GoodBye Irene…Hello Autumn

 

It has been a very humbling few days for us, here,  in the wake of tropical storm Irene. We have been reminded once again that Mother Nature is a powerful force and once she gets rolling, no one, no human, no machines, no technology can stop her. Living in Vermont, we have been getting a lot of heartfelt and concerned messages about how we weathered the storm, and I am happy to say that we were extremely lucky and are all OK.

The animals, homestead, buildings, and even the garden came out of the storm with no damage. We are very grateful to have been spared and at the same time feeling devastated  for our fellow Vermonters who were not as fortunate. It broke my heart watching videos of  Irene’s  devastation in Wilmington, a town we lived very close to 5 years ago – the river rose so fast and most of the town was left underwater. One woman was even swept away by the rising waters while her boyfriend could do nothing but watch.

I got a message from my best friend Liz, who weathered Irene in NYC, she was feeling really sad about Vermont when she heard about all the terrible flooding here. Through her visits to see us, she has come to know Vermont as a friendly yet hard-working place, full of mom and pop stores where people talk to you like you are a human being with smiles on their faces. Yes, that is Vermont, and because this way of being is so akin to the people that live here, it means that those in need aren’t going to have to look very hard for a helping hand.

I have to say though, as Irene was bearing down on us, and state officials were telling us to prepare for the worst, I was so thankful for all the canning and preserving I had done throughout the summer. I was thankful to the garden, and to the chickens, both for eggs and meat. This is the first time we actually really NEEDED to be prepared for something major, and it was nice not having to worry about that, on top of all our other preparations.

I was also thankful for social media – through facebook and twitter (amazingly we did not lose power!) I was able to keep tabs on the storm and what was happening in our local area. We heard about evacuations in nearby towns at midnight yesterday morning – and learned about a website where we can see all the road closures in the state. Vermont Transportation Agency officials stated that every major road across the state has some kind of damage, and many town roads are facing much worse.

So on that note, as Autumn is starting to make itself known here in the North Country, I am going to be taking a bit of a break from blogging during the month of September. There is a lot going on and life is sort of taking over at the moment, which right now is definitely a good thing. Especially in light of terrible events that have happened over the last few months, I am concentrating on slowing down a little and spending time with family. It is all good stuff, so nothing to worry about. I have arranged for some of my favorite bloggers to fill in for me in my absence. I know you are going to enjoy their posts, and I will be back with new blog posts in October!

Lobstered OUT!

BOOTH BAY HARBOR

We just got back from a family trip to Maine. We spent a week in Booth Bay Harbor with Gwen, my dad and stepmom and some family friends. It was nice getting away and having a change of scenery. Living in a land-locked state, it is always enjoyable to be near the ocean and this trip was especially nice as we were able to bring our dogs!

 

MINI P and PEPINO hanging out at Damariscotta Lake State Park

Too bad they don’t consider goats, sheep or chickens as pets!

One of my goals of the trip was to eat lobster every day. At about $5.99/lb market price, this was super easy to do. We cooked every dinner but one at the house, to showcase the many wonderful cooks that were on this trip! This made the whole thing much more economic – and we thought, way more fun! We enjoyed whole steamed lobsters, lobster sushi, lobster pizzas, lobster deviled eggs, lobster rolls, lobster club sandwiches, lobster and corn brulee, lobster risotto and lobster gnocchi.  Of course we also ate some other wonderful seafood such as mussels, oysters, shrimp, clams and scallops. I probably ate more seafood in one week, than I do in months here at home and we all really enjoyed it.

We had a few dinners that included fresh chicken that we raised , as well as some local beef. But even with that, we were totally “lobstered out” by the end of it! But come this winter we will be enjoying some beautiful lobster stock, and saffron Spanish style mussels for a stew base made by our friend Alice. Thanks Alice!

Anyway, we are adjusting to being back at home, and so I feel as though this post is rather boring, so I will just let the pictures explain!

Thank you Taste of Scotland!

 

Do you all remember My First Cheese Opus? Well, if you missed it, I encourage you to check it out. It is all about my experience making a traditional and historic Scottish cheese called Gruth Dubh, or “Black Crowdie” – a fresh raw cow’s milk cheese. I contacted several companies in Scotland to learn about the cheese, since there is no real recipe, and one of the companies was Taste of Scotland. They liked my cheese so much, that they featured the blog post in their most recent newsletter, which is a HUGE honor. So here is a big THANK YOU to Taste of Scotland. Make sure to follow them on facebook, and let them know The Leftover Queen sent you! :)

Getting Cheesy…

Do you ever have a post that you wish could always stay at the top? That is how I feel about my last post, Homemade Nutella for Norway . But I suppose when faced with tragedy, the most important thing is to continue living and moving forward, and so with that, I will move on with this blog, always keeping loved ones in Norway close to my heart.

It feels like the past few months of my life have been really cheesy. It all started with the course I took at Sterling College. Then 2 Thursdays ago, while the tragic events in Oslo happened, I was standing over vats of hot curds and whey all day, oblivious to the outside world, at The Cellars at Jasper Hill. My friend Sarah, who with her husband Jason owns a fabulous catering business JDC’s, is also a cheesemaker at Jasper Hill. So she invited me to spend the day there shadowing her and seeing how a large cheesemaker operates.

It was an amazing experience, a much larger scale than any other cheesemaking experience I have had so far, either at Sterling or in my own kitchen. After getting outfitted in a pair of white plastic clogs, a white jacket and a hair net, I was able to cross the threshold from the outside work, to the curd world.

(Ladling Constant Bliss)

Sarah was in the middle of something, so she sent me downstairs to watch and chat with Calista and Evan who were ladling curds into molds for Constant Bliss . We talked about their experiences in the cheese world, which greatly outnumbered mine. But we all agreed that there was something zen-like about ladling hot curds. I would have loved to ladle with them, but didn’t want to upset the obvious groove they had going!

After a while I went back upstairs, and watched while Sarah used a big machine to cut the curds for another batch of cheese, this time Moses Sleeper. What the machine didn’t cut, we used small cheese knives to do by hand. We then took baskets of the steaming curds, dumped them on huge trays, with drainage mats (for the whey) and fluffed the curds, and then dumped the fluffed curds onto another tray, which Sarah then stuffed into molds. We did this with two different batches. It was awesome. Hot, but awesome. The second time, a film crew was there, from a new Food Network Show, The Big Cheese (which is not even on the air yet…). So who knows, our work that day may end up on an episode, but really the film crew was there for the cellars. I wish I could have gotten photos, but really the work was too wet for a camera to be safe. So you will have to imagine…

If you live in Northern Vermont, you have surely heard about the Cellars. Even if you are not in Northern VT, you may know of them. The Cellars are two thousand square feet and 7 vaults of beautifully delicious aging cheese – some of it, Jasper Hill makes, but a lot of it is from other cheesemakers in Vermont.

The largest vaults are only of Cabot’s Clothbound Cheddar. The photo above is just one vault, and is only of two rows in the vault, of which there had to have been at least 8. But it is more about cheese, it is about a local movement, and helping Vermont’s dairy farmers, and small artisan cheesemakers, continue to be viable and to thrive! I really can’t say it better than their website:

“Farm viability is at the heart of the mission of the Cellars at Jasper Hill. The state of Vermont has seen a precipitous decline in the number of viable dairy farms in the last fifty years, and the Cellars is a business created to halt that decline. Dairy farms help to define the working landscape of Vermont, and artisan cheesemaking is a growing industry that provides an outlet for New England dairy farms to turn their landscape into milk, their milk into cheese, and their cheese into profits.

However, starting a cheesemaking business can be challenging enough without the added stress of aging and marketing that cheese. The Cellars at Jasper Hill provides a place for cheesemakers to send their “green” cheeses to be ripened and marketed by staff who are specially trained to do just that. By reducing the initial investment and training needed by farms trying to diversify, the Cellars at Jasper Hill will provide opportunity to a greater number of those farms.

We hope to relieve small cheesemakers – who wish to simply make cheese – of the burden of being constantly engrossed in all of the intricate details that are involved in maintaining customer relations and keeping their cheeses in healthy circulation. By having a central location from which to distribute and ship the cheese, the Cellars at Jasper Hill helps to ensure that cheese arrives to its destination in the shortest time and best condition possible.

Through all of this, the Cellars at Jasper Hill contributes directly to the expansion of the farmstead model of cheesemaking. We are a mission-based company, and our mission is to preserve all of the integrity and beauty of Vermont’s working landscape.”

(Von Trapp OMA)

…And this is one of the many reasons why Roberto and I moved to this part of Vermont. The dedication of local producers, and their willingness to help others in their industry, all in the name of keeping Vermont a happy and prosperous place. Jasper Hill is a big operation, but it needs to be because it houses so many cheese varieties from all over the state, including some of my personal favorites, like Oma, from the Von Trapp family. Yep, those Von Trapp’s.

They also house Ploughgate Creamery Cheese. In fact last night I met Marisa Mauro, owner and cheesemaker at her one woman cheesemaking show! She invited me to come over to the creamery sometime soon to see how things are done there, and I very much am looking forward to it.

The cheese world is small and feels even smaller in Vermont. I am trying to learn, and observe as much as I can from as many cheesemaking operations as I can. I have met many contacts, and hope to meet more via my friend Taylor, co-owner of Good Food Jobs (a great resource if you are looking for a job in the food industry) who used to work at Murray’s Cheese in NYC. So she knows a lot of cheesy people.

(Cabot Clothbound Cheddar)

I feel very lucky to live where I do, as an aspiring cheesemaker. There are a lot of resources here and a very rich dairy history that is well-established and in the process of being revitalized through the hard work and dedication of people like the Kehler brothers who own Jasper Hill and all the small artisan cheesemakers who are bringing back true farmstead cheeses for consumers.

As a side note, I learned another important thing during this experience – the true reason for sweat. This particular day I was there was during the big heat wave. It was about 90 degrees outside, and at least 90% humidity. The cheese room(s) have no AC. So I literally sweat my own body weight that day. Once I left, I felt rather cool, and when I got home, I felt refreshed. All I could think about all day was taking a shower as soon as I walked in the house, but once I got home, I was cool as a cucumber, and Roberto was still sweltering! I realized you have to sweat A LOT to get the cooling affects, instead of sweat just being annoying, it is miraculous! I guess that is why everyone was making jokes all day about how there are no fat cheesemakers!