Recipe: Rhubarb marmalade (for your spring cheese plate)

Photo Credit: Grow It Can It Cook It

For many cheesemakers, the arrival of spring means the return of fresh cheeses like chevre, ricotta and surface-ripened styles. Even if they’ve been making cheese throughout the winter (due to a staggered breeding schedule, which is what Haystack Mountain relies on for its milk sourcing), kidding, calving and lambing season peaks this time of year and with that comes a surplus of milk.

Our cheesemaker Jackie Chang, is busier than ever, starting new batches of washed rind cheeses (which sold out over the winter). What we’re really psyched about now, however, is using our chevre and bloomy-rind cheeses such as Cashmere and Snowdrop in simple dishes that sing of spring.

One of my favorite ingredients is rhubarb. It grows abundantly in the wild in Colorado, and has greener stalks than cultivated varieties, which makes the latter more popular for use in desserts. A relative of buckwheat and sorrel, rhubarb is best-known as a pie ingredient paired with strawberries, but its appeal extends far beyond pastry (note that it should always be cooked; the leaves contain toxic amounts of oxalic acid, although the stalks only have trace amounts).

Haystack Mountain Cashmere

I love rhubarb prepared as a savory or sweet quick-marmalade, which makes for a beautiful- and unusual- condiment for pairing with fresh or bloomy-rind cheeses or a topping chevre or ricotta cheesecake or ice cream. You can also poach the stalks until tender in a simple syrup and use them in a salad paired with aforementioned cheeses (alternatively, try them with a mild, creamy blue) and toasted hazelnuts.

 

Photo credit: The Pioneer Woman

Recipe: Rhubarb Marmalade

Serves 4

¾ cup water

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon grated, peeled ginger

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out

1 pound rhubarb stalks, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces

Pinch of kosher salt

>In a saucepan, combine with water, sugar, ginger, allspice, and vanilla bean and seeds.  Add rhubarb; bring to a boil.  Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce is jam-like, about 20 minutes.  Season to taste with a pinch of salt, discard vanilla bean.

Rhubarb & Chevre Parfait makes an elegant brunch dish. Photo credit: What’s for lunch, honey?

The truth about raw milk cheese

Photo credit: Alliance for Natural Health USA

This following article has been reprinted in full with permission from Culture: the word on cheese; author Leigh Belanger is the magazine’s food editor. We wanted to run it to educate our customers and consumers in general about raw milk cheese, since there’s a lot of fear and misinformation rampant in the media (please note we’ve also added two of our own links, on raw fluid milk and the FDA’s role in regulating cheesemakers).

When the culture staff saw the news of the Vulto Creamery cheese recall caused by listeria contamination on Friday, we were heartbroken for the consumers who lost their lives; for the cheesemaker’s business and livelihood now at risk; and for members of the cheese community in the US, who have worked tirelessly to ensure food safety in their products. We—like many cheesemakers, distributors, and retailers around the country—are concerned that this incident will unfairly cause people to perceive artisan cheese as an unsafe product.

After reading media coverage that contributed to this misguided notion, we thought it would be helpful for people to read a little further about where the risks lie in terms of food safety and cheese.

1. Don’t confuse raw fluid milk and raw-milk cheese. The milk you pick up in the grocery store has been pasteurized—heat treated to kill off bacteria both “bad” (i.e. pathogens like listeria and salmonella) and “good.” This extends shelf life and improves food safety. Raw milk has not been pasteurized. It’s not sterile but is full of microorganisms prized by cheesemakers for their ability to transform into flavor and aroma compounds. It carries inherent risk but once raw milk is transformed into cheese, the risk factor goes down. See #2.

2. Raw-milk cheese made according to established protocols is safe. In the US, cheese made with raw milk must be aged for 60 days before it is sold to consumers. When some types of cheese (such as low-moisture, cooked curd styles like Gruyere) mature, they become more acidic and lose much of their moisture, creating an environment where listeria and other pathogens are less likely to thrive. In soft-ripened cheese, though, the cheese retains more moisture and the pH rises during aging (resulting in a less acidic product); both of these factors can lead to increased risk of pathogen growth during ripening. Either way, cheesemakers in the US have worked with the Food and Drug Administration to create and adhere to many food safety protocols—sanitation processes, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plans, pathogen controls, testing—all along the production chain to ensure a safe product.

3. Milk isn’t necessarily the source of contamination. Raw milk doesn’t come out of an animal already tainted with listeria. The pathogen could find its way into the milk via an infected udder or elsewhere in the environment. But once the milk is transformed into cheese, contamination can happen in any number of ways. These include dampness in an aging facility, handling practices, or cross-contamination from an infected employee. This is important to note: the risk of contamination isn’t exclusive to raw milk. It’s possible throughout the production process, which means that all cheese (especially soft cheese, since it has a higher moisture content) carries a certain amount of risk.

4. Listeria contamination in cheese is relatively rare. When the FDA conducted a survey of more than 1,600 raw-milk cheeses for different common food-borne pathogens in 2014, only 10 samples, or 0.62 percent, were found to have listeria. Among those, five were domestic cheeses. However, listeria does have a high fatality rate (the proportion of deaths within the confirmed cases of the disease): nearly 20 percent compared to 0.5 percent in salmonella.

5. Other foods can harbor listeria, too. Although listeria outbreaks have been reduced over the past 20 years due to closer regulatory oversight, we’ve seen outbreaks in cantaloupes, packaged caramel apples, and bean sprouts in recent years. Again, it’s a reminder that raw milk itself is not necessarily the culprit in listeria outbreaks.

We visited Vulto’s creamery last year and were moved not only by his personal story, but by his drive to learn and improve his craft to the point that a side project could become his main focus over the course of just a few years. He is one of hundreds of artisan cheesemakers creating unique and delicious cheese in this country. As food safety records show, consuming most foods comes with a degree of risk that consumers must weigh. Knowing how diligent the cheesemaking industry has been in ensuring food safety, our hope is that consumers will continue to support domestic cheesemakers, and make fully informed risk assessments when doing so.

Hang onto your “heritage” at Denver’s Cochon 555

A scene from last year’s Cochon 555, Denver. Photo credit: Galdones Photography

Once upon a time, America was a mostly agrarian nation populated by subsistence farmers. Livestock- which had Old World genetics, having been brought here by 17th and 18th century colonists- possessed attributes that made them well-suited to their respective environments. Some cattle had long, curving horns, which helped them forage in deep snow or thrash through thick brush. Certain breeds of sheep had short, stocky frames that helped them survive cold climates.

The very qualities that once made these breeds an asset became problematic we moved to an industrialized agriculture system in the mid-20th century. Aforementioned sheep also took longer to reach market weight, and cattle with long sharp horns were a hazard to ranchers and fellow bovines when loaded onto stock trucks bound for market. Heritage breeds of dairy goats or cattle may have possessed excellent mothering instincts, but if their milk yield was relatively low, they were of little use to the commodity market.

The Livestock Conservancy’s website notes, “Heritage breeds…were carefully selected and bred…they thrived under farming practices and cultural conditions that are very different from those found in modern agriculture.” The result is a lack of genetic diversity amongst our current industrial livestock breeds (a problem in all developed countries, not just North America). If disease were to wipe out a breed or species, the results would be devastating to both the economy and our food system.

An Oberhasli goat, listed as “recovering” by The Livestock Conservancy. Photo credit: Goat People

Fortunately, groups like The Livestock Conservancy exist to help save and promote heritage breeds from extinction. A growing number of universities, non-profits and family farms and ranches  have breeding programs dedicated to heritage livestock breeds, which retain important traits like disease resistance, climatic tolerance, maternal instincts, and the ability to breed naturally (as opposed to artificial insemination). Of equal importance to consumers: many of these animals produce delicious meat or by-products such as eggs and milk.

Another organization devoted to the preservation of heritage breeds- in this instance, pork- is Cochon 555. Founded eight years ago by Brady Lowe as a way to educate chefs and consumers about heritage breed pigs and encourage the practice of humane livestock management and nose-to-tail cookery, Cochon 555 is a traveling road show. Every year, cities all over the U.S. (including Denver) host whole animal cookery events and competitions, in which five local chefs duke it out for the title of “Prince/Princess of Porc” based on their utilization and talent cooking with a whole hog sourced from local ranches whenever possible.

A scene from Cochon 555’s Heritage Fire event in Snowmass. Photo credit: Cochon 555

Cochon 555’s Denver Heritage BBQ  will be held on March 19 (purchase tickets here) at The Curtis Hotel. The evening will include a butchery demo and raffle, national and regional breweries and distilleries, more food than you can shake a pig’s tail at, and heritage pork sourced from Rock Bottom Ranch and Mountain Primal Meat Co. (Basalt), McDonald Family Farm (Brush), Cone Ranch (Julesburg). The competing chefs include chef Hosea Rosenberg from Boulder’s Blackbelly Market, Will Nolan of the Viceroy Snowmass and Bill Miner of Il Porcellino Salumi. And what would a debaucherous food event be without cheese? Boulder’s Cured will supply artisan product from the Rocky Mountain Region and beyond. Partial proceeds from the event go toward Cochon 555’s charity, Piggy Bank.

Check out some heritage dairy breed success stories, right here and here. Click here to make a donation to The Livestock Conservancy.

The striking Canadienne dairy cow is critically endangered. Photo credit: Southern Ontario Heritage Livestock Club

Everything you always wanted to know about rinds *but were afraid to ask

Photo credit: Becks & Posh

Dear Haystack,

I’m confused about cheese rinds. Are they safe to eat? Is it rude to leave them on my plate?

Sincerely,

Rattled by Rinds

 

Dear Rattled,

You’re not alone: This is the question most frequently asked of cheese professionals. The short answer is, unless a cheese is waxed or bandaged, the rind is safe to eat and it’s a matter of personal preference.

It helps to understand what the rind is and what purpose it serves. Think of the rind as the skin of the cheese. Its function is to keep the surface of the cheese from being exposed to air, which also serves to protect the interior, or paste. Rind formation happens organically as part of the aging process (this is why fresh cheeses, like our chevre, don’t have rinds- they’re not aged), but the much of the art of cheesemaking lies in controlling the rind development and aging process with the right combination of bacteria (molds, yeasts, etc.), temperature and humidity.

If the rind cracks, unwanted microorganisms can enter the cheese, causing off flavors or spoilage. The style or type of rind on a cheese can reflect the climate, region or simply the cheesemaker’s personal preference. It also contributes to a cheese’s final taste and texture, to varying degrees.

Note that the cheese industry doesn’t have regulatory terms when it comes to classifying styles of cheese or rinds, so depending upon who you talk to or what you read, terminology may vary. Some cheeses also fit into more than one category (say, a washed rind that also has a mold like Geotrichum added to it, like the French cheese Langres). Read on for a crash course on rinds, so you can hold court at your next cocktail party.

Haystack Peak

Soft-ripened

Also known as surface-ripened or bloomy-rind cheeses, these are ripened from the outside surface inward, because of the molds used in their production- primarily Penicillum candidum or Geotrichum candidum. These molds what give these cheeses their distinctive white to pale-yellow, beige, or grayish rinds, which may be velvety, chalky, or wrinkly (this last is a characteristic of Geotrichum) in texture, and earthy, mushroomy or floral in flavor. The most well-known soft-ripened cheeses are Brie and Camembert; our Haystack Peak and Snowdrop are soft-ripened.

Fourme d’ambert, a blue cheese that also has a natural rind. Photo credit: Cheese Rank

 

Natural

Exposure to air- and the ambient microorganisms that exist in a given environment- are what contributes to the formation of these cheeses; they don’t have additional bacteria or mold added to the milk or curd. Sometimes, natural rind cheeses are rubbed with fat, like olive oil or lard, or bound with cloth (see final entry, below) to prevent cracking. Our Queso de Mano is a natural rind cheese.

Good Thunder, is washed with beer. Photo credit: Cheese Rank

 

Washed

These are your “stinky” cheeses. Their rinds- which may be orange, pinkish, yellow, or reddish- are the result of a bacteria called Brevibacterium linens. B. linens can be naturally occurring, but it’s usually added to the brine or other liquid (beer, wine, spirits, et al.) used to “wash” the cheese as it ages. Washed rinds usually smell stronger than they taste, and they’re particularly compatible with beer (just sayin’). Fun fact: B. linens is the same bacteria that flourishes on human feet, which is why some washed rind cheeses smell like…you get the picture.

The most famous washed rind cheeses include Epoisses, Livarot and Pont l’Eveque. Our Red Cloud and Funkmeister are washed with brine, and A Cheese Named Sue is washed with Oskar Blues G’Knight Imperial Red IPA.

A bandaged Cheddar. Photo credit: Cheese Notes

Bandaged/Clothbound, waxed, or coated

Bandaging, waxing or coating cheese (with olive oil or other fats, or spices) prevents cracking and inhibits the growth of unwanted microorganisms; the addition of spices and other ground aromatics also enhance the flavor of cheese. Waxed cheeses like our Vaquero Jack or Buttercup– are encased in a food-grade coating that should be removed for consumption (most bandaged cheeses have their wrappings removed before purchase).

One final tip: When confronted with a cheese plate at a party or dinner, resist the impulse to excavate the paste from the rind (the result is not pretty). If you’d prefer not to eat the rind, simply discard it on your plate.

No rind left behind. Photo credit: Williams-Sonoma

 

Recipe: Grapefruit & Avocado Salad with Haystack Mountain Peak

Ruby Star grapefruit: in season now. Photo credit: Backyard Fruit

As a child of California, I grew up immersed in a culture awash with citrus and avocados. I recall plucking tangerines from orchards and eating the sun-warmed fruit as a snack, and marveling over the many varieties of avocado at our county fair. Years later, as a farmers market vendor in the rain-drenched Bay Area, I overcame the winter doldrums by admiring (and eating) the vibrant array of citrus fruits sold by my colleagues.

One of my favorite ways to use citrus is to combine it with goat cheese. The acidity and residual sweetness in the fruit compliment the tang of the cheese, making them the ideal companions for a winter salad. Balance things out with a bitter or spicy component (think kumquats, dates and watercress, or orange and endive).

The following recipe celebrates one of my favorite things from Texas: Ruby Red grapefruit, now at its peak. Combined with the nutty, creamy avocado and the piquant, earthy notes of Haystack Peak, it’s a simple, grounded dish that speaks of sunny days to come.

Serves 4

Vinaigrette

½ small shallot, minced

1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

 

Salad

2 pink grapefruit such as Ruby Red, peel and pith removed and sliced crosswise into ¼-inch thickness, or cut into supremes

2 ripe avocados, sliced ¼-inch thick

4 ounces Haystack Mountain Peak, sliced lengthwise to ¼-inch thickness

Flaked sea salt, to taste

Daikon radish sprouts or microgreens, for garnish (optional)

 

Arrange grapefruit and avocado on a serving platter. Rewhisk vinaigrette and drizzle atop fruit, and season with salt. Add slices of Haystack Mountain Peak and finish with a scattering of radish sprouts.

How to section citrus fruit. Photo credit: Patricia Salzman

 

©The Sustainable Kitchen®, 2017

Curd(s) is the word: Five ways to use our squeaky cheese

Just add beer. Photo credit: Golden Age Cheese

They’re a Midwestern staple, and an integral part of poutine, Canada’s national dish- but for the rest of us, if we think about cheese curds at all, they’re merely a novelty snack food. Curds (also known as squeaky cheese, for the sound they make when they rub against the teeth) are made from the curdled milk solids formed in the early stages of the cheesemaking process. The resulting mild, slightly rubbery, strangely addictive nuggets are usually consumed fresh or battered and fried (curds don’t melt completely, but rather, achieve a pleasing, gooey consistency).

Domestic cheddar curds are the most popular type found on the market, produced by small artisan cheesemakers as well as nationally-recognized brands. Haystack Mountain began making curds from pasteurized cow’s milk to meet consumer and wholesale demand. Breweries, in particular, clamored for us to make curds, as they’re a popular bar snack.

Photo credit: Visit Malone

Ask, and you shall receive. Our cheddar-style curds are made milk sourced from family-owned Longmont Dairy, and made by head cheesemaker Jackie Chang and her crew. Currently, we offer plain curds, but Jackie has almost perfected her Bloody Mary Cheddar Curd and Green Chile and Lime Curd recipes, so look for them at your local grocery, cheese shop or farmers market soon.

Speaking of Bloody Mary’s, we have some uses for cheese curds that go beyond the expected (we’re not dissing deep-frying; we just love to play around in the kitchen and behind the bar).

The next time you’re confronted with a bag of curds, resist the urge to scarf them all, and try the following:

Make Bloody Mary’s and martinis more special

We’re semi-purists when it comes to cocktail garnishes- pass on the Bloody Mary’s bristling with a refrigerator’s-worth of ingredients. But a few skewered curds interspersed with spicy green olives or pickled red chilies? Yes, please. You can also stuff olives with curds for a vamped-up version of the Dirty Martini (we recommend pairing with a whey-based vodka like Black Cow).

Amp up your eggs

Add to scrambles just before they set for extra creaminess, or fold into omelets.

Give grits a little more love

Stir until semi-melted, and add a dash or three of hot sauce (we love the ones from Boulder’s own Motherlode Provisions). Psst- they also make a righteous Bloody Mary mix.

Separating curds. Photo credit: Scientific American blog

Make grain-based dishes pop

Toss with farro and roasted root vegetables or other seasonal ingredients (cherry tomatoes, corn and fresh herbs, grilled asparagus and prosciutto, caramelized mushrooms and leeks, kale and bacon…). Curds also play well with barley, bulgur, quinoa, Israeli couscous and orzo pasta. Use as you would feta or mozzarella.

Farro with cheese curds, cucumbers and mint. Photo credit: The Bonjon Gourmet

Marinate in aromatics

Combine with extra-virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, fresh red chilies or chile flakes and fresh herbs or citrus peel; seal in a sterilized canning or Mason jar, and keep for up to one week in the refrigerator. Use in green, pasta or grain salads, heap on crostini or serve with roasted or grilled vegetables.

Photo credit: Lottie and Doof

Getting Your Curd’s Worth: How to Interpret Food Labels

Confused about the difference between grassfed and organic dairy? Read on. Photo credit: Civil Eats

 

Grocery shopping in the 21st century is about so much more than procuring food; it’s increasingly a political act. Even if you’re not adhering to any particular diet (gluten-free, grassfed, Paleo, et al), your choices have an impact locally, nationally or globally. When you actually care about the provenance of your ingredients, a trip to the store becomes even more fraught with confusion.

Nourishment is a basic human need, and while it’s important to make good choices that have a positive effect on our health, animal and farmworker welfare and the environment, it shouldn’t result in angst. The key is to be an informed consumer, and just do the best you can to offset negative consequences. You also have to pick your battles, based on what’s important to you (or your dietary needs).

One of the biggest frustrations for consumers is demystifying food labels. To help make your food purchases- at the store, farmers market or online- less confusing, we’ve compiled a list of the most commonly-used terms. For the purposes of this post, we’re focusing on dairy and meat production/products. Here’s to making more informed, empowered food choices.

Milking time at a farmstead dairy in California. Photo credit: Redwood Hill

Farmstead: With regard to cheese, the American Cheese Society (ACS) definition refers to product “made with milk from the farmer’s own herd or flock, on the farm where the animals are raised. Milk used in the production of farmstead cheese may not be obtained from any outside source.”

Haystack Mountain started as a farmstead operation in 1989; after founder Jim Schott retired and sold his dairy goats, we began sourcing our goat’s milk from our partner dairy at Skyline Correctional Center in Cañon City, Colorado; we also purchase supplementary milk from Lukens Farms– a small, sustainable family farm in Weld County; our cow’s milk comes from family-owned and -operated Longmont Dairy (see Organic heading below for herd management details).

Artisanal: The ACS defines artisan or artisanal cheese as one that is “produced by hand, in small batches, with particular attention paid to the tradition of the cheesemaker’s art and thus using as little mechanization as possible in production of the cheese,” regardless of milk type. “Artisan” is also our preferred term at Haystack Mountain with regard to our cheesemaking practices.

We refer to our cheeses as artisanal, due to our production methods. Photo credit: Loco Belly

Pasture-raised: This term has no legal definition with regard to livestock or poultry, and isn’t a guarantee of humane animal husbandry.

Certified Humane Raised and Handled®: Look for this label, which ensures “the humane treatment of farm animals from birth through slaughter,” in accordance with consumer demand for more ethical farming practices. To be Certified Humane®, ranchers must ensure that animals have “ample space, shelter, gentle handling to reduce stress, and a “healthy diet of quality feed, without added antibiotics or hormones.” Cages, crates, and tie-stalls are prohibited, and animals must be allowed to engage in natural behaviors; regulations are overseen and implemented by a national non-profit.

Animal Welfare Approved (AWA): With regard to humane livestock production, AWA “audits, certifies, and supports independent family farmers raising their animals according to the highest animal welfare standards.” Livestock must be permitted to engage in natural behaviors, “be in a state of physical and psychological well-being,” and raised on pasture or range. This voluntary program doesn’t charge fees to participating farmers, making it sustainable in more ways than one. Considered the gold standard in livestock management certification.

Humane livestock management allows for natural behaviors, like these pigs rooting in pasture. Photo credit: ACES

Grassfed: This USDA-regulated term denotes that cattle and other ruminants (cud-chewing mammals including bison, sheep, and goats), may have their predominantly pasture-based diet supplemented with grain. Use of antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides (on pasture) are also allowed. Note that “Grass-finished” is an unregulated claim.

AGA-Certified Grassfed (AGA): The American Grassfed Association has applied a third-party audit system to create a label that they say “takes USDA standards to a higher level.” Ruminants must be born and raised in the U.S., fed nothing but pasture forage from weaning to slaughter, free of hormones and antibiotics, allowed to engage in natural behaviors and raised free of confinement (including feedlots).

AGA-Certified Dairy: This newly-approved term ensures the same husbandry methods as above, as well as “the healthy and humane treatment of dairy animals, to meet consumer expectations about grassfed dairy products and to be economically feasible for small- and medium-size dairy farmers.

A beef cattle feedlot. Photo credit: Livestock Tracker

Organic: According to the USDA, meat labeled “organic” may not contain hormones or antibiotics and livestock must be fed a diet of 100-percent organic feed and forage. This doesn’t, however, ensure animals are raised on pasture or in a pen- or cage-free environment or permitted to graze- yet paradoxically, the rule asserts that livestock must be raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors. Organic dairy products must come from livestock that have “been under continuous organic management for at least one year prior to the production of the milk or milk products.”

Non-GMO/GMO-free: There’s really no way to guarantee this term with regard to animal feed or most commodity crops grown for human consumption, thanks to something called “pollen drift.” The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit that “provides the only third-party labeling program in North America for products grown without using genetic engineering. They verify that the process products go through, from seed to shelf, are produced according to their rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance.” Key word: Avoidance.

Photo credit: 123rf.com

Just fondue it: Pairing Champagne & sparkling wine with cheese

Photo credit: Direct Matin

One of the cheesiest holidays of the year (both literally and sometimes, figuratively) is New Year’s Eve. Whether you choose to go big or spend a quiet night at home, however, celebrating with cheese is always a Do.

Given Haystack Mountain’s high-altitude location, we like to get all retro and break out the fondue pot or racler (a scraper used to make the dish raclette; more on that in a moment). There are few dishes that better embody the essence of an Alpine winter than these Swiss specialties, and because they’re traditionally consumed in a communal manner, they’re ideal for entertaining or a party of two. They’re also ridiculously easy to make, as long as you have a few essential pieces of kitchen equipment (if the ‘70s left you devoid of a fondue pot, use a double-boiler, instead).

Fondue is traditionally enhanced with a splash of kirsch (clear cherry brandy) or dry white wine and a cut clove of garlic, heated over an open flame in a caquelon, or pot. Depending upon the region, the cheeses vary, but it’s always a combination of Alpine styles such as Gruyère and Vacherin- we like to substitute our Sunlight and Wall Street Gold. To make fondue more of an, ahem, balanced meal, add cubes of cured meat and sliced apples or pickled vegetables to the hunks of bread used for dipping into the cheese.

Photo credit: ZSG

Raclette hails from the canton of Valais, where the cheese of the same name is produced. The dish is made by propping a half-wheel of cheese before an open fire; once its surface blisters, the molten bits scraped into a bowl filled with chunks of boiled potatoes; pickled onions, cornichons and air-dried beef are served on the side. It’s one of the most rustic, satisfying dishes I can think of, made even better when consumed after a daylong snow sesh.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, you can replicate raclette at home by purchasing a special holder for the cheese, but you can also buy electric raclette makers (cheating, but who’s judging?). The most important thing are the classic accompaniments and a cheese that approximates the nutty, earthy, slightly funky profile of raclette cheese (our cheesemaker, Jackie, recently made raclette using Wall Street Gold).

Our cheesemaker, Jackie Chang, with Wall Street Gold.

To your health

When it comes to pairings, Champagne and sparkling wines are the easiest things to match with cheese, regardless of style (stinky, bloomy, Alpine, etc.). Their effervescence cleanses the palate, and won’t clash with most flavors inherent to the cheese. If however, you’d like to take your pairing to the next level, keep reading.

A few years ago, I attended a seminar at the Après Ski & Cocktail Classic on pairing bubbly with fondue and raclette. The panel was led by Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy and Jim Butchart, Culinary Director of Aspen Skiing Company. McCoy suggests pairing fondue with a heavier weight sparkling wine, in order to cut through the butterfat. Rather than something light and sweet like Prosecco, go for “small-batch “grower Champagnes” like Aubrey or Pierre Péters, or, alternatively, an Alsatian Riesling or Grüner Veltliner.”

Butchart is more of a purist, preferring to pair Champagne with fondue, “due to the fact that they’re both celebratory indulgences that most people don’t allow themselves on the daily.” He suggests a crisp, fruit-forward Champagne to “refresh the palate, readying you for another dip of fondue.” Try an affordable brut style, such as Perrier Jouet Grande Brut or Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru Reserve.

However you choose to celebrate, all of us at Haystack Mountain wish you a happy and safe New Year’s, and all the best for the coming year. Cheers to cheese!

Goat: The gift that keeps on giving

Photo credit: Heifer International

Photo credit: Heifer International

When I was growing up, my older brother and I raised dairy goats for 4-H. Thus, it was from an early age that I learned two things:

Male goats (young, uncastrated males are called bucklings; castrated goats are wethers) are a by-product of the dairy industry,

and,

By donating bucklings like ours to Heifer International, families in need worldwide are able to improve their breeding stock and thus earn a (viable) living.

The latter is the mission of Heifer International. Since 1944, the Little Rock, Arkansas-based nonprofit has provided livestock, animal husbandry and community development training to over 125 countries, with the goal of helping to “end world hunger and poverty.” That may sound like a lofty goal, but for nearly 75 years, Heifer has revitalized whole communities by creating agricultural co-ops, job skills, and commerce.

It's not all about goats for global food security. Photo credit: Heifer International

It’s not all about goats for global food security. Photo credit: Heifer International

Donating our goats to Heifer served a dual purpose in our household. My mom wasn’t comfortable selling them as meat animals, and because they were from top bloodlines, it made sense to use their genetics to diversify breeding stock, thus helping those in need. Donating to Heifer also made it easier to bid farewell to animals we’d named, bottle-fed and considered pets. Knowing they were destined to live overseas as revered breeding animals made a painful- and little-discussed- aspect of raising dairy animals less so, and for me, it sowed the proverbial seeds of a career spent educating consumers about sustainable agriculture.

Donating our goats to Heifer was the equivalent of being told to finish my dinner because there were “starving children in Africa.” But, the reality was- and is- that much of the world practices subsistence farming, and the gift of a dairy or meat animal can radically alter lives, enabling families to earn a sustainable living. As a result of improved genetics and economics (through the sale of by-products like milk, meat, eggs or fiber, as well as the muscle power provided by livestock like water buffalo and oxen), whole villages can thrive.

So, where does cheese (since we’re all about the cheese here at Haystack) fit into this global picture? Protein deficiency is a leading cause of malnutrition worldwide, and cheese and other dairy products provide a valuable dietary supplement. Cheese is also an important commodity product, and while not a staple food everywhere (climatic and religious factors play a role, which is why you don’t see cheese production in Southeast Asia or Africa, historically), dairy foods like milk, yogurt and butter are consumed worldwide. In countries like Nepal, which traditionally didn’t have a cheesemaking culture until the 1950s, the food has become an essential part of the diet and economy, thanks to foreign aid organizations.

img_4040

Yak milk supports this Nepali cheesemaker. Photo credit: Laurel Miller

While Heifer no longer accepts donations of live animals, they’ve implemented a way for everyone- from farmers to urbanites- to provide families throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe with livestock traditionally raised in their countries of origin. From goats, cattle and llamas to ducks, honeybees, rabbits and guinea pigs (known as cuy, the latter are a valuable food source in the Andes), you can donate tax-deductible funds that go toward a whole animal or animal share, which will go to a family in need.

It’s always wise to do your research before making donations to any aid organization; Heifer’s track record and data collection speak for themselves, and you can also choose to donate to their empowerment programs for women (which supply training in gender equality and business skills, and education for girls), as well as clean water, biogas cooking stoves, irrigation pumps, small business loans and more.

Donations to Heifer are affordable, too- for just $10, you can donate a goat share to a family in Africa, while $25 covers a water buffalo share. You can gift donations to family and friends through Heifer; their website enables you to create a personalized e-card. It’s not the latest version of Call of Duty or even a new pair of slippers, but there’s a certain cache to giving the gift of goat.

Happy holidays, from all of us at Haystack Mountain.

Photo credit: Heifer International

Photo credit: Heifer International

Making your (holiday) cheese plate great

Following a few hacks can make you a cheese plate master. Photo credit: Sam en Croute

Following a few tips can make you a cheese plate master. Photo credit: Sam en Croute

Cheese scares the bejeezus out of many people, especially when it comes to serving up a plate for dinner or party guests: The intimidation factor is similar to what plenty of folks experience when ordering or purchasing wine.

While there are indeed rules of thumb when it comes to the slicing, serving and pairing of cheese, I promise that the world will not come to an end if you or your party guests don’t follow them to the letter. The simple guidelines below will enable you to easily create a sweet or savory cheese plate that leave your guests swooning, and your bank account intact.

Less is more when it comes to serving cheese, so leave the fussy plating and overly-complex condiments in the dust and focus on the fun part: eating and socializing. You’re welcome.

Photo credit: Food Network

Photo credit: Food Network

Shopping

  • If you’re serving other food, allow one ounce of each cheese per person (16 ounces = 1 pound).
  • Limit your selection to three or four cheeses for up to 12 guests- more than that will blow out your palate.
  • There are no hard-and-fast rules- the cheese police will not arrive to cart you away. The important thing is achieving a balance of flavors and textures, as is choosing what you like. You can also use a theme to guide your purchases, like all goat’s milk, blues or aged cheeses. I recommend:
  • One creamy or mild cheese
  • One semi-soft washed rind (these are your stinky cheeses- like Red Cloud. Note that these smell more pungent than they taste) or bloomy-rind cheese (like our Haystack Peak, Camembert or Snowdrop- this style has a velvety white or grayish rind. Psst, the rind is always edible unless you’re dealing with a wax-coated or bandage-wrapped cheese).
  • One hard (aged) or blue cheese
Our Red Cloud funks up a savory cheese plate- we suggest pairing with beer.

Our Red Cloud funks up a savory cheese plate- we suggest pairing with beer.

Serving

  • Cheese is ideally plated clockwise, from mild to most intense- this prevents a strong cheese from overpowering the palate/other cheeses. Since policing your guests is a Party Fail, however, I suggest instead placing cheese cards on your selections so people know what they’re eating.
  • Simplicity is key: The cheese should be the star of the show, so don’t clutter the plate. Two or three seasonal condiments are ideal, not counting bread and/or crackers (the latter shouldn’t have strong flavors, either, to avoid the aforementioned overpowering issue).
  • This is time to bust out that antique serving platter, slab of marble or handcrafted wooden board. Don’t crowd cheeses and accompaniments; my preference is to serve anything drippy or gloppy in separate bowls, with miniature serving utensils (try caviar or salt cellar spoons or jam spreaders). Garnishes should be minimal, such as a sprig of herbs or edible flowers, or place the cheeses atop clean, dry (non-toxic) leaves.
  • No cheese knives? No problem. While each style serves a specific purpose, you can generally get away with using whatever you already own, such as a sharp paring knife and a butter knife (tip: stock up on vintage pieces at flea markets and antique stores).
  • How you cut cheese depends upon its shape and style.
Clutter just makes for confusion. Photo credit: That Cheese Plate

Clutter just makes for confusion. Photo credit: That Cheese Plate

Sweet or Savory?

A cheese plate should be one or the other (savory just means, “not sweet.”). If you’re planning to serve cheese before dinner or for a cocktail party or après ski, accompaniments like salami, pâté, ham or other cured meats are ideal. Provide small dishes of grainy mustard, marinated olives or pickled vegetables on the side, as well as slices of a hearty bread like rye or pumpernickel.

I also love toasted nuts and dried or fresh seasonal fruit (think sliced apples, pears, persimmon) in lieu of the mustard and pickles, for a more refined plate. Serve with hunks of baguette or a country-style levain.

Going for a dessert or pre-brunch plate? Sweet accompaniments like preserves, honeycomb and fresh seasonal or dried fruit are lovely with cheese- particularly soft styles or mild, creamy blues. Serve with rustic walnut levain or plain crackers.

A sweet cheese board, simply rendered. Photo credit: The Kitchn

A sweet cheese board, simply rendered. Photo credit: The Kitchn

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