Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Local Grower, Local Buyer
Cheese makers rule at Fair Food's annual showcase

Crowds line up for samples
I thought I was still in Wisconsin.

Cheese curds and brats were all that was missing at last night's Local Grower / Local Buyer, an annual event organized by Fair Food to bring together buyers and sellers in center court at the Reading Terminal Market.

I counted eight cheese makers among the couple of dozen farmers and producers showcasing their goods for local restauranteurs and institutional food buyers .

Among them were a few well-established cheese-makers, including Cherry Grove Farm and Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills.

Some of the others, however, while they may be "artisan" in the sense that they are small scale producers using traditional methods, brought competent but undistinguished samples: cheddars, Emmenthal wannabes, goudas, etc. Even the blues at one of these cheese-makers, Farm Fromage, seemed so-so: they offered one designed for folks who say they don't like blues (yes, it was mild) and another for true blue-a-holics (it was sharper, but hardly up there in the pantheon of stinky cheesedom).

And then there were the excellent cheese-makers whose products I would be reluctant to purchase simply on account of price. That would be the case for Doe Run Dairy's tasty Hummingbird. It's a creamy, herbal brie-like cow/sheep mixed milk cheese that can hold its own on any cheese plate. But priced north of $50 a pound at the Fair Food Farmstand, I''ll pass it by. (Cheese maker Kristian Holbrook operates the dairy on the farm owned by Richard Hayne, chairman and co-founder, with former wife Judy Wicks of Urban Outfitters; local foodies know Wicks as the creator the White Dog Cafe and, through its foundation, the Fair Food project.)

Other cheese-makers at the event included Hidden Hills Dairy, Clover Creek Cheese Cellar, Shellbark Hollow Farm, and Your Family Cow.

The predominance of cheese-makers makes one wonder if curdled milk product is the next sun-dried tomato. Are they entering the cheese business because producer milk prices haven't kept pace with the costs of operating a dairy farm? How many of these new producers will be around in four or five years?

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