Friday, February 5, 2010

Have No Fear...Raw Milk Cheese Is Here

Danger is my middle name. Ok. Danger isn't actually my middle name (it's Kate), but when it comes to food I tend to be fearless. I feel like the world has become overly protective, cautious and even fearful when it comes to food. But I suppose I understand it. We mass produce livestock and keep them in deplorable conditions. We watch documentaries on ecoli outbreaks and what's ACTUALLY in that fast food hamburger. It's scary...I get it. But what if you could go back to a simpler time in food production? Even just for a bit and on a small scale. What if you found a mom and pop farm that put tender loving care into everything they produced. Would you be less fearful about your food then? I know I would be. That's why I jump at the chance to buy things like raw milk cheese when the opportunity presents itself. And recently, it did!

Back when we lived in VA the hubby and I went on a bit of a "do it ourselves" kick. But we weren't trying to re-finish our cabinets or lay down wood flooring (disaster by the way), instead we were trying to do it ourselves...eggs and cheese. I know what you're thinking..."I get the eggs, but why cheese?"...well, the answer is plain and simple...we love it. So we incubated and raised us some chickens for eggs and then the hubby went online and bought me a cheese making kit. The chickens ended up being the less daunting of the two ventures...amazingly enough. We fell in love with these little guys. The hubby built them a coop and we let them roam our 5 acres all day. It was great. The cheese making, on the other hand, didn't turn out to be so easy.

The kit made it seem approachable. You open the box and see all of these great tools...rennet tablets, citric acid, cheese cloth, cheese press, cheese wax, etc. "I can do this!" you say to yourself. Then you begin to run into some problems.

Problem #1...finding milk that hasn't been "ultra pasteurized". These days they don't just pasteurize milk, they ultra pasteurize it. All of that pasteurizing makes for not-so-good cheese. So I headed out in search of some raw milk...what a journey that turned out to be. I found out that the only way to get raw milk in VA was to buy a part of a cow or goat. I'm not kidding. You can co-own a cow or goat, so, through a bit of a loop hole, you aren't actually BUYING the raw milk, you're just harvesting it from something that you partially own. I thought about it and instead sought out a local dairy that pasteurized their milk to the lowest degree allowed by law.

Problem #2...actually making the damn cheese. The hubby, I must say, was WAYYYYY better at cheese making than I was. Do you know how much patience you need to make cheese? A lot! So we stuck with the simple ones...mozzarella, neufchatel, queso blanco. And they turned out good...really good actually. But after about a dozen batches we threw in the towel and went outside to play with the chickens.

So why am I telling you this? Well, the other day at the Northern Liberties farmer's market we happened upon a woman selling raw milk cheese and I simply HAD to have some. The farm she was from was called Birchrun Hills and it's located in Chester County, PA. I randomly picked out a wedge of something called the Fat Cat and took it home. WOW! Yes...WOW. What an amazing artisan cheese. I mean, I cheese hopped my way across Europe and this cheese, in my mind, was up there with some of the best. It had multiple textures...semi-soft and somewhat gooey on the outside (sort of like a firmer camembert) and the inside was creamy and crumbly. The flavor was what I call mildly-stinky and semi-strong, but the inside was so delicate that it evened the whole cheese out. It was amazing (our dog agrees...she's putting on her most pathetic "may I have some cheese please" face here waiting for this Fat Cat). I must try more of Birchrun Hill's cheese, and you should too!

Their website is bare-bones to say the least, but they do have an email link at the bottom and I'm sure if you contact them they'll be happy to tell you how and where to acquire some of their amazing raw milk cheese.

This wedge was only $6.30 (ONLY $6.30!!!!) and worth every penny. Take it from a girl who spent $85 on a cheese making kit and about $200 on milk, only to have her husband say, "I love you sweetie...but don't quit your day job".

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