Something New, Something Blue
The guys down in the cheese room are always coming up with some new flavor ideas and they’ve hit on a couple winners that we’re just starting to roll out as the year starts to hit its stride. Take a look at our new Sage WindsorDale. Savory Sage and our firm, flaky WindsorDale. We’re showing it here with Castleton Cracker’s Middlebury Maple. We like the combination of the sweet and savory.
And now for our ‘something blue’…we’ve gone beyond our own borders to the mid-west for a creamy and piquant Gorgonzola to add to our WindsorDale. I like a blue but often look for accompaniments that will help to mellow that explosion of flavor. This combination does that by itself. All we need is a cracker…and we like the Castleton Cracker Richmond Rosemary for this one.
Our plea for the new year and the new you!
The torn wrapping paper had barely been swept into the garbage bags and hustled out to the dumpster before the media commercials went from focusing on what you should buy for everyone else, to how to improve yourself for the new year. By the way, in case you weren’t aware, you’re fat, you’re broke, you’re alone and you are going to hell. ”Lose 30 pounds in 30 days and model that bikini by summer!”; ”Get your finances in order with this new money organization system for six easy installments”; “Meet the man or woman of your dreams using our exclusive dating service” (a.k.a. we screen for losers so you don’t have to); “This is the year to get in touch with your spiritual side and find true happiness cuz you must be miserable!”
Wow, I didn’t know I was such a mess.
So here’s my plea – before we all try to become who we aren’t – EAT MORE CHEESE. Literally. (And you can keep eating kale too, I guess.)
And here’s why – Cheese is delicious & good for you. Cheese fits into everyone’s budget. People who know cheese and like cheese are more interesting and therefore, more lovable. And cheese makes a good offering so you won’t go to hell. I’m not saying that cheese is the answer to all your problems but… Wait, I guess I am saying that so
Really, really aged cheese…
It was exciting to learn that man has been making cheese for about 7000 years. Pottery that was discovered in an archeological site unearthed many years ago had holes in it and researchers at the time couldn’t figure out what a vessel like that might have been used for. Theories spanned from filtering honey, to making a fermented beverage to cheese but new tests revealed traces molecular signature that matches that of cows milk. This brings cheese making back about another 3500 years before everyone thought. Some trash talk has been flying around here today about how cheesemaking is so easy a caveman can do it. Let’s compare…
hummmm…I’m thinking that the longer arms and muscles might be helpful when they’re flipping the cheese slabs but ancient man is in desperate need of a hairnet!
Up & Out in Beverly Hills
December 11, 2012
I don’t know whether to feel proud or embarrassed that our cheeses can get into some exclusive Beverly Hills eateries that I would be put on a waiting list for. So goes the tale of our Lillé who has found glad acceptance and accolades from one of the top restaurants in Beverly Hills, Bouchon. Perhaps we could glimpse our beauty being served amongst the rich and famous as we cool our heels behind a divisive velvet rope. Ah well, I hear curbside service is all the rage now in LA anyway. I wonder if flannel will be the fabric to watch in 2013.
Special Day for Ladies in Mahogany
October 26 was a big day for the Ladies in Mahogany at Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company. Like people some cows have a “special day.” This day comes around about twice a year for these girls to get cleaned-up, and have the chance to make their statement.
L-R: Geminaecho Showstar Shirley EX-91 (Ryan Rida & Marjorie Hardy); Hardy Farm Swedmark Myra VG-86 (Hardy); Hardy Farm Poker Mya GP-81 2yr (Hardy); Sweet Pepper Senator Hokusai EX-93 (Thygesen & Johnson); Autumn-Ayr Shipley Spunky VG-86 2yr (Hardy); Valley-View IM Virtuous EX-90 (Hardy); Hardy Farm Conn Maelyn EX-90 (Hardy)
We classified 7 Ayrshires of the 14 in the herd on that day-and a great day it was, and extremely rewarding for myself! Classification is an unbiased appraisal of the individual cows structural conformation traits. Scores are assigned by evaluating 16 traits on a linear scale that become part of an equation to create a final score, while also calculating in age, and number of lactations (times calved in order to produce milk). Evaluation of the traits are distributed according to the Main categories of the Dairy Unified Score Card, with the following values:
Frame 15% Dairy Strength 25% Feet & Legs 20% Udder 40%
Hardy Farm Poker Mya GP-81 2yr
The information that is collected is more than just a number assigned to that cow. Classification is generated to assess the individuals strengths and weaknesses by giving a break down of individual categories such as mammary system and feet and legs. This appraisal is also important to compare cows in your own herd, analyze trait trends from one generation to the next and to create linear trait scores for sires to assist in corrective mating to make conformational progress generation to generation.
Hardy Farm Conn Maelyn EX-90 (My 2nd Excellent Cow Bred & Owned)
I find classification to be a rewarding experience. Its like being assigned a grade for the work you have done to raise, develop and breed quality cows. I also love seeing how the score of a young cow can grow with her age as a result of development, health, genetics and quality care. A large amount of work went into getting these cows ready for their day; clipping, washing, milking early, and lots of lost sleep worrying about if they are going to look their best for the appraiser. However, work the week of classification is not the only critical time in order to get good scores. Its the work that happens before the cow is even conceived and continues till now. From selecting the right cross for mating this cows dam, to calf care, growth, and development, to transitions to calving and milking, feed, and management that take a huge part in these pristine numbers that someone assigns to the cow in a matter of minutes. Its all very rewarding.
Sweet Pepper Senator Hokusai EX-93
Its what I love and wouldn’t give it up for anything!
See “The Herd” page for more information on the Ayrshire Herd at VFCC
Farmer’s Cupboard at our Windsor Home
There’s a lot happening over in Windsor. As some of you may know, we are soon going to be making cheese in a second location in Windsor, VT in what is officially called The Windsor Industrial Park. And some further detail you might find interesting, we’re conveniently located right next to Harpoon® Brewery. This is especially good news for our Head Cheesemaker Rick Woods whose two passions, cheese and Harpoon’s beer (we use two kinds) have successfully come together in our AleHouse Cheddar. But I digress…
In the front of our new building, the retail shop Vermont Farmer’s Cupboard is already open for business. Walk into the shop and the sunny yellow walls and natural wood cabinetry immediately lift your spirits. To your right is an expansive ice cream counter selling a local favorite Walpole Creamery ice cream, along with a full bar of toppings to mesmerize the most experienced ice cream aficionado. And to your left…drum roll please…the cheese counter – a beautiful stone counter top complete with stools that invite you to sit and sample, flanked on both sides by coolers displaying the bounty du fromage. Behind the counter, in addition to other temperature controlled cheese cabinets, is a knowledgeable salesperson with great cheese knowledge and a cutting board and knife to go with it. You can find plenty of Vermont Farmstead Cheeses there but you’ll also find other Vermont artisan cheeses there from all over the state as well as smoked local meats. It’s all part of Farmer’s Cupboard’s commitment to promote local and artisan cheesemaking as well as other all-natural farm products. Indeed, across from the cheeses are cabinets topped with a variety of other organic Vermont products like crackers, honey, pure maple syrup, jams & jellies, sauces and even all natural soaps and lotions.
When you make your way to the back of the store, that’s where the real fun will begin once our part of the building is up and running. Through several large observation windows, customers will be able to watch Vermont Farmstead Cheeses being made on site. Every part of the cheesemaking process will be observed including the milk separating into curds and whey, cheddaring, milling the curd and curds being pressed into blocks. You’ll also be able to watch our cheeses being cut, wrapped and labeled for sale for local retailers. Right now those windows are covered with several colorful banners but promise a great view once our cut & wrap and cheesemaking operations are in full swing.
In the meantime, enjoy the ice cream, enjoy the cheeses, enjoy all the other local, all-natural products and be on the lookout for several classes being offered at the store including cheese pairing events and other interesting classes like beekeeping and honey collecting.
The Farmer’s Cupboard is located on 71 Artisans Way (Next to Harpoon Brewery) off Route 5 in Windsor, VT. (802) 674-4260
Many Colors of the Rainbow
With more and more cows calving each week here at Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company (VFCC) we have expanded our multi-breed herd to include Ayrshires, Brown Swiss, Jerseys, Holsteins, Red and White Holsteins, and Milking Shorthorn. This mix of breeds makes for a very balanced, high quality herd and milk supply. Let me make you more familiar with the different breeds that can be found here at VFCC and learn a little about what makes each one special.
Ayrshires are a very welcomed addition to the herd for me since that’s the breed I grew up with on my family’s farm in Maine. Ayrshires provide great qualities for cheese making and have unique personalities. Ayrshires originated in Scotland in the county of Ayr prior to the 1800’s. Ayrshires are mahogany and white and varies from very light to very dark, and their markings can vary from nearly all white to nearly all mahogany. Ayrshires are medium-sized cattle and should weigh over 1200 pounds at maturity. These strong and rugged cows adapt well to management systems, excel in udder conformation with minimal foot and leg problems, and are efficient grazers. Plus the calves are vigorous and easy to raise. They also present a moderate butterfat and relatively high protein milk that can be ideal for cheese making.
Brown Swiss tend to be docile with a silver-grey color that can vary from almost white to nearly black and can have brown undertones. Originating in Switzerland, Brown Swiss are one of the oldest dairy breeds in the world. These cows are known for their exceptional feet and leg qualities, which allows them to mature into long lived dairy cows in all environments. Having quality feet and legs they are able to maintain optimal mobility for a longer time and their adaptation to weather conditions allows for less stress on their bodies. They produce a higher quantity of milk than all dairy breeds except Holsteins with a great ratio of fat-to-protein for cheese making.
Holsteins comprise the majority of our herd; this is the breed Kent grew up with on his family’s farm. Holsteins originated in Holland and are the most common dairy breed in the U.S., accounting for around 93% of the total dairy cattle in this country. Holsteins are the black and white cows that you see most often and are the largest of all the dairy breeds in body mass and are known to have high milking ease and good temperaments¬. Although they produce a large quantity of milk, their components are not as high as color breeds; however, in a year’s time they will still produce more total pounds of fat and protein than a Jersey (who has very high components) due to the large volume the Holstein will produce.
Holstein cattle also can be red and white, know as Red and White Holsteins. This happens when they have a red factor gene or recessive gene, allowing a black cow to give birth to a red calf or a red cow to give birth to a black calf. Production, size and components of Red and White Holsteins are very similar to that of a black and white Holstein.
Jersey’s are the smallest of all the dairy breeds, and originated on the Isle of Jersey in England. Jerseys are most well-known for their high butterfat content while also having high protein content creating very rich milk with these high components. They have a high efficiency of feed conversion, meaning they require less feed to maintain body weight and to produce milk than the Holstein and some other breeds. Jerseys’ small frames mature earlier and at maturity usually weigh around 1000 pounds. They are the cute, small brown cows that many people fall in love with, having the big, irresistible brown eyes.
Milking Shorthorns are the dairy variety of beef shorthorns that were known to be dual purpose for their quality milk and meat. Shorthorns originated in England and were first brought to the United States in 1783 where they were used for this dual purpose. Their color is a deep red/brown color that varies in markings from solid red, red and white, and white or brown. Milking Shorthorns are know to be some of the most versatile breeds and are known for their ease with calving, healthy calves, ease of management, and economy of production.
We enjoy working with our herd of every color and the mix of milk composition that they produce, providing us with a fantastic quality of milk for cheese making. With a vast variety of color, composition, size, age, and personality, we have a great group of girls that are fun to work with. We welcome you to call to set up a time to visit our VFCC girls that create the wonderful Cheese product that we all Love!
Cows are Models Too!
In America there are models, both male and female, red carpet events with celebrities, Fashion shows, Magazines that reflect on style, image, fashion, products and every part of your daily life. All of that seems like the norm for the average American, when they see these things on television and on the cover of a magazine. Have you ever thought of what the average dairy farmers television or newspaper and magazine might entail? Well surprise, surprise, all of that drama and excitement of what’s new are a part of the dairy industry as well. We have our own form of runways, red carpet events, photo shoots, modeling, and product advertisement.
There is so much excitement that is seen in the “dairy world.” With a wide array of magazines featuring product advertisement, various informative articles, cow family advertisement, genetic improvements, and the list goes on we are never short of reading materials. The National cattle shows throughout the country are like a runway modeling show. These events include, professional hairdressers’ (fitters) and professional escorts (leadsmen). Our form of the red carpet is colored shavings with decorations that correspond with the chosen theme. Professional photographers can be found at all of these events capturing candid’s, winner photos and posed individual shots of cows.
Professional posed photography shots are done to capture the cow when she is looking her best. These photos are used for marketing the quality in conformation or genetics and pedigree. Traditionally a side profile is taken of each cow, which is desired to have a consistent angle to compare cows with one another by picture. The cows are set up with blocks or boards under their front feet to raise them up and make them “walk up hill.” Their tail is held straight down with out hiding their udder and each foot is meticulously placed for the photo. Other angles, positions and shots are also available per the owners liking. Angle shots are taken based on the individual cows strengths. If she has excellent confirmation to her udder, a direct udder shot of her udder may be captured to showcase both her fore and rear udder attachments, the dept to her cleft (center seam), adequate teat placement and texture. In the case of a superior upstanding front end, with strength and capacity, a ¾ front angle may be taken, or if she combines the upstanding front end with a superior udder, a ¾ rear angle could be desired. On these angle shots having her head up or down will also lend to different desired looks that may increase her appeal.
Photography for cows is just another form of beauty and modeling that is similar in so many ways to that in the human world. These photos get re-touched using Photoshop or another similar photo program and many times include a background change. These professional shots are usually then found in many of the dairy magazines, on websites, or included in a sire catalog to showcase the types of daughters that he may produce.
We have recently photographed nine cows here at Vermont Farmstead Cheese Company. There is a lot that goes into the photographing process of prepping the cows, similar to what a stylist may do to a model. The cows are given full body haircuts, leaving different lengths or shortness of hair in desired places to emphasize traits. In order to be clean, they are given baths prior to the photo shoot. The immediate prep work includes polishing their hooves, brushing their coat and spraying a shining product on their coat to make them smooth and vibrant. Their tail is teased and fluffed, the hair along their spine (topline) is brushed and blown up with a hair dryer and then hair sprayed and trimmed to make them straight across the top. Models clothing must have an adequate fit and the same goes for the cows halter.
*Watch the video below of the process that occurred for just one of our nine cows that were photographed! Check out all of the photos at our website under Our Story, and THE HERD!
2/29/12…Athletes, Beauty Queens and Cows.
They have more in common than you think.
There are many different types of athletes and when lined up in a row they all look so very different. For instance, a football player is going to have lots of muscle mass and be broad and fit, whereas a marathon runner will be slim, fit and light. They both are very successful at what they do and their body mass plays a large role in their ability to meet their goal – to win. Believe it or not, different types of cows, say dairy and beef cattle, exhibit very different body types and features, just as football players and marathoners do.
When cattlemen and I look at a dairy cow, we are looking at body condition and trying to determine milking ability. When the average person looks at a dairy cow, you are likely to see protruding ribs, and slender thighs – which may lead you to believe the cow is starving. The reality is that dairy cows’ weights naturally fluctuate. When they calve and start producing milk, become pregnant, or “dry off” to prepare for the next calf the appearance of their bodies changes. The nutrition and energy that they consume largely goes into milk production, rather than being stored on their bodies. This is not the case with beef cows. Dairy cattle are evaluated based on their confirmation to promote longevity and milking efficiency. So the next time you see a dairy cow and think they are on the “skinny” side, know that she is actually very healthy and well taken care of.
As I have grown up and seen cows nearly every day of my life, I have learned what an ideal cow should look like, and how to take care, nurture and befriend them. When evaluating a dairy cow, we refer to a written scorecard as our guideline. There are four categories, with a combined total of 100%:
- The udder comprises 40%,
- Rear feet and legs holds 20%,
- Dairy strength is 25% and
- Frame is worth 15%.
When mating our cattle, we work to strengthen these traits, while improving their genetics. The cows that excel at the top of the scorecard are usually found at the shows. Like the dog shows you may watch on Thanksgiving Day or even beauty contests, cow shows are very similar. With colored shavings, professional judges, and cows that have their very own “hair and makeup,” they look to be on top of their game and ready to perform.
Herd Classification is another form of judging that happens right at the farm and enables marketing opportunities for those cows that may or may not enter the show ring for various reasons. We recently participated in a Herd Classification at our farm for the Holsteins. A trained appraiser came to the South Woodstock farm and evaluated each cow based on the scorecard, and assigned each a score. The scale is based on 100, although no cow has ever achieved that high a score. The higher the score the better the cow. All the breed associations have created a cap to prevent a “perfect” cow and allow for more consistency.
The preparation for this event is downscaled from that of a show; however, we do try to have them clipped and washed so they are looking their best in their home environment. So how did our Farmstead Holsteins do? During our recent classification, all scored a Good Plus or better, which is a goal we strive to achieve. We had six new Very Goods, three of them being two year olds, and four new Excellent scores, with one score rising in the Excellent tier. We were very pleased. It was a wonderful day and a great accomplishment for our cows and dairy team. Just another step in the process of our hard work formulating fancy cheese from our fancy cows!
Learn more and check out a few of the benefits of Holstein Classification http://www.holsteinusa.com/programs_services/classification.html.
-A raised BAA of 108.4!
-Lookout Dundee Adeen: EX-90, second calf, (Dundee X Lee Angel X Adeen) fresh 2 weeks
-Jolibois Pat Jasper: EX-90, sr. 3 year old, (Caitlyn and Chelsea Abbott)
-Dark-Horse Roy Aretha: EX-92, 2nd calf max score (Kyle Thygesen)
-Howacres Affirmed Dublin-ET: EX-91, 2nd calf (Kyle Thygesen)
-Maplegrove-B Mr. Sam Angel: EX-90 (Andy Birch)
New Very Good’s:
-MS Gladtime-SDA Mara-Lee: VG-86
-Westan Blitz Cita: VG-85
-MGF-J Lou Zirconia: VG-85, (Jared Birch)
Feb 14th, 2012…Chocolate and Cheese is My Happy Valentine
I’ve been a chocolate lover since I was a kid. From the first time I realized that after forcing a triangle opening into a Hershey’s syrup can, you should puncture a hole in the opposite side to make it flow faster – especially when upending over your open mouth before your grandmother could catch you. Even so, over time I garnered a more sophisticated appreciation of finer chocolate through the years, some popular ones and some more obscure. Russell Stover, Ghiradelli, Godiva, Lindt, See’s, I even appreciate the heart attack rush of a Burdick’s Hot Chocolate. And I know it wasn’t only Johnny Depp in that amazing blue sweater leaning against the wall of the chocolaterie in the movie “Chocolat” that had me mesmerized with that movie. What was I saying?…oh yeah… I love chocolate.
Appreciation of cheese came later. In our lower middle class upbringing, Cracker Barrel was big time – a step up from American slices or the oh so meltable Velveeta, or anything in a can that labored under the category of a “whiz” – all products of Kraft as it turns out. Probably one of the only companies making cheese for national distribution back in those dark days and way before the movement that gave local foods a distribution channel to the local A&P. Thankfully, those days are behind us.
I was probably in my early thirties when I began exploring and appreciating the many varieties and producers of artisanal cheeses. I think it was because I began exploring wine then (I’m prejudiced toward reds) and a visit to your local wine shop often brought you to the specialty cheese counter. As our local wine tasting group (we called ourselves The Winos) started hosting tastings, our cheese exposure increased as well. And so pairing favorite wines with interesting artisan cheeses progressed naturally and included fruit, crackers and the usual suspects. I prefer a wide range for my cheeseboard, a soft-ripened, a blue, an alpine style, and a good cheddar for those less adventurous friends.
My first cheese, chocolate and wine encounter was unplanned…an unexpected drop-in with a friend on her back porch. I brought the wine, a hearty red zinfandel, she only had a small piece of 22 month parmigiano reggiano in her cheese holder, and searching for something else to add to the meager fare, she opened a extra dark chocolate bar with 85% cocoa content, broke off a couple small pieces and put them out on the cutting board next to the cheese. And that was it. No bread, no crackers, no fruit. And amidst the excellent conversation, voila!…sudden appreciation of this delectable combination.
Since then, whenever I have a cheeseboard, there are small pieces of chocolate nearby. And now as a connoisseur of Vermont Farmstead, I’ve got my favorite pairings of chocolate for all our cheeses.
For Lillé, our Coulommiers, I have to agree with Traditional Home magazine, who paired our Lillé with Lake Champlain Chocolates organic honey-fig milk chocolate. Since we love it with fig and with honeycomb, it was a natural progression for me. Our rich, creamy Lillé with a subtle mushroom note comes alive with the sweet dried fruit nuance of fig and honey.
For the Spiced Edam, the sweet maple nut nuance in that cheese balances beautifully with the darkest of darks…I love Lindt’s Excellence 90% cocoa supreme dark bar here. On its own, this chocolate is too dark to my taste, but together they are a powerhouse combination.
For our WindsorDale, I really adore the Lemon Pepper Truffle from Burdick’s Chocolates. There’s a bit of a citrus finish in the WindsorDale that plays off the lemon in the truffle gorgeously on the tongue. And the dryer, flakier consistency of the cheese works well with the creamy smoothness of the truffle.
For our Farmstead Cheddar I have to go with Burdick’s again, this time with their milk chocolate mouse. Their mouse has milk and dark chocolate ganache with espresso covered with milk chocolate. There’s something about the hint of honey finish in our Farmstead Cheddar and the espresso that contrast amazingly together. And it’s fun décor to have mice on your cutting board for any gathering…
Our AleHouse Cheddar has a hearty ale influence all its own so I really like the Lindt Excellence Chili Bar on this one. It’s a dark, dark chocolate with a subtle red chili pepper spice kick that holds its own against our AleHouse and the hearty brew you’ll likely pair it with.
And I’m back to Champlain Chocolates on our last pairing with Vermont Farmstead’s BrickHaus Tilsit and Lake Champlain’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels. Our Tilsit is such a great snacking cheese and has a spicy tinge on the finish that you appreciate more with the salt and caramel contrast. I like to slice the caramels into slices so the chocolate, caramel and salt doesn’t overwhelm.
Well, that’s my matchmaking for today! I hope your Valentine brought a little chocolate (and cheese!) into your life this Valentine’s Day…and that you’ll think of chocolate as the perfect companion to your next cheese board.