Kitchen Accomplice

 

 
Say Cheese
 
My wife just got home from the store.  Cheese was among the items on her list.  She remarked that the purchase of cheese must be weighed as thoughtfully as the purchase of meat – the price of cheese can really take its toll on the shopping budget.
We discussed cheese for a while.  Lots of what we see in the market is from Vermont, Wisconsin, France, Greece and Italy and, of course, that from Pinconning.  That really got me wondering: are there artisan cheeses made here in Michigan.
It turns out there are some beauties.  And many can be ordered online and for prices that are very competitive with those in the market.  And some are made right here in my backyard.  I decided to order some to sample.  I am glad I did.
Michigan is the 8th largest producer of cow’s milk in the country, with 300,000 cows producing 5.7 billion pounds of milk, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture.  While everyone in Michigan probably knows about Pinconning cheese produced on a massive scale and sold in orange vacuum packed bricks, less well-known is that Michigan also has a few small scale cheesemakers turning out some unique regional specialties. These special cheeses include an amazing nutty and firm Raclette from Leelanau County and the widely acclaimed goat cheeses at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor. 
Whether made with raw or pasteurized milk, one of the reasons there are not more Michigan artisanal cheeses is the problem that a small cheesemaker has with getting a consistent supply of really superior milk. While 30 years ago there were over 12,500 dairy farms in Michigan, in 2005 there were but 2800. And only a few of those (mostly small family-owned farms) producing the quality of milk needed for great cheese. Some that produce milk good enough to turn into excellent cheese are:
Calder Dairy  - in Carleton, MI supplying milk, butter, cream, yogurt, cottage cheese and still offering home delivery.
Grassfields Farm - in Coopersville, MI makes Raw Milk Gouda, Edam and Leyden cheeses along with their own special Polkton Corners cheese.
Cook’s Farm Dairy  - in Ortonville, MI also makes their own ice cream which they sell on site. 
Because of the quality of the milk and way in which the cheese is made matter so much to the final product, it pays to know your cheesemaker.  And your dairy farmer.  And your cheesemonger.  
Grassfields Farms makes their Gouda and Edam in Coopersville, Michigan. With 125 cows in their dairy, they are set to be certified organic this summer. The cheesemaker is a fourth generation farmer who has been making cheese for five years.  You can buy Grassfields Gouda at the People’s Food Coop  on Fourth Ave. in Ann Arbor.
Traffic Jam and Snug makes Asiago and a Hickory Smoked Colby once a month. The cheesemaker also makes the beer at this local Detroit brewery and creamery.  They are making only a batch of cheese a month.  Traffic Jam and Snug is in Detroit. 
Leelanau Cheese Company at Black Star Farms makes a special Raclette. In Sutton’s Bay, Michigan, Black Star focuses on making European style cheese and specializes in Raclette with pasteurized milk from Martin Farm Dairy. You may have to go up north to find this one. 
Zingerman’s Creamery and master cheesemaker John Loomis specialize in fresh goat and cow’s milk cheese using milk from a goat milk cooperative and from Calder dairy. They make 2 different cheeses every day which are available at Zingerman’s businesses including the Deli, the Creamery, the Roadhouse. And also at the Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  
To learn more about cheeses in general, some excellent places to start include:
Morgan and York, offering a 3-session class on the regions, making, and taste of the world’s cheeses in their fabulous Cheese Discovery Tour.
Zingerman’s has many tasting events, often including cheese. The wonderful Zingerman’s Creamery offers more than a dozen housemade cheeses with tours of the Creamery available.
Don’t forget: June is National Dairy Month.  Michigan cheeses are amazingly good and they want to be eaten. The law of supply and demand decrees that the more Michigan cheese we eat, the more choice and variety the cheesemakers will give us.  
As for the ones I ordered online, I was delighted with the quality.  You will want to give this a try.

 

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