Spaulding Gray’s Review of The Cheese Show on Martha Stewart
I know I said “Got Milk” was next up in Cheese 101… but after The Lady and I watched Martha Stewart’s Cheese Show –twice – I made the executive decision to change the format a bit and review MS’s show.
The Lady loves Martha Stewart and wishes she had more time to watch her show. Also The Lady is still pissed over the whole “going to the pokey thing” and contends that had MS been a man, she would have never had to clean the warden’s office or whatever befell her during those dark days…but I digress…
Martha really had it going on with The Cheese Show. She concentrated on American Artisanal Cheesemakers (a passion of mine as well) and began with a few facts about this growing industry:
- Twenty years ago, there were less than 100 artisanal cheesemakers in the U.S. Today there are around 400.
- Because the show featured Vermont artisanal cheesemakers, most of these statistics are Vermont-only: In Vermont, there were 11,000 dairies in 1950; today there are now only about 1100.
- And while the number of Vermont dairies has drastically declined; the number of Vermont artisanal cheesemakers has doubled over the last decade.
- A little more than 50% of the artisanal cheesemakers in Vermont make cheese from cows’ milk; 25% use goats’ milk and the remainder make their cheeses from sheeps’ milk.
The first segment of the show introduced 5 Vermont artisanal cheesemakers:
- Former Literary Agent, Angela Miller and her husband moved to Vermont and bought the historic Consider Stebbins Bardwell Farm. Located in the Champlain Valley, this farm founded in 1864 by Consider Bardwell was the home of the first cheesemaking co-op in Vermont. Their “Rupert”, an aged, raw Jersey cow milk cheese placed 3rd in “Best of Show” at the 2009 American Cheese Society Competition. They also raise and milk goats on their farm.
- Hannah and Greg of Blue Ledge Farms, both landscape artists, came to Vermont to raise their children and create a sustainable lifestyle and business built on mutual respect for the land, the consumer and most of all the animals. They raise and milk a combination of Alpine, Lamancha and Nubian goats. As with all the cheesemakers MS featured, Blue Ledge has won many awards for their cheeses.
- Repentant Lawyers John and Janine Putnam make Alpine-style cheese on their Thistle Hill Farm in North Pomfret, Vermont. Along with their four children and their 40+ Jersey cows (of which 20-21 are milked), they make certified organic Tarentaise cheese. This cheese is made in copper vats, essential to the development of the proper flavor (the Gruyere The Lady made at Roth Kase was also made in copper vats for the same reason).
- Willow Hill Farm in Milton, Vermont is another certified organic dairy that makes both cows’ milk and sheeps’ milk cheeses. They also have a “u pick” certified organic blueberry patch. Sheeps’ milk is the richest milk of the three main milks used to make cheese (Cows’ milk and goats’ milk being the other two)and the sheeps’ milk yield is also the smallest. In addition to the small yield, sheep have the highest multiple births and these factors make sheep farming the most labor intensive in dairy farming.
- Last, but certainly not least, we met the two men who own and run Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. These two artisans built 22K square feet underground vaults to ripen cheeses they buy from artisanal cheesemakers throughout Vermont. They buy the green and un-ripened cheeses; use the “recipes” of the cheesemakers to ripen the cheeses; and then market and sell the cheeses. This frees the small cheesemakers to concentrate on what they do best: make cheese.
Martha also briefly introduced, Anne Saxelby, of Saxelby Cheesemongers, who specializes in American Artisanal cheeses and sells them from a stall at the Essex Street Market on the Lower east Side of Manhattan. If The Lady and I have one criticism of the show, it is that we would have loved to learn more about this woman whose passion in life is bringing American Artisanal cheeses to the plates of everyone in Manhattan. She spent two years at Murray’s Cheese Shop (which The Lady swears it the Mecca of cheese); then an apprenticeship at Connecticut’s Cato Corner Farms and finished with six months touring cheese shops and cheesemakers in Europe.
The second segment of the show was an interview with Murray’s VP, Liz Thorpe, who presented a cheese sampler for the audience to taste using 5 cheeses from the aforementioned Vermont Cheesemakers. MS also plugged Liz’s new book, “The Cheese Chronicles” (which The Lady dashed out to buy and will review here in the near future). Liz has been in the cheese biz for 8 years and it all started with a visit to a small cheese shop in Manhattan and the rest is…as they say… history…
Liz was quite down-to-earth regarding the cheese plate she constructed: “Something old; something new; something stinky and something blue”. She built the cheese plate from 12 o’clock starting with the mildest of the cheeses featured: Blue Ledge’s Crottina (from goats’ milk) and proceeded to Consider Bardwell’s Dorset (a raw, aged Jersey Cow milk cheese). The third cheese on the plate was Willow Hill’s Autumn Oak (the only sheeps’ milk cheese on the plate). Then it was onto Thistle Hill’s Tarentaise, a robust and nutty Alpine-style cheese reminiscent of a European Beaufort. (Liz explained she would select this cheese over any cheddar when making a grilled cheese sandwich). The last cheese was Bayley Hazen Blue from The Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm which according to Liz had a crumbly consistency and a flavor that reminded her of popcorn.
The audience was thrilled to learn that each of them would be receiving a copy of Liz’s new book.
The next segment featured Lisa Schwartz and her Rainbeau Ridge Farm in Bedford, New York (a mere 5 miles from MS home). Lisa milks 35 Alpine goats twice daily and also runs a community agriculture partnership which sells organic, seasonal fruits and vegetables to the locals. And as if cheesemaking and farming weren’t enough, Lisa finds time to teach the local children how to make cheese and grow veggies: to teach them to connect to the food they eat.
Lisa began with 2 goats in 2002 and customers that were primarily friends and family. She and Martha made a “farmers cheese” together during this segment; a recipe that any of us could do at home with favorable results.
Lisa, like Liz, has a new book: “Over the Rainbeau” which is available on her website.
The fourth segment featured Terrance Brennan, Chef-Proprietor of Artisanal Fromagerie, Bistro and Wine Bar at 2 Park Avenue in Manhattan, who made a simple fondue using Uplands’ Pleasant Ridge and Thistle Hills’ Tarentaise – two cheeses perfect for fondue.
Chef Brennan’s tips for making a successful fondue:
- Use only two or no more than three cheeses when making fondue. The Alpine-style cheeses are the best as they melt and homogenize better than other cheeses.
- A high-acid white wine also helps homogenize the cheese.
- A little cornstarch will help thicken the melted cheese and make it easier to stick to your bread and other dipping “goodies”.
- When immersing your item into the cheese, use a “figure 8” motion to stir the fondue. This helps emulsify the fondue mixture.
- When you add the grated cheese to your fondue pot, make sure the cheese is at room temperature.
- If you drop your goodies into the cheese, you MUST kiss the cook…this is The Man’s favorite tip from this segment. I suspect it is also a favorite for The Lady…
In the next quick segment, Martha showed the audience how to make three easy cheese appetizers: Lacy Cheese Wafers, sautéed in a skillet; Pitted Dates filled with goats’ cheese and Martini Olives filled with blue cheese.
The final segment featured The Lady’s friend, Allison Hooper of Vermont Butter and Cheese who also has a new book, “In a Cheesemakers’ Kitchen” (another recent addition to the cheese book library at the manse). Martha and Allison featured several of the cheeses that Allison and her partner, Bob Reese make including Crème Fraiche and Bonne Buche (which means “good mouthful” in French).
If you love cheese, then this is one of the most pleasurable hours you can spend learning more about the American Artisanal Cheese movement. If you don’t love cheese, then you should seek professional help immediately.
I give Martha Stewart’s Cheese Show 2009 4 Paws out of 4 Paws (cause that’s all I’ve got).