April 20th is Raw Milk Appreciation Day! We asked Murray’s Cavemaster Josh Windsor to give us the rundown on what makes raw milk cheeses so special.
The idea that a sip of wine can encapsulate the climate and land from where the wine was produced has existed as long as wine has been made. The French term terroir, meaning land or soil, is used describe this phenomenon. Terroir is not limited to wine. Many items of food and beverage have the capability to express the locale from which they come. Our first memory of visiting a new place is intimately bound to dishes and drinks we consumed while there.
The big factor in creating the terroir of cheese is the microflora that starts the cheese making process. Once milk leaves the udder, it is exposed to the surrounding environment, becoming a collector of the microbes in the immediate area. These microbes kickstart the fermentation of the milk and greatly influence the final cheese. The microbial variation can vary from region to region, village to village, farm to farm, and even barn to barn. It’s these microbes that impart the sense of place within cheese.
This can only be accomplished with raw milk cheese. When milk is pasteurized, it eliminates all the microflora that are unique to the place and environment from which the milk comes. Raw milk preserves this identity. To savor a raw milk cheese is to explore the world where it was made. Let’s travel between a classic example from France to three American farms to see terroir in practice:
Roquefort: Dubbed the le roi du fromage (“the king of cheese”) by Denis Diderot, Roquefort is an exemplar of French bleu cheese.Starting sweet with a fudgy texture, it melts on the tongue, becoming creamy with a peppered finish. Originating in the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, the small wheels of sheep milk cheese are aged in a natural cave system formed from the limestone on which the town is built. These communal caves are where all Roquefort cheeses are aged today.
But this was not always the case. In the early Middle Ages, Roquefort was in such demand that blue cheeses were made throughout France and sold under the name Roquefort. These knockoffs did not have the complex flavor and texture of the original. Counterfeit Roquefort became such a problem that Charles VI decreed in 1411 that the name Roquefort could only be used by cheese makers in the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. This is one of the earliest accounts of a legal recognition of terroir and the importance of the place where a cheese is made.
5 Spoke Creamery Tumbleweed: Hailing from just outside Goshen, New York, 5 Spoke Creamery rebuilt a 110-year old barn to serve as their cheese making facility. Their cheeses are a reflection of their commitment to producing handmade, small-batch, raw milk cheese. Tumbleweed is a true American original and a star in 5 Spoke’s lineup. It is similar to a clothbound cheddar with its complex blend of brothy aromas punctuated by a tart fruitiness up front, but the texture, however, is where this cheese shines – landing somewhere close to the firm crumble of an aged cheddar but maintaining a little of the springy resistance of a fresh cheese curd. This is truly a cheese that could only come from one barn in all the world.
Consider Bardwell Rupert: The farmland of Consider Bardwell spans from the Champlain Valley of Vermont and into Washington County, New York. The terroir of their cheeses is not defined by political boundaries, but by the roll of the hills and the paths of the streams. The farm itself sits on the site of the former Pawlet Cheese Company which was Vermont’s first dairy cooperative. Today, Consider Bardwell continues the cooperative spirit by making delicious goat cheese from their own herd and cow’s milk cheeses from their neighbor Wayward Goose Farm. Rupert is one snackable result from this partnership. Made from pasture-based, raw milk, Rupert is a firm alpine-style cheese bursting with flavor. With a backbone of toffee and butterscotch, the occasional accent of pineapple peaks through. Rupert makes a fine addition to any cheese plate and elevates grilled cheese to new levels.
Cato Corner Farms Hooligan: Cato Corner Farms, in Colchester, CT, has focused on creating unique cheeses that highlight their herd of Jersey cows and the pastures where they graze. Their cheeses are a blend of traditional styles with an experimental flair. Hooligan may be the most appropriately named cheese in the world. This raw milk cheese is washed in brine to help bring out its rambunctious nature. Pungent and meaty, Hooligan can stand up to the strongest beers, holds its own against funky ciders, and is a remarkable pairing with pepper jellies. The aroma is intense on this one, but don’t let that fool you. The interior has a silky, melt-in-your-mouth paste that surges with a mushroomy earthiness. It is no wonder that this cheese has developed a devoted group of fans and followers.
Don’t forget to celebrate Raw Milk Appreciation Day by checking out our incredible selection of raw milk cheeses!