Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Question = Artisan + Farmstead > Farm to Table

   I've been spending time learning more about the cheese making process. I've quickly discovered that dissecting the makeup of all the different varieties of cheeses is a daunting task, one that is far more complex and advanced than I will ever have time to fully wrap my brain around. As I progressed further into the world of cheese making, I was surprised to discover that there is in fact a difference between "Artisan" and "Farmstead" cheese. Put simply, farmstead cheese is the equivalent of "Estate Bottled" for wines. Artisan cheese can be made from milk produced off of the farm, but is still crafted by hand. All farmstead cheese is made with milk that is produced on the farm by that specific farm's own herd of cattle or flock of goats or sheep.

   In the late summer of last year, I had the opportunity to visit Birchrun Hills Farm and watch the cheese making process. I was impressed to find that within an hour of the milk's harvest, it travels quickly up the hill to a tiny facility that produces some amazing cheeses in Birchrunville, Pennsylvania. The level of care that it takes to produce farmstead cheese was really quite astonishing, and the small-scale production with milk that is little more than an hour old creates subtle character differences in the cheese, making each wheel truly special. The people that create farmstead cheeses are quick to point out the differences between the terms "Artisan" and "Farmstead".  As it was explained to me, if your goal is to taste a discernible terroir in the cheeses you buy, and have a real understanding of what local is all about, go with farmstead cheese. My short lesson in cheese making was pivotal for me in my understanding of how to taste and appreciate cheese. That got me thinking....

   Should there be classifications for local produce and meats? Should local farms find ways to distinguish themselves in the world of "farm-to-table"? I've written previously on my concerns about the term "farm-to-table" and the dangers of it becoming too trendy (see post below), and yes, I've sometimes used the words to describe my culinary style because it was the quickest way to give someone an understanding of my cooking and sourcing methods in the rapid-fire context of an interview. Deep down though, I know there has to be a better way to let people know that you are supporting local growers. Knowing wether or not your food is locally-grown or simply from any farm in the country is not at all unlike the difference between "Artisan" and "Farmstead".