A blog dedicated to cheesemaking, cheese tasting and appreciation and all things cheese and dairy related. Matt the author of this blog was a long-time urban cheesemaker in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and is now working as a cheesemaker at Jasper Hill Farm
One of my first cheesemaker visits back in the day was at @hawthornevalley, when @peterjkindel was the cheesemaker and this beautiful copper vat was in the creamery. It’s been retired for a more modern vat, but you can still see it hanging above the bulk spices in the Farm Store. (at Hawthorne Valley Farm)
Bittersweet pleasures as we dig into this perfect little wheel of Juvindale, a Reblochon-inspired cow’s milk wheel from master cheesemaker @vipphotos, at the soon to be closing Meadowood Farms in Cazenovia NY.
Sterling College: Fundamentals of Artisan Cheesemaking, May 15-24
In addition to being a full time cheesemaker at the creamery, I’ve also recently gotten involved with social media here at Jasper Hill Farm, including managing the Instagram account and writing newsletter content. My recent post, on Sterling College’s “Fundamentals of Artisan Cheesemaking” offering, in May, is one I’d like to share here as well. I had the good fortune to audit several of the classes with Ivan Larcher during the January session, and highly recommend the next session, running May 15-24, to anyone looking for an educational opportunity in cheesemaking.
Back in 2013 I completed the Cheesemaker Certification course at UVM’s Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese. Sadly, the educational department within the Institute had to shut its doors soon after, due to financial reasons, ending what was, at that time, the only educational program of it’s kind in the US (I was part of the very last graduating class).
However, Sterling College soon began offering their own, similar program, and many of the professors from VIAC, including Larcher, have migrated from that program to this one. I can say, from my experience both at VIAC and at Sterling, that this is an excellent program and highly recommended.
If you’ve been dreaming of taking a deep educational dive into cheesemaking, check out this unique opportunity! Sterling College, in collaboration with Jasper Hill, is now accepting applications for the next session of “Fundamentals of Artisan Cheesemaking”. This is a two-week intensive intended for practicing and aspiring cheesemakers of all stripes, running May 15th - 24th.
At the end of the course you will leave with a deep understanding of the cheesemaking process — from a technical, scientific, sensory and historical perspective — and a certificate attesting to your completion of the course. Whether you’re a dairy farmer looking to turn your milk into a value-added product, the employee of a cheesemaking operation hoping to expand your knowledge base, a cheesemonger wanting to gain a deeper understanding of the wheels and wedges in your counter, or even a home cheesemaker taking it to the next level, this class will have a bounty of knowledge to offer you.
Led by world-renowned French master cheesemaker and educator Ivan Larcher, “Fundamentals of Artisan Cheese” will provide students with all of the practical and scientific knowledge needed to create the highest quality artisanal cheese, as well as covering core concepts and practices on financial, facility design and management, distribution and marketing aspects as well.
Sessions will also be held with members of the Jasper Hill Farm team, including the chance to talk cheese with Mateo Kehler, co-founder of Jasper Hill; sensory and historical sessions with Zoe Brickley; food safety and sanitation & hygiene with Emily Hershberger; cave tours with the affinage team and cheese microbiology with our resident microbiologists.
You can learn more, and sign up, at the Sterling College site. The classes are kept small and are likely to sell out, so I would recommend moving on it if you’re interested.
If there’s one thing every cheese lover dreams about having in their homes, it would be a proper cheese cave. What turophile hasn’t looked at the wedges and wheels stuffed into the cheese bin or the vegetable crisper, and wished they had a better solution? The truth is, home refrigerators are death for cheese. It’s not so much the temperature that’s the problem, but the lack of humidity and air circulation. Refrigerators are extremely effective at cooling the space within, but do so in part by extracting as much humidity as possible from the air, resulting in a very dry environment. Air circulation, as well, is not a priority, particularly within the drawers, the most likely storage location for your cheese. Some fancy refrigerators may include vegetable crispers with localized climate control, but odds are you don’t have that.
Result? That $25/Lb wedge of precious cheese begins a process of suffocation pretty much as soon as you get it home. A proper cheese paper can ensure a longer life (you’re not still using saran wrap, I hope?), but even so, the sooner you eat your cheese the better, especially in the case of soft-ripened cheeses with more delicate rinds and pastes (think bloomy’s and washed rinds).
That’s where the Cheese Grotto comes in. Jessica Sennett, a New York City-based cheesemonger with 10 years of industry experience, including at Cowgirl Creamery and Bedford Cheese Shop, as well as the resident cheese expert at 61 Local in Brooklyn and cheese editor for The Feed Feed (you may also recall her from the event we co-hosted a few years ago, the Cheese Speakeasy) found her customers challenged by cheese storage and learned they often had no idea how to maintain their cheese at the optimal stage of ripeness. Jessica set off in search of the perfect solution for home cheese storage, but when she found herself stymied, she set out to develop it herself.
In part, she was inspired by the aesthetic of the traditional French storage solution, a “cheese safe” — a wooden box with open sides, enclosed by screens, which was often stored on the kitchen counters or dining room tables of French homes (Google “French cheese safe” to see what we’re talking about). They look great, but are really not designed for extended storage of cheese, and do nothing to control humidity. After years of research and development in a Brooklyn design and fabrication studio, Sennett created what is, in essence, a cheese humidor.
Cheese Grotto is a cheese storage solution complete with humidity and airflow controls found inside a glass and bamboo frame. Designed in conjunction with an engineer and an industrial designer, the Cheese Grotto has a vaulted ceiling to keep condensation from dripping on contents by directing any droplets to the sides (the same principle used in cheese caves, as you can see here). At 8.5” high and 7” wide, with a 12” depth, it provides storage space for approximately 3-6 cheeses (depending on the size of the cheese itself, of course), with two shelves that can be removed; if you have a giant wedge to store, you can remove the top shelf to make room. The Grotto is manufactured in Richmond, Virginia and made out of Plyboo (ie “plywood” and “bamboo”), a sustainable material.
Humidity is without a doubt the most challenging aspect of home cheese storage, and the Grotto tackles it with a clay brick that is soaked in water for a few minutes, twice a week, and then placed in the bottom of the unit, where it slowly releases moisture into the air. This may sound like a rather low-tech fix, but as a home cheesemaker, I’ve used similar wicking solutions in my home aging boxes, with success.
Three vents in the back of the unit provide air circulation, and they can be closed off with a sliding panel, allowing control for the level of circulation,
The key to the Grotto is that the cheese can be stored unwrapped within the unit. Like a miniature cheese cave, the conditions are amenable to the maintenance of the cheese rind and retention of moisture within the paste. Cheese is a product that needs to breath, and the Grotto provides the conditions that make this possible.
It’s also a striking centerpiece for your meal; just pull the whole unit out of your refrigerator, bring it to your dining room table, pull the door open, and the cheese course is served in style.
The Cheese Grotto will be available for a limited run of pre-orders this November at CheeseGrotto.com, for $350, and will ship four weeks from the order date. Formaggio Kitchen, the renowned cheese shop located in Cambridge, MA, is offering a promotional discount of $50 off their Cheese of the Month program, to any new customer of the Cheese Grotto.