A Visit to Vulto Creamery

Walton is a small town about three hours away from New York, nestled into the Western reaches of the Catskill mountains. The village has most of the things you’d expect – the ACE Hardware, a tiny restaurant claiming to be the region’s #1 hot dog destination, a gas station, a drug store, and a Big M Supermarket. It’s a sleepy main street, and one that is prone to flooding, we were told. In 2006 the nearby Delaware River busted its banks and wreaked havoc on the town of Walton and the surrounding farmland.

Just off the main road, there’s also a small cheese house, though driving by you’d never know it. Jos Vulto likes it that way. A seasoned cheese making detective/stalker might find it – there are a few telltale signs if you know what to look for. The the Toyota Tundra backed up to the nondescript door – large plastic tank in the pickup bed, still sweating after being emptied of the morning’s milk. The stacks of plastic molds, stainless steel tools, and myriad Croc-like shoes standing at attention waiting to be donned if one were to spy through the windows. And then in through the next set of windows, a wood-sided stainless steel vat – paddles rotating in an orderly fashion, stirring an impossibly large quantity of golden-yellow milk.

On this morning, Jos had beaten us on the drive up from Brooklyn by just a few minutes. He splits his time between Brooklyn and Walton, though these days his time in Walton is greater due to his booming trade in raw milk cheese. He sources the milk for his cheeses from a neighboring farm – a 25 cow dairy in the hills of Delhi, New York. The farmer is also his insurance agent. After the day’s cheese make, we visited the girls – serene Jerseys with their copper colored toupees – some seeking shelter from the heatwave in the barn, some grazing the impossibly green pasture that makes their milk so delicious.

They say that making cheese is 90% dishwashing, and ‘they’ are not wrong. After suiting up in our requisite hair nets, crocs and rubber aprons (cheesemaking is also incredibly glamorous) we were tasked with washing and staging molds – hundreds of plastic cups, rings, nets, and stainless steel weights – perfect shiny and surprisingly heavy blocks salvaged from Jos’s former career as a metalsmith in Williamsburg. There was no music – Jos says he would find it too distracting – so I took it upon myself to fill the silence with questions. I am pretty good at doing this. Jos is a man of few words, but he humored my barrage of inquiries until the milk was ready for culturing.

Here are the things that I learned: Like Jos’s operation, many creameries in France are located in villages, even if the farms are in the surrounding countryside. Jos has been a licensed cheesemaker for four years. He spent the previous four years making cheese in his Brooklyn apartment, honing his skills*. After coming to New York with an art-making grant from the Dutch government in the early 90’s, he settled on metal working as a trade and made high end interior finishes for wealthy New Yorkers. Before deciding on cheese making he thought of raising yaks for meat on his land. You could say he’s a bit of a renaissance man…

After the culture and rennet was added to the milk, we whiled away the intervening hour in the cheese cave – a large square room with cement walls chilled by lines of cold water running behind them. Being in a cheese cave is wonderful – all the more so in the summertime, when the temperatures outside approach the sauna-esque. In addition to the cold, there is the smell of cheese aging – a wet stone, earthy, fruity ammonia-laced scent that is heavenly to inhale.

There were racks of Miranda – orange cupcake-like forms washed in absinthe made at the Delaware Phoenix Distillery just down the road from the creamery, Ouelout – squat and flat washed rind wheels that can make grown French men cry with the memories of the Alsatian Munster their grandmothers used to serve them, Hamden – furry and rustic little beasts that would rival the best Tomme de Savoie, and Andes – big and brash wheels of Alpine-style cheese that are covered with an earthy rind spotted at times with fluffy white cloud outcroppings of mold growth. The cheeses are like little beings – each quietly holding onto some superpower imparted by the milk, the fermentation, the washing. They each have their own history – how the curd was hooped, how the wheel was washed, where it was put on the rack to age –  communicated through flavor when finally eaten.

Miranda, Ouleout, and Hamden are all made from the same curd – the difference in the finished product is due to the size and shape of the cheese, how the curd is treated when being ‘hooped’ or placed into the molds, and how long the curd sits in the vat continuing to acidify. After all of the dish washing and all of the waiting for invisible microscopic magic to happen, we returned to the cheese room to make the day’s cheese. The curd was cut and we dove (quite literally) into the cheese vat to stir the curd by hand. When you’re working with one ton of milk, one’s arms, if you’re on the taller side, barely reach the bottom of the vat. Stirring the curd is like therapy – a warm, mindless, but meaningful exercise that results in arms covered with butterfat and, of course, curds ready to be made into wheels of cheese.

After about twenty minutes of stirring, the curds had reached more or less a uniform size and texture and were ready for the next phase of their cheesy lives… The hooping of the curd is fast and furious – the antidote to all of the waiting and calm and peaceful stirring in the hours before. In just fifteen minutes or so, the vat full of curd was dispersed amongst hundreds of molds and forms, the last of which reserved for the wheels of Hamden – made from the last curds on the bottom of the cheese vat, unceremoniously squashed into molds. All the forms filled with curds, we took turns weighting, unmolding, flipping and re-molding cheese until Jos was satisfied that the work was done.

I’ve now been in this business for 13 years – and have made cheese many times with many different cheesemakers, both here in America and abroad. And I can still say that for me there is no better way to spend a day – the work, the smell, and the lovely fatigue that follows a day of making cheese is like a balm. And makes sitting down and eating a wedge afterwards all the more delicious.
*The first time Jos came to visit me at the shop, he brought a small plastic take-out container with slices of many of his homemade cheeses. A man of few words, I accepted his gift, not without some hesitation. After all, the mention of homemade cheese inspires weird thoughts of cheese being made in bathtubs, aged in strange re-purposed refrigerators (How did he get the mold to grow on them? Does he know what he’s doing?! Is his kitchen clean?!?) and etcetera. But I ate them all the same, and was totally and completely blown away by how different each cheese was, and how good they all were!

Spotlight on Summer Cheeses!

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Saxelby’s Favorite Ways To Eat Cheese When The Temperature’s Risin’

When the mercury starts to rise and the thought of turning on that oven seems like just about the worst thing on earth, don’t forget an unlikely summer dinner hero: Cheese! With the right cheese, lunch, dinner, or your next picnic in the park can be served without breaking a sweat. Of course our opinion is biased, but there ARE certain cheeses out there that are light, delicious and downright satisfying. Read on for our summertime cheese serving tips and tricks, and stock your fridge before the next heatwave hits!

Salad:

What salad, we ask, is not improved by cheese?! The sky’s the limit here – plop a burrata atop a bed of greens for a creamy and decadent treat, shave or grate your favorite aged cheese (we love Cabot Clothbound Cheddar) for a sharp and hearty kick, or sprinkle some crumbled blue cheese and nuts on a salad for a rich and savory accent.

Stand Alone Cheese Dishes:

Burrata is what comes to mind here… We literally cannot think of an easier way to a delicious summertime dinner. Just grab a loaf of your favorite crusty bread, drizzle a ball of burrata with olive oil, salt and pepper, and go to town. If it’s technically dinner, there’s no shame in eating an entire ball yourself! You can also just buy 3 or 4 choice wedges and turn your cheese plate into dinner with a light salad or fruit on the side!

Soups:

Chilled summer soups are almost always better with a bit of dairy enrichment… Try a dollop of yogurt on top of a cucumber soup or even gazpacho. We’re also huge fans of buttermilk soup using our renowned Animal Farm Buttermilk.

Sauces:

Whether it’s the NY Times or the latest Ottolenghi cookbook, it seems like a good yogurt sauce is never out of place. As an accompaniment to roasted veggies or to a piece of grilled meat, a simple yogurt sauce with olive oil, salt, and your favorite chopped herbs goes a LONG way.

Have a favorite summertime cheese recipe?! Share it with us at info@saxelbycheese.com – we’ll compile our favorites here on our blog!

This Summer’s Grass Report – Straight From the Farms

In New York we like to joke that no matter what the weather, people complain… Too hot, too cold, too sunny, too cloudy, too windy, too rainy, too stable, too unpredictable… and on and on. For our cheesemakers, the weather is a topic whose importance eclipses being fodder for an awkward elevator ride with the neighbors, or a quick conversation at the corner deli. The weather is a make or break proposition, especially for our farms that only make cheese from grassfed milk, like Uplands Cheese Company and Meadow Creek Dairy.

In fact, for all the romantic cheese talk that we do – describing flavor profiles, aromatic qualities, how luscious or come-hither a cheese is looking today, the number one component in good milk (and therefore good cheese) is GRASS. It might not be as sexy a topic of conversation, but many of our cheesemakers joke that they are grass farmers first and cheesemakers second. This season, which seems to have begun in a milder and slower fashion across the cheesemaking regions that we represent, has been good for making hay and cheese. Read on and catch up on this week’s weather report below, and savor some of the season’s crop of pasture by way of a wedge of cheese!

Nettle Meadow Farm:

Report courtesy of cheesemaker Sheila Flanagan

We are doing much better than last year.  First cut was ready a little earlier this year and some of our second cut hay will be ready this week.  While upstate NY has just been declared to be in a drought in our area, we have had several good downpours in the evening that has given us sufficient moisture, and the dry series of days back to back is giving us plenty of opportunity to get hay in.  We are very optimistic that there will be time for a third cutting of hay this year – which we ran out of time and weather for last year.  The pastures are growing very nicely, and the sheep in particular are very happy about this.  The goat, however, are more spoiled and would rather have hay delivered to them than do much browsing for pasture.  Give them a nice pasture of weeds on the other hand, and they love it!  And the weeds are growing great this year too!  So both sheep and goats are happy.

Uplands Cheese:

Report courtesy of cheesemaker Andy Hatch

We had a wonderful start to the season.  It was a long, cool spring with a relatively short muddy spell, which made for a nice calving season.  The cool temperatures prevented the pastures from growing too fast and getting ahead of us, which is always a challenge during the spring flush.  This gave us plenty of time to prepare for the grazing season (tune up fences, watering system, etc.) and get in the first crop of hay.  A nice, big first crop, plus the fact that a lot of sheds are still full of last season’s hay, meant that hay prices have stayed low.  Fine for us, because we’ll be on the buying side come winter.

We were spoiled with rain and grass in May and June, as usual, and since it’s been hot over the past few weeks, things have slowed down somewhat, but we’ve still had enough rain to keep everything lush.  We’ve had five inches of rain in July and at this stage we have the nicest mid-season pasture we’ve had over the last ten years, along with 2014

Still, the temps are creeping up into the 80s and we’ll take a break from cheesemaking after this weekend.  We’ll have made 84 days of cheese in a row, and it’ll be nice to park the cows in the shade, next to a water tank and some hay, while I park myself in Des Moines at the air-conditioned hotel bar.  When it cools down in a few weeks and the cows get more comfortable, we’ll start making again.

Meadow Creek Dairy:

Report courtesy of farm manager Jim Feete

It’s been a very uneven year for grazing in our part of the country. First we had a very dry, cool, windy March and April, when we calve and begin grazing. It was getting scary: we had very little growth in the hay fields and the grass we were grazing was scraggly and thin, with very low protein content. We were irrigating the milking herd’s pasture, but we still almost lost 33 acres at the new farm, Chestnut Creek — old corn fields we’d seeded into grass that were still at a very touchy stage. It was a very difficult time for Jim especially, as he’s the farm manager and in charge of  deciding when, where, and how much to move the cows: despite careful rationing, good management, and every trick he could come up with, we were running out of places to put them.

May looked like it would be more of the same, but finally, around the 10th, we started seeing warmer weather and, thank heaven, rain. The grass growth went wild, the hay fields started catching up, and we were able to stop irrigating the fields for the milking herd. Throughout June and July we’ve seen the same conditions, nice hot weather and steady rains. The hay harvest, which we’ll use to carry the cows through their winter dry-off period, has been good… even though we’ve had to work around that most mixed of blessings, the rain. The seedlings on the old cornfields are doing very well, and after three seasons at Chestnut Creek we’re really seeing the results of our efforts and the incredible potential of the farm. So the story with the scary opening has a happy ending!

Cato Corner Farm:

Report courtesy of cheesemaker Mark Gillman

It has been extremely dry and quite hot here – with no end in sight. We desperately need rain to keep the pastures growing.  

Jasper Hill Farm:

Report courtesy of farm manager Nate van Gulden

Last winter’s warmer temperatures and lack of snow had me believing that we’d have cows out on pasture at least 2 weeks earlier than normal. What little snow we had was gone way before it was 2015.The grass couldn’t start growing as the temperatures wouldn’t warm up. On the date I was predicting cows would be grazing I went for a pasture walk with our nutritionist and Nat the creamery manager to talk strategy for pasture and cheese production for the year. It was snowing, and I adjusted my predicted turn out to another 3 weeks to May 21st or so.

The temperatures warmed up a little and we started letting the cows out to pasture during the days on Thursday May 19th. The grass still didn’t look like it was growing very fast, but by Monday the 23rd I walked out to pastures and realized we were already behind, the grass had popped over the weekend and now we were in grazers version of cat and mouse. Trying to keep the cows eating at just the same rate the grass is growing. If the grass gets ahead of the cows it gets too tall and the cows won’t eat it all. If the cows get ahead of the grass then they over graze and set back regrowth for later in the season.

During our first rotation we grazed 15 acres before the first paddock was ready to graze again, we had decided to take a first cut of hay off more of the pasture land in years past and cut it earlier so that as the grass started to slow down during the summer heat we’d have pastures ready to graze. I think for the first time in my 9 years of grazing I came close to getting this right.

What I hadn’t predicted was the month long stretch of no rain. Pastures were slow to recover and we had to start grazing some of the fields we hayed a week earlier then I wanted. Luckily this is when it started to rain, not the almost every day pouring rain we experienced last summer, but just enough to allow pastures to recover.

Now a month later we’re on our third rotation around our 55 acres of grazing land. The grass is currently ahead of the cows but for the heat of summer that’s not a bad place to be.

Jasper Hill Farm is located in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, a notoriously rainy and unpredictable part of the state weather-wise… Making hay was always an issue, and with terroir being a core component of their cheesemaking mission, buying hay from elsewhere seemed incongruous with Jasper Hill’s ideals. Mateo Kehler and Andy Kehler, brothers and co-owners of the farm, decided to invest in a hay drying machine (the first of its kind in the United States!) and create the Eureka Cropping Center to make the haying process easier, faster, and less dependent upon the weather.

Normally when hay is cut, it has to sit in the field and dry over a period of a few days before it is ready to bale. If the hay is baled wet, it will begin to ferment. While this kind of hay (called haylage) is definitely edible for cows, the wild array of microflora in present can wreak havoc on the cheesemaking process, leading to off flavors and unwanted secondary fermentation. The hay dryer allows the team at Eureka to extract all moisture from the hay in just six hours, preserving the aroma, color, and nutrients of the hay. In addition to making hay, the Eureka Cropping Center was built to capture an immense amount of solar power, and now offsets nearly half of Jasper Hill Farm’s power usage.

Animal Farm:

Report courtesy of farmer & butter maker Diane St Clair

Like many parts of the country, temperatures have been above average in Vermont this summer. For those of us who feed our dairy animals dry hay, late May and early June are the ideal times to harvest our grasses–they are full of nutrition, and the animals will make lots of milk eating early first cut hay.

For several years, June has been too rainy to make hay; you need three days of sun to bale good dry hay. This year, however, June was sunny and hot. Lots of farmers made some good hay. The problem was that it never rained, and you need some rain to make the grass grow for second cut after you harvest the first.

In July, we have had some thunderstorms to go with our hot weather, so our second cut grasses have been growing, and we have been making more hay. Second cut hay is full of clovers(white and red), trefoil, and other legumes, and it is a richer feed for the animals.

Farmers in Vermont are enjoying much better quality hay yields than in past years, though less rain has meant that pasture for grazing has not grown as quickly.

With farming, there’s always a trade off!

Summer Creme de La Cave Selection – New Arrivals from Our Farms!

CremeDeLaCaveSummer_96dpiThe best cheeses of the season are ripe for the picking! When we’re falling headlong into the dog days of summer and the corn, peaches, and berries are ripe at the farmer’s market, the sheep and goat cheeses of the year are reaching their apex of diversity (and deliciousness too!) This trio features the first batches of the year of some of the most incredible small production cheese in America. To us, it represents what we do best here at Saxelby Cheesemongers. Though the wait can be maddening, when these cheeses finally show their faces each year it’s cause for a great big cheese eating party! Try them and we know you’ll agree!

Ben Nevis – Raw sheeps’ milk. Bonnieview Farm, Vermont

Named after the tallest mountain in Scotland, Ben Nevis is an interestingly shaped jewel of a cheese from Bonnieview Farm. The aging of this cheese can range from quite young, just three or four months, to downright old and rustic. Each wheel is pressed by hand, resulting in a texture that is less chewy and more creamy. Grassy, bright and citrusy when young, Ben Nevis resembles a good young pecorino. The striking natural rind is mottled with blue-green, gray, and purplish molds… you might mistake it for a rock if you didn’t know it was a wheel of cheese! The batch that we’re eating now is the first batch of 2016 – it is smooth, creamy and squidgy in texture. The sheepy flavors are mellow and buttery, and are highlighted by bright and sweet notes.

Summer Snow – Pasteurized sheeps’ milk. Woodcock Farm, Vermont

A light and creamy sheeps’ milk cheese made in the camembert style. The name alludes to the cheese’s fluffy white rind, reminiscent of the snow capped peaks that surround the town of Weston, Vermont come wintertime. Buttery, lemony, and a touch nutty when young, Summer Snow develops a sweeter and more pronounced sheepy flavor as it ages. Only available during the summer and early fall – We got our first wheels in mid-May and expect this cheese to last through September. A true summertime delight – try Summer Snow drizzled with honey or with cooked fruit as a condiment.

Twig Wheel – Raw goat and cows’ milk. Twig Farm, Vermont

This washed rind mixed milk cheese really shines! Aged for about three months, Twig wheel is supple and creamy, with a vibrant, fruity and pungent flavor. The semi-firm paste is delicious, well-rounded, and packed with the diverse vegetal flavors present as a result of the animals’ diet of brambles, shrubs, and pasture. The goat milk comes from Twig’s herd of 40 milking goats, and the cows’ milk comes from the Crawford Farm, just a few miles away. Twig Wheel is washed with the lees of a hard cider also made by master fermenter (aka cheesemaker) Michael Lee, creating an extra depth of flavor and meaty funk. When Michael isn’t making cheese or tending his goats, he’s out foraging for forgotten apple varieties in Vermont’s Champlain Valley which he uses to make incredible ciders. The damp, slightly sour, leaf pile in autumn quality in his ciders is truly apparent in this cheese. The musk of the goats’ milk and butterfat of both the goat and cows’ milk in the cheese complements the pungent funk of the rind in a way that makes these mongers want to shout from the hilltops!

Celebrate The Sheep! An Ode To Our Ovine Friends

It’s the peak of summer, a time to sit baaa-ck, relax, and feast on the splendor of the season’s sheep milk cheese! In the seasonal cheese game (like Quidditch to the world of cheese lovers and mongers – and we’re not even huge Harry Potter fans) sheep milk cheeses are one of the most prized trophies. unnamed.jpg
Why, you ask? Well for starters, sheep have the shortest milking season of all the lactating ruminants that we tangle with here at Saxelby Cheese. Sheep give milk for just 5 to 6 months out of the year compared with 9-10 for goats and nearly a full calendar year for cows. It’s a fast and furious time on the farm – lambs are born, lambs are weaned, and then the race is on to milk the ewes and get the most cheese possible out of the season before the days grown short again and the milk supply wanes. There are a few dairies that we work with that have year-round production due to staggering their flocks’ breeding, but in general, we’re dealing with a short, but delicious season.
Sheep milk is also much higher in butterfat than goat or cows’ milk. According to Harold McGee’s ‘On Food and Cooking’ (one of our favorite books on the planet) it clocks in at around 7% butterfat, compared with 4-5% for cows and goats. Fat being a vehicle for flavor (and so many other good things) the resulting cheeses are rich, decadent, and extra delicious! There is something to be said for eating a sheep milk cheese – fresh or aged. There is a palate coating embarrassment of riches laced with flavor notes of grass, toasted nuts, and lanolin that comes from sheep milk, and that is unrivaled.
Lastly but not least, sheep milk is naturally homogenized (as is goat milk) meaning that for some reasons more known to mother nature and the science-inclined community, it is easier to digest. Don’t know what ‘homogenized’ means? Don’t worry – you certainly aren’t alone. And we’re nerds, so we like explaining anyways… Homogenization is the process by which the fat globules in milk are busted apart so that it does not separate into cream and skim. With sheep milk, the fat globules come in neat and tiny packages that don’t allow it to separate, and render it easier on the old gut. If you have issues with dairy products, try some sheep milk products on for size and see if it makes a difference!
Stop by the shop this week for a taste of the season’s finest sheep milk cheeses, or order up a Cheesemonger’s Choice Selection online with a note that says ‘Send me the sheep!’ We’ll take care of you…

Cheese Trivia Redux

Our first-ever Cheese Trivia Night was a huge success! Even we unabashed caseophiles (yes, that’s the answer to one of the questions) took advantage of the occasion to dig deep and suss out some seriously nerdy curds of cheese knowledge… Check out some of our favorite questions below and dazzle your friends with your own cheese dork-dom!

Q: What’s the price of the most expensive cheese in the world?
A: Pule, a Balkan donkey milk cheese from Serbia costs $600/pound

Q: What is a lactating female donkey called?
A: A Jenny! And a male donkey is a Jack.

Q: Per person, which nations folks eat the most cheese?
A: Greeks! At 68 lbs/person they far out-eat the Americans and even the French

Q: Can you name the 3 (yes, three) American Presidents who brought in 1000 pound plus blocks of cheese to the main foyer of The White House, then invited citizens to slice off slabs and discuss the issues of the day?
A: Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, and Barack Obama

Q: What is the naturally occurring additive that makes cheddar yellow?
A: Annatto seed

Q: What kind of mold is used for blue cheese?
A: Penicillium Roqueforti

Q: What word can be used to describe a cheese connoisseur?
A: Turophile or Caseophile

Q: What state produces the most cheese in the US?
A: Wisconsin

Q: What cheese has maggots involved in its ripening?
A: Cazu Marzu

Q: What are those crunchy crystals found in some aged cheeses?
A: Tyrosine

Q: When did people start calling each other  “The Big Cheese”?
A: As far back as 1863, cheese was considered synonymous with quality. It’s described in “The Slang Dictionary,” published in 1863, as “anything good, first-rate in quality, genuine, pleasant or advantageous.” People eventually combined “big” and “cheese” to mean a person of big wealth, fame and/or importance.

Q: Why does cheese come in a wheel?
A: So it can be rolled.  Traditional English cheesemakers produced it in wheels for easy transportation.

Q: What country produces the most cheese?
A: The US…unless you count the European Union as a whole, but why do that?

Q: T or F: Wisconsin uses cheese to de-ice roads.
A: T – They so have so much whey, they don’t know what to do with it. They recently successfully tested a combo of whey and rock salt that prevents roads from freezing.

Q: Where is the world’s stinkiest cheese from?
A: Northern France – Vieux-Boulogne, an unpasteurized cow’s milk cheese ruled the electronic nose sensor test.

Q: What is the rarest cheese made from?
A: Moose milk. The moose reside in Biursholin, Sweden at a dairy farm called The Elk House.

Q: Which state produces the most cheese in the US?
A: Wisconsin – followed by California and then Idaho

 

Cheese Trivia at 61 Local Thursday!

Thursday June 2, 7:00-8:30pm at 61 Local

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JOIN SAXELBY CHEESEMONGERS for a night of Cheese Trivia with a hearty helping of food and drink! That’s right folks – it doesn’t get much nerdier (or curdier) than this! Ticket price includes three beer and cheese pairings and access to the most ridiculous cheesy information on the planet.
The winner will take home a $50 gift certificate to Saxelby Cheese!

Header: Better With Age – Saxelby Cheesemongers Celebrates 10 Years!

Saxelby10BannerOn May 5th 2006, probably a day or two before I was really ready to pull the trigger, I opened Saxelby Cheesemongers for business in the Essex Market. Maybe it was a desire to open on Cinco de Mayo so that I was less likely to forget the shop’s anniversary (and to always have an excuse to have odd cheese-centric/Mexican Independence Day-themed cakes from Rainbo’s Fish) but in reality it was more of a cocktail of excitement, nerves, and impatience to just open up and sell some cheese already! Over the years I’ve joked that on that first day I felt a little bit like I did when I’d have a garage sale at my parents’ house back in the midwest where I grew up. You just roll up the gate and hope that people show up!

Over the past 10 years, Saxelby Cheesemongers has leapt and bounded far beyond the friendly confines of our little store in the Essex Market. Together with my business partner Benoit Breal, and our team of awesome cheesemongers, cave managers, and drivers, we have built the business from a humble 100 square foot shop supporting roughly 20 local farms to a retail, wholesale, and mail order business that serves over 100 restaurants and small retailers in New York City and beyond! We now work with over 50 producers of delicious cheese and dairy products, many of whom did not even exist when we opened our doors in 2006. In 2015, Saxelby Cheesemongers purchased over 100,000 pounds of cheese from our network of farms, representing over one million dollars funneled back into local agricultural economies.

Since the beginning, Saxelby’s mission has been to be the bridge between the farms and the people who love, support and EAT all of this glorious American farmstead and artisan cheese! Nurturing and growing those relationships – whether with our cheesemakers on the farm side, our customers on the retail side, or our chefs on the restaurant side, is our true passion and the thing that makes us happiest and most fulfilled from day to day and year to year.

On our 10th anniversary, we’d like to thank YOU – all of our loyal cheese loving fans for your support over these years! We could not have done it without you, and we look forward to bringing you more great cheese for another 10 years – and then some.

Cheers and Cheese!

Anne Saxelby and Benoit Breal

co-owners Saxelby Cheesemongers

Lambing Day at Meadowood Farms

This weekend we headed up to Meadowood Farms for their annual Lambing Day celebration! Check out some gratuitously cute pictures of lambs and click here to read more about Meadowood Farms, sheep cheese, and Lambing Day.


Meadowood Farms is located in Cazenovia, New York, a historic upstate hamlet just outside of Syracuse. Established in 1911, it was said of the original farm owners, the Walter Chard family, that “They therefore chose a site in the midst of a fine country and commanding a superb view of the full length of Cazenovia lake, a site in the center of a farm which they hope in time to make a model of cultivation and thrift.” The original farm was home to a wide variety of agricultural enterprises including an apple orchard, a flock of 4,000 chickens, white Cheshire pigs, and a herd of 50 milking Holsteins. The farm was a thriving business up through the 1950’s, when burgeoning big ag industry and science began to erode the sustainability of small and mid-sized farms. Over the decades the farm atrophied, and by the 1980’s it was all but derelict – the town even considered tearing down the historic Chard mansion.

The current owners, Marc Schappell and Tom Anderson, stumbled across Meadowood Farms in 1995 while visiting Cazenovia for a wedding. They fell head over heels for the farm and have spent the last 20 years restoring the farm lands and farm buildings to their original glory. Meadowood Farms now encompasses over 200 acres and is home to a flock of pure bred East Fresian sheep used to make their award-winning lineup of cheese, and Belted Galloway cattle – used both for showing at agricultural fairs as well as for beef.

Every spring Meadowood Farms hosts a Lambing Day celebration – kicking off the spring and the start of the sheep cheese making season. Sheep are seasonal in their milk production – they give milk for a 5-6 month period after their lambs are born in the late winter/early spring. Veronica Pedraza, the head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms, has been making cheese for two weeks this season, and in another 2-3 weeks, we’ll have the distinct pleasure of bringing you those young, fresh sheeps’ milk cheeses! The first cheeses of the season are Strawbridge – a creamy bloomy rinded cheese that tastes of hazelnuts, cultured cream, and tangy yogurt, and Ledyard – a leaf-wrapped sheeps’ milk cheese that is yeasty, barnyardy, and honeyed in flavor. Look out for these two behind the counter at Saxelby Cheesemongers in the coming weeks – we can’t wait to dig in to them ourselves!

Veronica Pedraza, head cheesemaker at Meadowood Farms, dreamed of making sheep cheese for years before finding the right farm for her. She honed her skills making cows’ milk cheese at Sweetgrass Dairy in Georgia and at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont, two of the country’s top cheese producers. She has quickly created a lineup of delicious sheeps’ milk, mixed milk, and cows’ milk cheeses named after local people and places in Cazenovia. Driving around over the weekend we saw cheese names everywhere we looked – Rippleton Road, Ledyard Street, Lorenzo, Cazenovia’s historic mansion, and Juvindale Farm – the local dairy that Veronica buys her cows’ milk from. But sheeps’ milk cheese is her true passion – the milk is higher in fat than cow or goats’ milk, and has a unique, nutty, sweet and slightly wooly flavor that imparts wonderful flavor notes to the finished cheese.

 

Now back to the sheep – farmer and flock manager Bee Tolman is one of the pre-eminent experts on sheep and sheep dairying in the US. Unlike the cow dairying industry, in which Bee says there is ‘little to nothing new to discover’, the sheep dairying business is a veritable black hole of information in comparison. Sheep dairying is very common in Europe, but the secrets to success (including the genetics for the animals themselves) are locked in regions like the Pyrenees in France, the arid planes of Thanks to farmers like Bee, La Mancha in Spain, and in various regions of Italy. However, Bee has made it her life’s work to educate herself, chipping away at the secrets and paving her own way to a phenomenal operation at Meadowood Farms.

This year the farm is producing more milk than ever thanks to an innovative system of leaving the ewes and lambs together for 12 hours at a time and then separating them for 12 hours. This allows the lambs to be with their mothers and nurse, and also allows the ewes to produce the maximum amount of milk. Sheep reach their peak of milk production just 30 days after giving birth, so this period of early spring is crucial to the success of the cheese making side of the business. The spring milk is also the richest at this time of year, making for some super tasty cheese.

The sheep are grazed all summer long – another tremendous effort for Bee and her farm team. Talking about the farm, she said that milking sheep was already tough enough without adding the ‘dark art’ of rotational grazing. It’s basically a big grass gambling operation – Bee goes out and surveys the farm’s ample pasture and decides which patches she thinks will be ready to produce the best grass three weeks out. She then mows the fields and prays, crosses her fingers and toes, and invokes any other superstition available to her to ensure that there’s not a drought, not too much rain, and that in three weeks time the grass is young, tender, and appetizing for the sheep. Contrary to popular belief, sheep (and all other grazers) won’t eat just any grass, they like the softer, younger shoots. Once it grows above a certain height, it becomes too fibrous and woody, no longer appealing to them. Many of our dairy farmers half joke that they are actually grass farmers – which is not a stretch when you consider how important the animals’ diet is to the finished product!

So when the season’s first sheeps’ milk cheeses from Meadowood Farms arrive a few weeks from now – one bite will tell you all you need to know about the goodness of the farm. Till then, stay tuned and ready to savor!