New to the Cave: Sheep Milk Cheeses from Landmark Creamery in Wisconsin

Pictured Above: Anna Landmark (left) and Anna Thomas Bates (Right)

A little piece of land, a Swiss Grandfather, a noisy milk cow named Freckles, a flock of wild sheep, two goats named Giselle and Celeste, along with a passion for local food and cooking are the roots of Landmark Creamery.

Landmark Creamery is run by two Anna’s, Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates. This either makes things very confusing, or very simple. Landmark makes the cheese and Thomas Bates eats it (and sells it.)

Anna and Anna moved to Albany, Wisconsin at the same time in 2009, but didn’t meet until they found themselves at a potluck for Green County Women in Sustainable Agriculture three years later. Anna Landmark was there because she had a small farm, Anna Thomas Bates was there because as a food writer and proponent of sustainable agriculture, she loves to learn about local food, farms and the incredible women who run them. They grew closer when they found their four-year-olds in the same 4-K class at school.

Landmark plunged into full-time cheese making in August 2013. Over homemade Old Fashioneds, the two Anna’s plotted a partnership dreaming of creamy sheep milk and buttery pasture-grazed cow milk, carefully handcrafted into beautiful, delicious cheese.

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Pictured Above: Landmark Creamery Anabasque, a sheep milk tomme styled after the Pyrenees greats like Ossau Iraty and Abbaye de Belloc.

I tasted Landmark Creamery’s cheeses at the American Cheese Society conference last summer in Providence, Rhode Island, and immediately knew that they would have a loving home in our cheese room.  Anabasque is the Anna’s signature aged sheep milk cheese, made in a stylistic homage to Ossau Iraty, the legendary alpine sheep milk tomme from Basque Country.  The rind is a rust red from repeated washing in brine.  Anabasque is rich and meaty with notes of roasted salted peanuts and apricots.  This cheese is perfect for anchoring the local/hard/sheep component of a regional cheese board.  Pair with medium intensity reds, buttery whites, and virtually all ciders (who always play well with basque style sheep milk cheeses.)  Anabasque is made with pasteurized sheep milk, and wheels weigh approximately ten pounds.

Fresh hand-ladled Petit Nuage draining in their likewise petite baskets.

The seasonal release of the über precious “Petit Nuage” means that spring is finally here to stay.  Petit Nuage translates to “Little Cloud,” which is about as apt a description as you can make for these fluffy little 1oz buttons of fresh sheep milk cheese.  Each wheel is only an inch and a half in diameter, making them the perfect single size serving on a cheese plate paired with local honey – or perhaps with the beautiful cheese friendly preserves from the nearby Wisconsinites atQuince and Apple.  Petit Nuage is rich and lactic with a bright lemony finish.

Our first shipment of Petit Nuage will be arriving at the end of next week, and will be kept in stock though the summer until the end of the production season in October.  Petit Nuage is sold by the tray (8x1oz buttons) or case (4 trays or 32 pieces total).

Petit Nuage - hot off the presses and ready to be enjoyed!
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New to the Cave: Cheeses from Spring Brook Farm in Reading, Vermont

If there is one thing beyond quality and flavor that influence our cheese buying decisions, it would be the people that make cheese happen.  We love sourcing great foods from good folks.  And of all of the good folks in the cheese world that have wrapped flavor, quality, and “good vibes” into a neat little bundle, the team at Spring Brook Farm would rate pretty high on the list.

Since 1994 Spring Brook Farm has been home to the Farms for City Kids Foundation, in those years it has brought 10,000+ inner city kids between the ages of 8 and 12 to their beautiful farm in Reading Vermont for a week of hands on learning, free of charge. “In our thousand-acre classroom‚ reading‚ writing‚ math‚ social studies and environmental study skills are applied to hands-on farming tasks. Through group-structured tasks—such as learning to care for farm animals—students discover untapped character strengths‚ develop critical teamwork skills and strengthen core values such as hard work‚ leadership‚ respect‚ self-confidence and responsibility. Students are challenged to overcome fears‚ accomplish feats they never imagined and are empowered by our Farm staff to achieve success every day.”

Cheese is still a relative newcomer to the scene at Spring Brook Farm.  In 2003, former blacksmith Jeremy Stephenson began his love affair with traditional alpine cheeses while living abroad in Europe for a year with his family.  Upon their return, he began making cheese with the neighboring Thistle Hill Farm.  He was brought on as the cheese program director for the Farms for City Kids Foundation in 2008, and resumed making the Tarentaise after John Putnam from Thistle Hill licensed the name to Spring Brook Farm in order to keep up with demand.

Already home to acres of lush pasture and a herd of 100 registered jersey cows, it wasn’t log before Jeremy and his team were producing award winning cheese.  In 2009, Spring Brook Farm’s Tarentaise won first place at the annual American Cheese Society conference for Farmstead Cheeses aged over 60 days.  It has gone on to win many other awards including the coveted “Best in Show” award at the 2014 ACS conference.  In 2010 Reading Raclette (pronounced: Red-ding) was added to the docket.  Both cheeses are made exclusively with raw milk from their 40 milking cows, and are made using traditional copper vats to cook the curds, as is the case with many traditional European alpine cheeses.  All profits from their cheese sales go towards the Farms for City Kids Foundation.

Spring Brook Farm Tarentaise

  • Country of Origin: U.S.A
  • State: Vermont
  • Milk Type: Unpasteurized (Raw) Jersey Cow Milk
  • Style: Farmstead Firm, Alpine, Washed Rind, aged a minimum of 6 months.
  • Size: 16-20 lb wheels
  • Availability: Year round

Tarentaise is a firm alpine cheese similar to French alpine cheeses like Abondance, Comte and Beaufort.  John Putnam named the cheese after the Tarentaise Valley in France where the eponymous cows graze in the French Alps.  Tarentaise the cheese is easily recognized by its concave rind that imitates that of its French cousin Abondance.  Spring Brook Farm’s version of Tarentaise is intensely buttery and sweet in aroma, and is toothy and crystalline in texture, finishing with big notes of pineapple and warm spices.  This is the kind of cheese makes you want to sit  and taste in silent appreciation as the world passes you by.

Spring Brook Farm Reading Raclette

  • Country of Origin: U.S.A
  • State: Vermont
  • Milk Type: Unpasteurized (Raw) Jersey Cow Milk
  • Style: Farmstead, Semi-firm, Alpine, Washed Rind, Aged between 3-5 months
  • Size: 16-20 lb wheels
  • Availability: Year round

Behold the holy grail of melting cheeses.  Spring Brook Farm’s Reading is the closest thing we’ve found to a true Swiss Raclette, and it’s a darn good imitation.  Raclette (the dish not the cheese) is going to be to 2016 what Fancy Toast was to 2015, so make sure you jump on the bandwagon early.  Melt it over roasted fingerling potatoes alongside charcuterie and a few snappy cornichons, you can thank us later.

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These My Jams: Agrimontana Italian Fruit Preserves

I’m kind of a jam freak.  If it can be swirled into unsweetened yogurt, slathered on toast, or paired with cheese, you know I’m there.  Agrimontana’s jams have been on my short-list of favorites since I started working in the wild world of fancy groceries a decade ago.  Founded in 1972 in Piedmont, Italy, Agrimontana has been known to pastry chefs for years as one of the premier sources for candied fruits, and nut pastes (and we stock those too!) However the jams are only found in a handful of boutique specialty food stores around the country.

These preserves are made only when the fruits reach their peak season, using a little bit of lemon juice, and cane sugar from Mauritius.  There are no additional flavors or preservatives.  The end product has wonderful purity of fresh fruit flavor, as well as brilliant colors and textures.  I could (and often do) eat them by the spoonful.  Our first shipment of Agrimontana’s fruit preserves just reached Great Ciao World Headquarters.  We started off with Apricot, Wild Blueberry, Amarene Sour Cherry, Fig, Raspberry, and Strawberry, but many other flavors available by request.

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New At The Ciao House! Greek Extra-Virgin 100% Koroneiki Olive Oil From Yioryo

We have known George Gavros through the specialty food industry for the twenty years that Great Ciao has been in business.  Not only has he become a close friend of ours at Great Ciao, but more recently he’s been our “nose on the ground” for sniffing out great products from Greece, including our recent additions of PDO barrel-aged feta, and wild Greek oregano.  Last week a shipment of his hand-selected extra virgin olive oil arrived in our warehouse by way of Southern Greece.

Yioryio (Greek for George) 2015 new harvest oil is made with big buttery Greek Koroneiki olives, harvested from a handful of farms surrounding the ancient city of Argos in the southern Peloponnese peninsula.  To ensure the best flavor and a low (.4) oleic acidity, the olives are pressed before the sunrise of the day that they were harvested.  Yioryo’s oil is only made from fresh green (not completely ripened) olives, resulting in a brilliantly green color, as well as a rich mouth-feel and fruity notes of green banana with a lightly peppery finish.  If you like the flavor-profile if Sicilian olive oils pressed from Castelveltrano and Nocellara olives, you’ll love this one.  Not only does it have great body and flavor, but it is also a great value olive oil to use as a workhorse in the kitchen for everything from sauteing, to finishing, and vinaigrettes.  Yioryo extra virgin olive oil is available in a 3L tin to protect the oil from light.

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Cheese Spotlight! Ossau Iraty Estive from Rodolphe le Meunier

Move over winter cheddars and gruyeres, spring puts us in the mood for rich, floral, and delicate sheep milk cheeses from the Pyrenees.

The Basque region that straddles the border between France and Spain is renowned for its alpine sheep milk cheeses.  The lush green mountains of the Western Pyrenees that have preserved Basque culture have also preserved the cheese-making tradition of the region. Basque cheeses are arguably some of the most ancient, with evidence of cheese-making dating back 4,000 years.

Though you can find cow and goat milk cheeses in Basque Country, sheep milk cheeses make up the overwhelming majority.  Manech and Basco-Béarnaise are the local breeds of sheep that have evolved to thrive in the Pyrenees’ terrain.  Basque cheeses are referred to simply in Euskara (the spoken language of the Basque people) as Ardi Gasna, which translates to “our cheese,” or “local cheese.”  To add one more layer of confusion, the French refer to this style of cheeses as “brebis,” which literally translates to, “sheep.”

Black-Headed Manech Sheep grazing on alpine pastures in the Pyrenees Mountains.

Transhumance is a defining way of life for Basque shepherds.  Between May and September, shepherds follow their herds on horseback up the mountain.  While the sheep graze on fresh alpine grasses, the shepherds live in small stone huts called “cayolars.”  The shepherds milk the sheep and make cheese while living in the mountain cayolars.  International demand for Ossau Iraty has flooded the market with industrial versions of this cheese, typically made with milk from a cooperative of farmers as opposed to being farmstead, and made during the winter months when the sheep are eating hay.

Our affineur Rodolphe le Meunier hand selects our wheels of farmstead Ossau Iraty Estive.  The “Estive” designation means that these wheels are only made between May and September while the sheep are happily grazing in the mountains.  Only a few hundred wheels of Ossau Iraty are given the “Estive” title every year.  Currently our wheels of Ossau Iraty Estive are from June of 2015 and are just hitting their peak flavor.  The cheese itself is much more intense and meaty than the pasteurized industrial versions, with a heady nose of ripe apricots and roast lamb, and a pale buttery paste.  The richness of the cheese is moderated with a bit of acidity, which develops into a long floral finish.

Rodolphe just sent us a whole pile of this tasty cheese, give us a call if you need to try it for yourself!

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Extra-Extra-Aged “Antique” Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese

When Andy Hatch (cheesemaker extraordinaire and owner of Uplands Cheese) called us earlier this week and asked if we would like to bring in a special lot of Extra-Extra-Aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve, it didn’t take us long get back to him with an “ummm, yes please!”

Pleasant Ridge Reserve is only made during the summer when their cows are grazing on fresh pasture (May-October) These wheels were made at the beginning of the milking season on May 27th, of 2014.  Typically Upland’s “Extra-Aged” wheels are just over a year old, so we are calling these 22 month-aged wheels “Antique” as a nod to their Gruyere brethren.  Now with nearly two years of aging under their belt, they are tasting phenomenal.  The nose is fruity without being too sweet, like fermented pineapple and caramelized onion.  The cheese opens up into some big meaty flavors (think miso and beef broth) and finishes with notes of fresh hay and toasted pumpkin seeds.  The texture is dense (but not brittle) with all of the sexy little tyrosene “flavor” crystals that can woo even the most finicky of cheese-eaters.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

  • Country of Origin: United States
  • Region: Wisconsin
  • Milk Type: Raw cow’s milk
  • Style: Gruyere
  • Flavor profile: Nutty sweet with dynamic grassy and floral aromas.
  • Quantity: 10# wheel
  • Availability: Seasonal

Located near Dodgeville, Wisconsin, Uplands Cheese was started by two families: Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude.  After years of farming separately as neighbors, in 1994 they combined forces and bought a farm together in order to join their small herds and manage them in a seasonal, pasture-based system.  Uplands farm has crossed larger breeds, like Holsteins and Brown Swiss, with smaller ones, such as Jersey and Tarentaise in their own closed herd.  Pleasant Ridge Reserve is named after the land formation on which the farm sits.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve, is also a farmstead artisan product, and is made in the tradition of Alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Beaufort.  Like the Alpage versions of these cheeses, Pleasant Ridge is made from May through October when the cows are eating fresh pasture. This is a grass-fed raw milk cheese.

Pleasant Ridge is aged typically aged 6-8 months, with a select number of wheels aging up to a year or more.  The cheese produced for over a year, the “Extra Aged” batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, are available only in the fall and early winter.

Tasting notes:  Nutty and sweet with dynamic grassy and floral aromas.

Best in Show American Cheese Awards, 2001, 2005, 2010

Best of Show American Cheese Championship, 2003

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Red Boat “Chefs Cuvée” Double-Barrel Aged Fish Sauce

“A little bit Southeast Asian, a little bit rock n’ roll…”

We brought in Red Boat Fish Sauce a little over a year ago, at the behest of our friends Bob & Kristen at Valley Cheese and Wine in Henderson, Nevada.  And despite the fact that you can find cheaper versions of fish sauce, Red Boat’s version has quickly become a pantry staple in some of the best kitchens and retail shops around the town.

The new 2015 Chef’s Cuvée was developed by chefs Edward Lee (610 Magnolia in Louisville), Stuart Brioza (State Bird Provisions in San Francisco), Paul Qui (Qui in Austin) and Bryan Caswell (Reef in Houston), on their 2013 trip to the “Fish Sauce Trail” with Food Republic that took them from Saigon to the island of Phu Quoc where Red Boat Fish sauce is made.  This special selection is aged in Red Boat’s tropical wood barrels, and then aged for an additional eight months in spent Kentucky Bourbon barrels.  The resulting fish sauce is deep ruby red in color with a sweet fruity aroma and lingering notes of smokiness and caramel.  This limited run is available in 375 ml. glass bottles.



The Red Boat Story

In Vietnam, 95% of families use fish sauce on a daily basis.  Owner Cuong Pham grew up Saigon where he remembers the vivid sweet brothy flavor that the fish sauce from his Uncle’s factory on Phu Quac brought to his mother’s cooking.  When his family immigrated to the United States during the war, they were disappointed by the fish sauce they found in American markets – if they could find it at all.  While working in San Francisco during the dot-com boom of the nineties, he returned home to Vietnam, to find that many of the traditional fish sauce producers on Phu Quac, including his uncle’s, had gone out of business.

In 2006 he bought and revitalized a small fish sauce factory on the island of Phu Quac, which is known both for its phenomenal fish sauce and for its ample black anchovy population.  Black Anchovies are harvested off the Phu Quoc island archipelago.  When the traditional red wood lacquered boats return to the port, the anchovies are cleaned, and immediately packed with salt into tropical wood barrels.  The tropical wood barrels impart an intense fruity sweetness that we were shocked to find was not from added sugar.

We Currently Stock Red Boat’s Fish Sauce in:

  • 50°N – 50 ml Retail Bottles
  • 40°N – 250 ml Retail Bottles
  • 30°N – 2L Food-Service Jugs
  • Chefs Cuvée 40°N – 375 ml Bottle

N is an industry standard to measure the number of grams of nitrogen per liter of fish sauce which tells you the protein content and thereby relative strength of the fish sauce.)

Have questions? Give us a call at (612) 521-8725, we love talking about food.

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This Just In: Barrel Aged Feta and Wild Oregano from Greece

For all of the European products we’ve sourced over the years, we sure haven’t brought in much from Greece. Scott recently went on a trip to Greece with his buddy George (Yioryo) and brought back some new products that knocked our socks off.

Wild Greek Oregano

The name “oregano” means “joy of the mountain” and has its origins in the ancient Greek “oros” (mountain) and “ganos” (joy). Fragrant wild oregano grows rampant on the lush mountain pastures of Greece, where it is hand-foraged and used in just about everything from tomato-sauces to restorative teas used for curing indigestion. True Greek oregano (Oreganus Vulgare – sometimes called wild marjoram) is a relative to mint. The super fragrant, licoricey aroma hits you as soon as you open the canister, the flavor is peppery and citrusy with earthy undertones.

PDO Barrel Aged Feta

Most people know feta as the ubiquitous cheese crumbles that add a quick bite of sharp, acidity (not to mention salt) to salads. The origins of Feta date back to 800 BC, when sheep and goat milk were staples of the Greek diet. Today, the process of making the brined fresh-curd cheese is remarkably similar to the methods described in ancient Greece.

The majority of feta consumed in the United States is made with cows milk, and is dry-packed or crumbled. Our new Feta from Yioryo is made using a traditional blend of 70% sheep milk, 30% goat milk, and is aged in traditional oak barrels to round out the flavor. The brine is just as important as the cheese, and so our 2 Kg (4.4lb) trays are packed with the brine to preserve flavor and freshness. Feta quickly oxidizes and turns sour after being pulled from the brine, so it is best to pull what you are going to use, and keep the remainder stored in brine until it can be used up. We like that first thing you can taste is richness of the sheep milk, and a slight goat-y tang – it tastes like more than just salt.

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To Brie, or not to Brie, that is the Queso: Traditionally made Brie from Ferme de la Tremblaye

Often imitated, but never duplicated, brie is easily the most recognizable French cheese on this side of the pond.  The majority of “brie” consumed in the US is a cheap, heavily processed industrial product. The curd is stabilized, to prevent the cheese from ripening during extended transit times. The resulting cheese will be just as ripe from the moment it is packed, to when it is consumed some months later.

To expedite the lengthy process of ripening, the bloomy rinds are sprayed on, rather than being allowed to develop naturally.  Traditional Brie de Meaux takes six to eight weeks to mature, whereas the industrial versions are ready to ship in less than two weeks. By adulterating the natural aging process, the resulting product is bland and rubbery. To make up for the lack of flavor, producers will increase the level of salt, or add other flavors to the mix. Garlic-dill brie anyone?  Eesh, no thank you.

In a world of mediocre brie, we’ve got the good stuff. Ferme de la Tremblaye is a sustainable farmstead dairy and cheese producer about twenty-five miles southwest  of Paris.  While the word “fermier” typically designates that a French cheese is farmstead and therefore made with unpasteurized milk, these wheels are pasteurized in order to comply with FDA regulations.  However, pasteurization is the only aspect of the production that is nontraditional, the curd is still hand sliced and delicately ladled into forms, using fresh, whole milk exclusively from the farm’s herd of 145 milking cows.  Since 2012 the farm is also self-sufficient, harnessing all of the energy used on the farm and in their home from Bio-gas produced through the anaerobic breakdown of methane.

Tremblaye’s bries are 1kg (2.2lbs) wheels which are much easier to handle than the traditional 3kg (6.6lb) wheels of AOC Brie de Meaux.  The rind is pleasantly mushroomy and gives way to a melt-in-your-mouth paste that is fresh and lactic with notes of sweet cream and garlic.  We fly these cheeses in every two weeks, so you’ll see a thick line of fresh paste through the center which is rare for imported bries by the time they reach us in the flyover states.

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Chuzo de Sal: Spanish Salt Stalagmites from Añana

  • Country of Origin: Spain
  • Region: Basque
  • Flavor profile: Bright minerality with savory undertones and a creamy finish.
  • Quantity: Approx. 110 g

if you are looking for the perfect finishing touch to brandish in front of customers with flourish and gusto without a weekly order of fresh truffles (which we are also happy to facilitate) we’ve got just the thing:  Salt.  But not just any salt, salt stalagmites from an ancient salt mining village in Basque Country.

Okay, we know they verge on ridiculous.  But perhaps also just cool enough to pique your interest? Yes?

If you know a thing or two about salt, you know that it either comes from the sea or a mine.  And since the later is rarely equated with traditional salt production, you know that the majority of high-end finishing salts are harvested from the sea.  So what’s the deal with this landlocked valley in Northern Spain producing legendary Flor de Sal?

Añana sits about 50 km south of Bilbao, in the mountainous landscape of Basque country.  The oldest human records of human settlements date back 5,000 years.  200 million years ago, an ocean covering the valley dried up, leaving salt deposits several kilometers thick.  Thanks to a natural springs that run through the salt deposits, brine bubbles up to the surface of the earth, allowing for the salt to be harvested through evaporation, rather than mining.  Several springs supply around 260 liters of fully saturated brine daily to the village, which trickles through elevated troughs to supply a patchwork maze of salt flats.  As competition for sunlight is fierce, the flats have been built up on stilts to get at the choicest real estate.

But elevated salt flats have a one small problem – they leak.  Even the smallest pinhole can allow brine to slowly drip, over time creating a stalagmite of salt.  These used to be considered a nuisance – evidence your salt flat had sprung a leak.  But seeing as its basically the same great stuff they use to make Flor de Sal, the salt makers began snapping off the salt-cicles to sell to inquiring chefs around Spain.

We just had some shipped from Spain to the frozen tundra of Minnesota for you to grate over dishes to add that “je ne sais quoi.”  We also sell the Flor de Sal in nice crunchy flakes.

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