table CupcakeThe show stopper for us was the cupcake selection in the bakery case; chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting a mile high sat next to delightful blood orange cupcakes. We ordered one of each to start things off (dessert first is a motto we live by). Pastry chef Elsah whips up with fantastic treats from secret family recipes, while her husband Robert cooks up kale salads and “Farmer Bowls” made from whatever is fresh that day.

Everything here is made from scratch including stocks, mustard, mayonnaise, and even ketchup. It must be a dream for the local farmers to have such a delicious outlet for their wares. I know I would love a place nearby to deliver vegetables and eggs from our garden, not to mention chicken—and have somebody else cook them for a change.

Farm Table PlateThe best part was running into our friend and local farmer, Sylvia Burgos Toftness, whose grass fed beef is found on the menu.

Whether you live in the area or are looking for a nice drive, plan on visiting Farm Table Restaurant. And if you can drop off some cupcakes for my brother, he’ll be out in the barn (I’m sure he’s tired of eating at the “C Store”).

Learn more about Farm Table Restaurant:
ameryfarmtable.com
110 Keller Ave
Amery, WI 54001
715-268-4500

Cento PlateJust before I left for a recent trip to France I found myself alone and hungry in Madison. Having heard about a new Italian fine dining restaurant and wanting to pitch the idea of them having our cheese on their menu, I wandered into Cento.

I actually love dining alone, you never have to share and there’s no one there to judge you for having a second glass of wine (or third)! I decided to order a smorgasbord of dishes starting with simple olives (which went great with my martini), the olives were marinated in an olive oil from Italy infused with orange peel, garlic, rosemary, thyme and a hint of chili.

I then went on to taste burrata cheese and olio verde on rustic bread, basically a fancy term for the best open-face grilled cheese you’re ever going to find.

Cento Ice CreamAs I dove head first into my lamb entrée, Chef Micheal Pruett joined me at my table. He treated me to delicious chocolaty desserts. We ended up talking for an hour about our shared passion of local food and the problems our farmers face, I tell you one more glass of wine and I think we would have had all the issues resolved.

Then I went on my merry way into the cold Wisconsin evening to walk a few laps around the Capital to work off dinner.

After returning from France I realized that one doesn’t need to cross the Atlantic to find great food, just head down to Madison and see what Michael’s cooking up at Cento … and maybe you’ll even find some of our cheese on their menu!

For me the New Year doesn’t start when the ball drops at midnight in Times Square. It begins somewhere around the second or third week in March, when mud takes the place of snow, the robins return, and the cows begin to calve.

Joe and I have what is referred to as a seasonal dairy, meaning we try to get all the cows pregnant at the same time, so we can dry them up at the same time, so we can take two months off while the cows are dry, and so on and so forth.

Getting all the cows pregnant at once is about as realistic as me sticking to my new year’s resolutions. What usually happens is I get two or three cows calving the second or third week in March and the rest a month later. The three cows that are “fresh” (as we call it on the dairy farm), will not produce enough milk to have the milk truck stop every other day for a pick up—so that means until I have more cows freshen, I am stuck with about a hundred and eighty pounds of milk every day. What’s the saying? When life hands you lemons make lemonade? Well, when life hands you a hundred and eighty pounds of milk you make yogurt, fresh mozzarella, pancakes, milkshakes, butter, and you start eating cereal three times a day.

Well, it seems like home cheese making is all the rage, so I decided to try my hand at making whole milk ricotta, and the results were/are delicious.

Fresh Ricotta Cheese
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Ingredients
  1. 1 Gallon of milk
  2. 2/3 Cup fresh squeezed lemon juice or distilled vinegar (vinegar seemed to give the best yield)
  3. Salt to taste
  4. Cheesecloth
  5. Colander
  6. Thermometer
Instructions
  1. Slowly heat milk to 180-185 degrees in a heavy bottom pot, stirring constantly as you increase the heat.
  2. When the milk has reached 180-185 degrees, remove the pot from the heat and gently stir in the lemon juice or vinegar. The milk will begin to coagulate immediately.
  3. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, then pour slowly into a colander lined with cheesecloth.
  4. Let ricotta drain for as little as 15 minutes or as long as an hour—depending on the consistency you desire. The longer the ricotta drains, the drier it will be.
  5. Season the ricotta to taste with sea salt.
Notes
  1. Ricotta lends itself nicely to flavors like almonds, berries, honey, cinnamon, lemon, herbs, nutmeg, orange, garlic, and chives.
  2. Mix a bit of honey and lemon zest with fresh ricotta and serve on a toasted bread.
  3. You can also season the ricotta with a few teaspoons of herbs and fresh cracked pepper and drizzle with olive oil.
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“There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.” – Painting “In a Park” and quote by Edouard Manet

We’ve organized farming around a grid of lines. The Land Ordinance of 1785 gave us a grid – this was an effective means to sell and organize large unseen tracts of farmland.* But how might it be different if we were to begin to look at other unseen systems that actually exist in nature? A couple of Wisconsin farmers we’ve met have concerned themselves with the unseen. They embrace soil protection, soil building, and climate resilience—all while producing delicious food.

To develop one inch of topsoil in nature, it can take approximately 100 years.  It’s interesting and even counter intuitive, but farming can improve on this timescale. Helen Kees of Wheatfield Hill Organics near Durand, Wis. is passionate to the point of tears about soil.  The process of soil creation is gradual, but deliberate. “It’s about the livestock under the ground,” she says, amplified by farming practices used through many generations on their land. Their farm uses intensive soil protection practices such as strip crop planting, rotation, and water retention techniques. The soil building includes macro- and micro-nutirent applications and rotational grazing. They do not grow crops that do not prefer their dominant soil type (sandy loam loves melons), nor do they farm on the steep terrain, which defines so much of Durand. (In the photo above, we see Inga and Helen walking the Wheatfield Hill pastures.)

Beyond the soil, it’s clear that at Wheatfield they don’t see the imaginary line of where their property begins and ends. Wheatfield Hill Organics isn’t made of large tracts of clear-cut forest land. Instead, much of their open farmland resembles pockets within a matrix of specific forest types: floodplain, upland, and savanna.

Above: a view of the contoured fields at Wheatfield Hill Organics.

Unseen climate adaptation

Erin and her partner Rob of Hilltop Community Farm include Wisconsin grown fruit as part of their CSA, in addition to supplying Quince and Apple—a Madison company producing commercial jams and jellies. At Hilltop, they are exploring resilience through agroforestry. Their farm experienced a cold in 2009, flooding in 2010, and a drought in 2011. So they know their  ideal forest garden would perform like “elastic cartilage,” meaning they aim to grow a landscape that needs little input but can store a lot of energy to absorb and adapt to changes.

Where are their fruits from? From Siberia to Arkansas including “currants, hardy kiwi and other unusual fruits, with potential varieties like saskatoon, elderberry and honeyberry.” (Check out their hardy kiwi tree in the photo – yes, growing in Wisconsin!)  Many of these fruit varieties are in “guilds.” The guilds are small pods with different varieties mixed together; varieties are used to “wick up” moisture and fix nutrients. At Hilltop it’s as if they are asking “what kind of agency can our guilds have?” Hilltop Farm hosts an event every year called “Currant Events” to invite other Midwestern fruit growers to help “shape the story” and generally have a good time doing it.

*To be clear, I’m of two minds when it comes to the imaginary lines of the Jeffersonian grid – I’m not an organizational luddite, but I understand ecology is best when viewed as more than a commodity. I believe we’ve seen good (large scale efficiency in food production) and bad (monoculture leading to the 1930’s dust bowl disaster).

This recipe originally came from the Joy of Cooking. I fell in love with it years ago when I started growing Swiss Chard. It can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Experiment with adding different Wisconsin Cheeses.

Preheat oven to 425

To prepare the pastry, whisk together in a medium bowl:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt

Stir in with a fork until blended:
1/2 Cup Sunflower Oil
1/3 Cup Milk

The pastry will be very crumbly and difficult to roll out. Press it evenly into an 11 inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Make sure to press pastry up the sides of the tart pan. Prick the bottom of the tart pan all over with a fork so that bubbles do not form. Bake the tart shell for 10 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, cook in a large skillet over medium-low heat until well softened, stirring occasionally, 10-15 minutes:
2 Tablespoons Sunflower Oil
1 Small red onion, finely diced

Increase the heat to medium and cook until tender:
3/4 Pound Swiss Chard, leaves chopped ( you can also use the stems, just finely chop them and sauté them with the onions)
2 Cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

Combine in a large bowl:
3 large eggs
1/3 cup cream
1 cup grated hard cheese, such as Parmesan, plus another 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top of the tart before putting it in the oven

Add the chard mixture, then scrape the mixture into the prepared tart shell. Sprinkle more cheese on top and add 1/4 cup crushed pistachios (optional). Reduce the oven temperature to 375 and bake until filling is firm, 25 to 35 minutes.

Pickled Beets on Deviled Eggs

It’s almost dinner time. I sit in the kitchen on a fold out step ladder that looks like it has been in my family for generations, although in reality it’s probably only as old as me. My Grandmother uses it to reach for things stuck way up high in her pantry.  One of my hands cupping my six year old face, elbow on my knee, while the other is scratching dried bits of seven minute frosting off the step that I sit on.

I watch my Grandmother, her back to me, apron stings tied around her plump waist and forming a messy bow in the back. Her short blond hair is rolled up tight in rollers except for the delicate pieces on either side of her face, they are looped then fastened with a bobby pin. She has a small roast in the oven and the creamed corn that we froze last summer is thawing out on the counter in a Zip Lock bag.

Grandma is at the old farmhouse sink peeling potatoes, always mashed up russet potatoes with a roast, and next to the roast in a small tin, I spy pickled beets. I don’t remember my Grandmother ever pickling her own beets, although we put up almost everything from the garden, green beans, corn, raspberries. We always butchered our own animals, beef and pork, never chicken though (Grandma was always partial to her fowl, even going as far as to taxidermy a few of her favorite roosters and place them on the stairs as decoration). I wonder why we never pickled beets?

I never liked those pickled beets, in fact, I never really liked beets at all until I started growing them in my own garden. That’s when I fell in love with the intensely earthy and sweet taste. There is something about roasting, then peeling homegrown beets. Your fingers get stained red, but it’s OK – job well done.

I now enjoy beets most any way, but I really love homegrown quick pickled beets, so much nicer than the tinned beets found often on my grandmother’s dinner table.


Homegrown Quick Pickled Beets

2lbs beets, greens removed
1 Cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 Cup Sugar
1/2 Teaspoon pepper corns
1/2 Teaspoon salt
5 Whole cloves
1/2 Teaspoon red pepper flakes

Boil or roast the beets until they can be pierced with a fork. Peel beets. Slice thinly or dice into medium sized pieces.

Bring the rest of the ingredients to a boil. Gently simmer until sugar is dissolved. Turn off heat, cover and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Strain, then add the liquid to the beets, let sit for at least a 1/2 hour before enjoying.

“He who likes Cherries soon learns to climb.”
                                                –German Proverb

It was the end of the growing season, and I was wandering through what was left over at our local nursery. As I walked past the under-watered annuals and the leggy tomato plants, I found a little cherry tree that I just had to have.

Four or five years ago, the cherry tree only reached up to my elbows. Today, after a few applications of composted cow manure, and lots of water, the tree stands, magnificent, well over head.

There are a few problems you might run into if you don’t give any real thought to how big a tree will grow before you plant it.

One, if you plant a little tiny bargain bin tree directly in front of your front porch, there is a really good chance its going to grow like crazy and block all view of what’s happening in your driveway. This may cause you to walk out past the once little tree in your nightgown and barn boots to see what your dog is barking at, thinking that the cows may be standing in the front yard, only to find out a salesmen has just arrived.

And number two, one day that cute little cherry tree will grow too big for you to simply stand on the solid ground below to harvest its goods. This is only a problem if, like me, you have no idea where the magic spot is that you put your ladder the last time you used it—when you were thinking to yourself, “This is a really ingenious place to put my ladder.”

That’s how I found myself in the bucket of my skid steer, bowl in hand determined to get every last one of those cherries down from my little cherry tree.

As soon as I was safely back on solid ground, I pitted the cherries with a pickle fork (I think my cherry pitter must be sitting next to my ladder), and cooked them down with a bit of sugar making a delightful cherry syrup. Since it was Friday night, our night to have “Cocktails with the Cows”, I turned the cherry syrup into a base for a wonderful cocktail (see below).

At the end of milking, when the last of our cocktails were drunk, my husband turned to me and said “You know, we should plant more cherry trees”.

Not until we find the ladder…

Sharing cocktails in the barn with new hired hand Craig.


The Cherry Cow

3/4 Pound pitted sour cherries
1/2 Cup sugar
Gin
Ice
Soda water

Heat the cherries in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve. Smash the cherries a bit during the cooking process to release some of their juices. When the sugar has dissolved, set the cherry mixture to the side to cool.

Fill a tall glass with ice cubes, add a heaping spoonful of the cherry mixture to the glass.

Now add 2 ounces of gin and top it off with club soda. Stir to combine.

Today after milking we drove down to La Valle, Wisconsin to see what was happening at Hilltop Farm where owners Erin and Rob (above) are doing some pretty unique farming. They met us at the end of the winding driveway, in front of the old 1930’s farm house, decked out with a new tomato-red roof and beautiful patina.

The air smelled of lilacs as we began the tour of the farm. First stop was one of the gardens that grows produce for their 11 member CSA. We stood there for a while getting to know each other and swapping stories about predators and live traps. Talk comes easily amongst fellow farmers. Rob showed us this ingenious way to keep deer out of the garden. He hooked up electric fence around the perimeter then made a little metal basket out of some wire that he fills with peanut butter. The deer come to lick the peanut butter off the wire and get a solid shock from the fence. Erin calls it tough love.

We walked over to the old corn crib where hardy kiwi grows in abundance up the side and into the trees. It never occurred to me that kiwi could grow in harsh Midwest conditions. After the kiwi, we stepped into a field full of diversity—there was comfry growing, a quince tree, chives, and goumi to fix nitrogen in the soil—it was amazing! I was inspired to get home and add more diversity to our hedgerow.

Erin and Rob invited us into the beautiful old farm house for a glass of nettle tonic, a delicious rhubarb bread, green garlic and mint. We sat and visited for a while, talked about fruit, playing music, and life on the farm. We are excited to visit again this July for their “Current Events” event, and to learn more about forest gardening.

Rob and Erin sell a variety of fruits right of their farm by the pint or the pound. They also have drop off areas in Madison. Also, look for their pears in Quince & Apple jams.

I am not kidding, it’s time to start chitting

We’ve been chitting for years now. I learned it from my father, who learned it from his father who, well you get the idea. It’s the first garden related activity that we do each spring. As soon as our seed potatoes arrive, we carefully take them out of the box and lay them gingerly in a sunny window to start chitting. Chitting is the name for the process that encourages tubers or the “eyes” of the potatoes to start growing. The benefit of chitting is that you will have a stronger more abundant crop that you can harvest sooner.

It’s important to chit your potatoes in sunshine so that the tubers will become strong. You know when you leave potatoes too long in the back of the pantry and they grow those long white tubers, well you don’t want the long white tubers, they are weak and won’t get you anywhere, so find a nice spot in a sunny window.

A good rule of thumb is to start chitting about three to four weeks before you intend on planting your potato crop. I find it uplifting and encouraging to see the potatoes sprouting while there is still heaps of snow covering the ground and you might too.

Happy chitting.

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20130317-082317.jpg On Sundays my grandmother would always make a big lunch. Sometimes a roast but mostly20130317-082143.jpg fried chicken. My brothers and I would stay over on Sunday nights and the next morning my uncle would cram me, my two older brothers, our grandfather, a pomeranian and a rat terrier in his little red and white Ford Ranger, and we’d set off for morning chores.

The most memorable part of Monday mornings was not the journey home, but the breakfast grandma would make us before we left. You see, she used her cast iron skillet for everything, but mostly for frying chicken and cooking pancakes and she never cleaned the pan in between, just wiped it out every now and again with a paper towel and it was good to go. As a result Monday morning pancakes where speckled with Sunday afternoon fried chicken bits, but we smiled and ate ever last piece anyway because those where the days that kids ate what was set out on the table regardless of having fried bits of chicken or not.

I was thinking of those pancakes this morning. It was a particularly cold March day and one of the heifers was having a difficult calving. I was underdressed and overtired, but there was no going back to bed. I pulled some twine off a bale of hay, made a loop and pulled the calf. The cow was up right away licking off her calf. I made my way back inside and knew the only thing that could warm me up and fill me up were buckwheat pancakes made in a cast iron skillet, chicken bits not included.

Buckwheat Pancakes with Wild Blackberries

I found a buckwheat flour that’s grown in Eau Claire, WI that I absolutely love. It’s from Bee Healthy Foods and I found it at The Coffee Grounds. I used their recipe for pancakes but added wild blackberries that I had frozen last summer as my own touch. Use a bit more milk if you like thinner pancakes.

1 cup Buckwheat Flour20130317-082604.jpg

1 tsp. baking powder

2 Tbsp. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 egg beaten

1 cup milk

2 tbsp. melted butter

3/4 cup frozen blackberries

Preheat griddle to 375. Grease lightly with oil. Mix dry ingredients together; add egg, milk, and butter, beat well after each addition. Fold in blackberries. Pour 1/4 cup batter for each pancake onto the griddle. Cook 1-2 minutes, turning when edges look cooked and bubbles begin to break on surface. Continue to cook 1 minute more or until golden brown.
20130317-082630.jpg

My mom was the kind of mom who bought whole-wheat bread, made macaroni and cheese from scratch, practiced yoga in the living room and substituted honey for sugar in her oatmeal cookies.

I hadn’t thought of my mother’s oatmeal cookies in almost twenty years, until the day one of my favorite cows ‘kicked the bucket’.

I don’t know if it was the grief or maybe I was just lacking in fiber, but somehow I knew the only thing that was going to make me feel better were those oatmeal cookies.

I searched through cookbook after cookbook, each time finding a recipe for oatmeal cookies, but they all had white sugar listed in the ingredients, and none of them called for a grated apple or golden raisins.

But there hidden by a dusty pile of old Gourmet magazines, tucked behind some forgotten thank-you cards, and an old photograph of me in my questionable ‘hair style years’, lay a worn, stained copy of Whole Earth Cook Book.

I knew I had found the right recipe when I flipped through the book and found the oatmeal cookie page full of smudges from butter and honey, and in the upper corner my mother had mindlessly scribbled a note reminding her about a CPR class she was to teach.

I spent the rest of that day making batch after batch of oatmeal cookies. Adding golden raisins to some, and dark chocolate to others. As I stirred, mixed and tasted I felt my mood lift and sadness wane.

I will never get used to losing a cow, I don’t think any farmer does, but as we say at The Mead “It just a part of farming”…… and cookies are good for the soul.

Oh, and Mom, thank you for never letting us eat boxed macaroni

“Doesn’t it feel like we’re in Tuscany?” Sue said from the back seat as we meandered our way up the hill to Sandstone Ridge Vineyard & Winery. We were only minutes away from the farm, yet it seemed like we had crossed an ocean as we looked out over fields of grape vines, and the rolling foothills below us.

My mother, our friend Sue and I arrived at the vineyard ready to explore Wisconsin wine. Andy, our “Tasting Tour Guide” for the afternoon started us off with a semi-dry white table wine called ‘Brianna’ named for the grapes it was made from. It was crisp and delicious, with notes of green apple. Sue and my mother and I being seasoned wine drinkers, (That’s code for we like to throw a few back) tasted our way though almost ten different wines. My two favorites were ‘Frontenac’, a semi-sweet red table wine that goes amazingly well with dark chocolate (Andy had a stash of dark chocolate on hand for us to taste with the wine) and ‘Frontenac Rose’, a bit lighter wine that’s excellent for sipping.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the wine. Most Midwest wines that I’ve tasted have been extremely sweet, which quite frankly doesn’t do it for me. My only regret was not having visited the winery earlier. They are open for tasting Friday through Sunday, May to December. I am so happy that I have such a lovely local winery that we can impress our out of town guests with!

 

Sandstone Ridge Vineyard & Winery
715-984-4020
Osseo, Wisconsin
www.sandstoneridge.com

Keeping chickens through the winter months doesn’t make me all that excited. My hens were getting a little “Long in the tooth” anyway, and since chickens will start to lay fewer eggs when they reach about three years of age, I decided it was time to turn the residents of the coop into a winters’ worth of soup.

Joe has a gift for catching chickens.

There was a time my husband used to take care of all the chicken butchering on our farm, but the chicken heads always seemed to end up in the front yard and I’d step on them at five in the morning on my way to the barn, and it scared the hell out of me. We found that for $1.50 a bird our highly skilled Amish neighbors would take care of the butchering and bagging for us. Off we went.

Joe and I love visiting with our Amish friends, we talk shop and compare farming techniques. On this last visit we discovered that we could grow peanuts here in Wisconsin. Henry (Our Amish friend) says they do rather well in the sandy soils he has at his place. They had ten onion bags full of peanuts air-drying on the front porch. He grabbed a few from the bags for us to try and it was remarkable how much they tasted of peas before they get roasted.

Henry’s wife also had some great advice. She said they love using rendered chicken fat to pop their popcorn. The Amish know how to do snack food! She said it’s easy enough to render, just leave it cooking on the stove all day until it’s done. There was a colander full of chicken fat sitting next to our neatly plucked hens for me to take home. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the mindset to render chicken fat all day and seeing how they loved it so much I said she should just keep it.

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

I’ve been making up large batches of chicken soup to send to work with Joe to eat for lunch. As I was looking through recipes for chicken stock and talking to folks who make their own I found that there are as many recipes for chicken stock as there are people who make it.

Sally Fallon, the author of Nourishing Traditions, says to add a tablespoon of vinegar to the pot to pull out extra minerals from the chicken bones.

I learned a great trick from Martha Stewart, keep a freezer bag handy in the freezer and add onion peels and bits of carrot and celery, when your bags full make stock.

My mother-in-law said to add a dash of Tamari to build the flavor, and my mother always sings ‘Scarborough Fair’ by Simon and Garfunkel when she’s making her chicken stock to remind her to add parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

My advice is to find yourself an old hen that was raised organically, and cook it down all day. As far as a recipe for chicken soup, ask your mother, I find that no one makes better chicken soup than your mother.

I’ve always thought as Washington State as home, I grew up there then left with my family to the East Coast when I was eighteen. I hadn’t wanted to move from the grey skies and mountain views, but I didn’t really have a lot of choice. For the first few years after leaving I thought about returning, as the years past so did the feeling of moving home. I hadn’t been back to Washington in over ten years, this past weekend I returned with my husband and my parents for our friends wedding on Camano Island.

Joe walking through Seattle

We were all pretty excited to eat the local food. We started our dining experience with a stop at my fathers beloved Taco Time, a Washington fast food joint that turned fifty this year. My dad had been going there since his high school days for their bean burritos. This was no typical fast food dining. First of all, the ingredients are sourced locally and all the plates, wrappers, straws, and utensils are compostable, so instead of seeing garbage cans it was all compost bins. What a great idea!

We made it to the Pike Place Market to pick up clams for dinner. We also scored some gigantic mushroom that where harvested from the mountains in Washington State and garlic and dill to go with the clams. Our friends brought Alaskan salmon that their mother had caught on a fishing trip out to the island and we had a magnificent feast.

Joe’s out to lunch!

Our weekend was memorable. I was happy to show my husband where I had been raised and the sun even came out for a bit. I realized something when I was there, I loved growing up in the Pacific Northwest, but my home and my heart are right here in Wisconsin.

“Cheese, made of milk from an animal that feeds on grass, reminds us every day that it is vital to preserve our environment”

Herve Mons, third generation French Affineur

Every three weeks during the aging process of our cheese, Rick our Cheese Maker/Affineur/My Dad, tastes the cheese using a tool called the cheese Trier. The Trier is essentially a metal tube with a handle. The Trier allows us to taste the cheese without having to cut a slice out of the entire wheel. It is first inserted into a block of cheese where it will pull out a plug about a ½ inch in diameter. Then part of the cheese plug is squished between fingers to check the moisture content, sniffed to check for unusual or “Barny” smells and finally tasted to see the progression of the cheese and determine if the aging process is complete. Finally what remains of the plug is reinserted into the cheese where it was taken from.

Above: Cheese Plug

The aging process of cheese is almost as important as the milk it’s made from. Almost fifty percent of the flavor of cheese happens during the aging. There are professional people who age cheese called Affineurs. Some creameries will send their cheeses across the country to be aged by their chosen Affineur. The Affineur is highly skilled and takes great care in developing the cheese by knowing the right humidity and temperature to age the cheese at and, depending on the cheese they may brush, wash, or turn the wheels accordingly. Ok, so Rick may not be a professional Affineur but he’s just as neurotic as one, and in my opinion he’s doing a heck of a job with the aging process.

Above: My Mom rewarding our Cheese maker Rick

Last week we checked our aging cheese, although only fifty days old, the cheese is already developing flavors characteristic to cheddar. Because of the Jersey milk we use, the texture of the cheese is incredibly creamy, and almost tasted of butter. It is important to check the cheese at regular intervals because ultimately we will have up to two years invested in this cheese before it’s sold, and it would be a pity to find out last minute we found that it wasn’t up to our standards. So far so good with the aging process and we hope to have some cheese on the market soon!

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