I Heart Ewe

B(l)aaah, B(l)aaah, B(l)aaah

The heading is the answer to “what does the sheep say”. Well, it’s ONE of the answers! Another answer is “ try my delicious cheese”! Sheeps milk is one of the Big Three in the cheesemaking world (the others being cow and goat). Indeed, many fine (and well known) cheeses are the product of Ovis Aries, including Pecorino Romano, feta, Roquefort, Manchego. These are readily available in grocery stores, even in the small city in which I live. What IS more difficult to source, though, is fresh sheep’s milk cheese, even in places like my semi-local Whole Foods in Indianapolis.

PetitNuageWithBerry1

Fresh chèvre, the caprine (read: goat) white log of spreadable cheese, seems to have exploded in popularity within the past 10-15 years, going from exotic ingredient to supermarket mainstay. While not as ubiquitous as Slim Jims at a convenience store, fresh goat cheese has become so common that I can find multiple brands in my Muncie grocery stores. And I hardly live in a bastion of gastronomic innovation. But fresh sheep’s milk cheese? Nope.

PetitNuage1

Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage

On a recent food landscape exploration road trip to eastern Iowa and southern Wisconsin, I discovered Landmark Creamery’s Petit Nuage (or rather the wonderful staff at Fromagination helped me discover it). “Nuage” means “cloud” in French, and this little cloud is aptly named. Sold in a four-pack of crottin-sized, 1-oz. (28 g) buttons, Petit Nuage has a crisp, bright flavor underscored with grassiness. It’s mild flavor pairs well with berries and fresh herbs like parsley or chives. As a breakfast treat, I’ve enjoyed it drizzled with a mild honey (such as dandelion); avoid matching this with an assertive honey, which would overwhelm the cheese flavor. The cheese is smooth and spreadable, with a (very) slight granularity that add some real textural interest. I imagine this cheese would work well in salads, slightly warmed, though I’ve not tried that yet. Petit Nuage is a seasonal offering from Landmark, available from February to October.

PetitNuage2

About Landmark Creamery

PetitNuageWithHoney

Landmark Creamery is a relatively new operation, the owners having met each other only in 2009. The two owners (or two Annas) are women, Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates. According to their website, they met at a potluck for a group of women in sustainable agriculture. This serendipitous meeting grew into a cheesemaking operation!

Landmark Creamery also makes a couple of other cheeses, such as Anabasque (an aged sheep milk cheese). Indeed, that particular cheese is on my dinner menu for tonight. I sampled Anabasque at Fromagination and was taken with that offering as well. Sadly, I don’t believe either cheese is available in Indiana yet, so I’ll have to consider a return trip to Wisconsin!

PetitNuageWithBerry2

A Reminder

Don’t forget to bring your cheeses (Petit Nuage or any other cheese) to room temperature before enjoying them. Taking them out about an hour before you plan to serve them should suffice, assuming your house isn’t refrigerator-cold. Serve cheese too cold and you risk suppressing the flavors, losing your ability to taste the complexity of various cheese.

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Cooking Goetta and a Recipe for Goetta Grilled Cheese

Cooking Goetta

As promised, I’ve got some instructions on cooking goetta as well as a recipe in which goetta is the ingredient but not necessarily the star.

The key to cooking goetta is creating a crispy, but not burnt, exterior but without a mushy interior. I confess to being a bit of a neophyte, so you may have some goetta-tastic friends rolling their eyes at my instructions. Probably best to listen to them, not me!

GliersForSandwich

You’ll need to cut up the goetta first into half-inch (1.25 cm) slices. I’m using some Glier’s goetta here.
GoettaSlices
Then you’ll need to heat up your pan. Ideally you’d like to start with a hot, non-stick pan, so a well seasoned cast iron pan would be ideal. I do not have that. Instead, I used a non-stick pan, which I don’t place on a burner while it’s empty. Thus for me, I use some oil (neutral oil, such as grapeseed). There are those who consider adding oil sacrilege, while others have no such qualms. I know this, because I asked Dr. Google (she knows everything). So, I do add oil.

Next, when the pan (with or without oil) is hot, I add the slices o’ goodness. Cook for a bit (say 2-5 minutes) over medium heat until one side is brown and crispy, but not burnt.FryingGoetta Flip and cook the second side; this will take less time (about 2-3 minutes). Remove from heat and start with the next batch (adding a little oil if necessary). Repeat until you’ve cooked as much goetta as you want.

CrispyGoetta

A Recipe for Goetta Grilled Cheese

Goetta is delicious on its own, breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner. But goetta-as-ingredient is, as Martha Stewart would say, a Good Thing. So, I’m adding goetta to a grilled cheese sandwich here. This is delicious and simple. Ingredients are for one sandwich, so double if making two.

What You’ll Need

  • nonstick skillet or seasoned cast iron pan
  • box grater for shredding cheese (or food processor, if you are making multiple sandwiches)
  • knife for spreading butter
  • scale to weigh shredded cheese
  • board for assembling sandwich
  • spatula

Ingredients

  • 2 slices sturdy white sandwich bread, not the overly squishy variety, but some that has a bit of heft; do NOT substitute fancy country loaves—this is not the time to use your finest wood-fired artisan bread!

    THIS kind of bread, not your fancy schmancy loaves with the big, big, big holes.
    THIS kind of bread, not your fancy schmancy loaves with the big, big, big holes.
    Not this bread. NOT THIS BREAD!
    Not this bread. NOT THIS BREAD!
  • 1.5 oz 1 shredded Gruyere or Comte cheese (if unavailable, use a nutty Swiss cheese); this is about 1/3 to ½ cup
  • 0.5 oz shredded smoked Gouda cheese (about 2-3 tablespoons)
  • The Cheeses
    The Cheeses
  • unsalted butter, softened (there’s plenty of salt in the goetta and cheese, so do use unsalted if possible
  • 1-2 slices cooked goetta (2 slices of Glier’s works for me, but you might only need 1 slice from the rectangular Eckerlin’s or Mike’s loaves)
  • How to Make the Goetta Grilled Cheese Sandwich

    1. Read the recipe. Seriously. You don’t want to be half-way through, only to realize that you needed butter. Read through the recipe now.
    2. Assemble your ingredients. This is called mise en place, a French term for putting everything in place. Do this before you begin to cook ANYTHING.
    3. Okay, we are ready now. Butter ONE side of EACH piece of bread.
    4. Flip ONE bread slice over and place about 2/3 of the Gruyere on top of the unbuttered side.
    5. Place the cooked goetta on top of the Gruyere. You may have to chop a piece to fit onto the bread.
    6. Top the goetta with the rest of the Gruyere and add the smoked Gouda on top of it.
    7. The mostly assembled sandwich prior to cooking
      The mostly assembled sandwich prior to cooking
    8. Melt some butter in a nonstick skillet or seasoned cast iron pan over medium-low heat. You don’t want the heat too high, because you don’t want to burn the bread before the cheese melts. .
    9. MeltingButterinPan

    10. After melting the butter, place the sandwich in the pan, pressing down with a spatula.
    11. Cook until the bottom is crispy and golden brown, but not burnt.
    12. Carefully flip the sandwich over and cook until the second side is golden brown.
    13. GoldenBrown

    14. Remove from pan and eat.
    15. Sandwich1

    Sandwich2

    11 ounce/oz = 28.3 grams/g

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The Not-So-Lonesome Prairie: Goats!

Oh, Capricorn

WhiteGoatWithBrown

Perhaps when you think of “goat”, you think of Capricorn, the zodiac sign (Caprinae are the class of animal that includes goats and sheep). Not me. When I hear the word “goat”, I think of cheese, delicious goat cheese. And because of that, and my interest in the culinary geography of the Midwest and Plains, I made a pilgrimage of sorts to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery, a goat creamery just outside of Champaign, Illinois (home of the University of Illinois’ main campus).

About Goat Cheese

Goat milk and goat dairy is preferred in some parts of the world. And that includes goat cheeses, which are typically piquant. Many people are familiar with fresh chèvre, the spreadable goat cheese that vaguely resembles cream cheese. Chèvre is creamy, tangy, sprightly, a delightful minuet on the tongue. But goat milk is employed in many other kinds of cheeses. Bûcheron, for example, is a semi-aged cheese, with an edible white bloomy rind covering a firmer ivory layer which in turn encases a softer white, lemony cheese that is spreadable. There are even firm aged goat cheeses.

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery

On a pitch-perfect summer morning, with clichéd cloud-free sky and low humidities, I navigated the detours on N Lincoln Ave to make my way to Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery. I arrived at the farm, only to find a “Closed” sign. Well, this was not good. After all, I’d not only messaged them on Facebook to make sure they’d be open, I actually spent the previous night in Champaign to be able to visit them the next day. Undeterred, I drove in and parked my car. The creamery door was closed, but not locked, so I just walked in. And it was devoid of people. I snooped around a bit and finally saw a young woman with an infectious smile on the other side of the glass, working with cheese. She came over to help me. I explained that I was assured they’d be open. The young woman, Lynn (see photo below), was one of the cheesemakers and she, in turn, assured ME that they were certainly open. That they’d sell me some cheese and that I could wander around the farm. Fridays, she said, were less formal. So, we commenced with the tasting (and in my case, the buying!)

Lynn

My Cheese Haul

I tasted a number of wonderful goat cheeses. And I BOUGHT a number of wonderful goat cheeses—Little Bloom on the Prairie (a bloomy rind cheese—think Camembert); Angel Food (another bloomy rind goat cheese—in small rounds); Moonglo, a firm, aged cheese which has a washed rind (a brine is used to bathe the cheese); goat feta (deliciously creamy and tangy); and fresh chévre (which I’ve been enjoying by the spoonful!). Prairie Fruits also makes a raw milk goat cheese call Huckleberry Blue, which is a seasonal product. I didn’t get any because it wasn’t the season!

CheeseHaul

And Now for Something Completely Different: Goat Gelato!

Yes, you read that right. Prairie Fruits makes goat GELATO. As in the frozen dessert. Okay, it was brunch time and I hadn’t eaten (mostly in anticipation of this!), so I was all set to eat some gelato. There were about ten flavors available and I choose individual servings of Espresso and Peaches and Cream. Both were delicious, but the Espresso was especially exquisite! I sat down on one of the farm’s picnic tables to have my late breakfast. I would encourage anyone to swap out their oatmeal or bagel for some goat gelato to start the day!

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Wandering the Grounds

Both Lynn (the cheesemaker) and her colleague Sarah suggested that I wander around the farm. They told me to go visit the barns and see the milking does and the young kids (actually, teenagers by now). So I did (and I am sharing a few photos with you). I got a chance to see the pen where the retired does were frolicking as well. The goats’ eyes were soft, yet animated.

Goat2_RS

A Chat with Wes Jarrell

Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery is owned by the husband-and-wife duo of Wes Jarrell and Leslie Cooperbrand, former academics (see, friends, there IS life after academe! Rich life, too!) While I was enjoying my gelato, Wes came over, sat down, and chatted with me for a bit. That’s how I found out he had been a professor (even a department head at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I believe). We talked about the farm, about people not understanding (or paying for) the true value of food (remember that a lot of what you eat is subsidized and benefits big corporations). He told me about the gelato (how they had someone go to Europe to study gelato-making); the gelato, I found out, was a pretty new product for them. We talked about agricultural sustainability and organic farming (and they are NOT necessarily synonymous!) Mr. Jarrell was very, very generous with his time. He also shared with me that Prairie Fruits supplies the restaurants of Rick Bayless, the noted chef with some stellar restaurants in Chicago. With this kind of background, I knew I’d be enjoying those cheese very much upon my return to Muncie; it took a fair amount of willpower not to pull the car off the interstate and dig into my purchases.

Will I Be Back? In a Word, YES!

I should have bought more cheese. I know I’ll run out soon. That makes this Flyover Tapan sad. BUT, I will be back, maybe with some friends of mine! People, if you are at all interested in local and regional products and you love food, you owe it to yourself to visit Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery.

Little Bloom on the Prairie
A runny Little Bloom on the Prairie
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Saying “No” to Monsanto et al: Cedar Grove Cheese and rBGH-free Cheese

What is rBGH?

The term rBGH stands for recombinant bovine growth hormone, a piece of lab-produced genetic engineering that spurs lactating cows to increase their milk production, often with some nasty side effects. The “recombinant” comes from a particular DNA technology that permitted this hormone to be synthesized in the lab. Initial approval for this hormone was granted to Monsanto, although other companies (e.g. Eli Lilly) also produced this hormone.

The Controversy

One of the most controversial aspects of treating cows with rBGH concerns its linkage to increased episodes of mastitis, in which the udders become inflamed. This causes the cows not only serious pain, but it can also be fatal (though this is not typical). Additionally, while negative effects on humans have not been definitively proven, the potential for adverse health effects on humans has led many countries to ban rBGH, including Canada, Japan, Australia, Argentina, and the European Union countries.

Enter Cedar Grove Cheese

Truck

Located in the small town of Plain, Wisconsin, amid the hills and valleys of Wisconsin’s Driftless Area, Cedar Grove Cheese has been producing rBGH-free cheese since 1993. In fact, Cedar Grove was the first cheese producer in the United States to insist on rBGH-free milk from the farmers it purchases its milk from. The farmers have pledged to meet this criterion and all Cedar Grove cheeses are rBGH-free.

Cedar Grove’s health and environmental passions are evident in ways beyond rBGH-free cheese. Their wastewater is treated by something called a “Living Machine”, which combines plants and microbes to cleanse the water so that it can be safely let into nearby Honey Creek. From the Cedar Grove Cheese website:

LivingMachine

The Living Machine

The Living Machine is designed to be a working ecosystem. It uses natural microbes and a collection of hydroponic plants. Washwater is biologically processed back into clean water that is discharged into Honey Creek.

The Cedar Grove Cheese washwater comes from cleaning milk trucks, tanks and cheese making equipment. This includes the pasteurizer, cheese vats and cream separator. This water contains soaps and chlorinated, acidic and caustic cleaners, and some cheese particles, milk and whey.

The washwater is collected and mixed in an underground 6,000-gallon equalization tank outside the factory. The Living Machine handles an average of 7,000 gallons of washwater per day.

It takes 3 to 4 days for water to travel through this system. Each tank extends four feet below gravel level, and holds approximately 2,600 gallons. Tanks are connected by 4 inch pipes a foot beneath the gravel. Water flows through the plant by gravity.

The water first flows through closed aerobic tanks, where bacteria and other tiny organisms begin to break down the residues and particles. The next tanks add wetland plants, whose roots trail in the water and provide a new ecosystem for more diverse microbial populations. The plants also use the nutrients in the water to grow. After this process, the solids are allowed to settle. Much of this residue is used to fertilize fields. The remaining clear water is run through filters several more times before flowing into nearby Honey Creek.

The Living Machine uses a natural process in washwater treatment. It is able to remove 99% of the biological oxygen demand, 98% of the suspended solids, 93% of total nitrogen and 57% of phosphorus.

The Cheeses

Tank1

Cedar Grove produces a variety of cheeses, with many of them being familiar varieties (e.g. Colby, Havarti, Monterey Jack). You can find these listed on their website. These are traditional cheeses, ones that most consumers would be aware of. I’ve sampled some of these when I visited and they are tasty. But Cedar Grove also produces artisan cheeses!

Ah, the artisanal varieties of Cedar Grove’s cheeses. Interestingly, not all are made from cows’ milk! Their Banquo, Fleance, Montague, Donatello, and Feta are sheep milk cheeses. They make both a goat milk cheddar AND Capriko, which is a cheddar-style cheese incorporating both goat and cow milks. But that’s not all! Cedar Grove even produces a water buffalo cheese, the water buffalo mozzarella!

I Curd It Through the Grapevine

Okay, prior to my visit to Wisconsin last summer, I’d never actually had cheese curds. Cheese curds are a product of cheddar-making (and cheddaring itself is a type of process used in making cheddar cheese). Remember the Little Miss Muffett nursery rhyme, where she’s “eating her curds and whey”? Curds form when a coagulant is added to the milk, which causes a separation of the whey and the solid curd. These particular curds are basically fresh cheddar cheese before it is removed and processed into blocks or slabs. Well, Cedar Grove sells a variety of curds (very fresh!—if you get them at a supermarket, they are likely fairly old). And they sell flavored varieties. I decided to make a lunch of cheese curds (hey, I was in Wisconsin), so I bought the Tomato and Basil variety. Let me tell you, these things are mighty addictive. I pulled over at a rest stop along I-90 in Minnesota to eat my curds (I’d bought a pound) and half of that bag disappeared entirely TOO quickly.

Anyway, this blog post serves as your introduction to Flyover Country’s Cedar Grove Cheese, as well as providing some insight into their role in providing consumers with rBGH-free cheeses. Go to their website or, even better, stop by for a visit!

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Homemade Garlic-Chive Ricotta Spread

And by “homemade”, I mean that you’re making the ricotta as well.

It’s a Bit of a Family Reunion!

In that garlic and chives are both part of the allium family.

What You’ll Need

  • large saucepan
  • instant-read thermometer
  • colander
  • cheesecloth
  • knife
  • chopping board
  • bowl
  • measuring cup
  • measuring spoons
  • wooden spoon
  • garlic press (optional)

Ingredients

For the ricotta cheese

To make ricotta, all you need is whole milk, lemon juice1, and salt. And the salt is optional. Now, think about how impressed all your friends will be when you tell them that you made your own cheese. La-de-freaking-da!

RicottaIngredient

  • 2 quarts (or liters) whole milk, raw or pasteurized (NOT ULTRA-PASTEURIZED!!!2
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt

For the spread

  • 4 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or put through a press
  • salt and pepper to taste

How to Make the Garlic-Chive Ricotta Spread

Make the ricotta cheese and impress even yourself with how easy it is

  1. Line a colander with a triple thickness of cheesecloth and place it in the sink.
  2. In the saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat to approximately 195°F (90°C), stirring the whole time to avoid burning the milk. Remove from heat.
  3. HeatMilk

  4. Add the lemon juice and salt, then give the mixture a quick stir to distribute the juice. Let stand for 5 minutes or so.
  5. By this time, the curds should have coagulated or clotted; you should see white curds in a thin, milky whey. If you don’t see this, add a little more lemon juice and wait for another few minutes.
  6. CurdsWhey2

  7. Carefully pour the curds into the colander and let drain for 15-30 minutes (or longer, if you want a very firm and dry ricotta).
  8. DrainCurds

  9. When finished draining, you can transfer your ricotta to a different container. Place it in the fridge if you want to make the spread later—it’ll firm up a bit more. You should have about 2 cups of ricotta cheese.
  10. FinishedRicotta

  11. Post a picture to Facebook, so that you can show all of your 1794 friends that you just made some cheese.
  12. Place one cup of the ricotta in a bowl. Add the chives and garlic. Using a wooden spoon, stir together until well mixed. Salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too solid or thick, mix in a little cream or half-and-half until the spread reaches the consistency you like.
  13. MakingSpread2

  14. Be real Pinterest-y and garnish with some more chopped chives.
  15. GarnishedSpread

  16. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, so that the flavors can meld together.
  17. Serve with crackers or raw vegetables.

1Lemon juice is a coagulant that enables the cheese curds to separate from the whey. Other coagulants include certain kinds of vinegar (e.g. a good white wine vinegar) and citric acid. But I’m assuming that you probably don’t have any citric acid next to the boxed macaroni and the Cheetos.

2I’ve never used raw milk—I live in Indiana and unless I join a cow share, or buy my own cow, I can’t get any legally. But I CAN get pasteurized milk. Ultra-pasteurized is heat-treated to a higher temperature, which affects the proteins; thus, you can’t make ricotta with such milk.

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