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Making Cheese at the Ski Slope


By Lorrie Baumann

DV Cheese 094Cheese has taken Corinne Coniglio into a life that many downhill skiers would trade their souls for. She’s the full-time cheesemaker at the Deer Valley resort in Park City, Utah, and she makes her cheeses in a room a step away from the ski slope. “It’s really awesome. It’s right on the ski slopes, so it couldn’t be better. It’s so beautiful to see the mountain when I go to work,” she says. “It’s so beautiful and inspiring as I create the cheese.” But, as is true of many ultimate destinations, the road to Deer Valley Cheese was long and the journey was arduous.

Her dedicated cheese-making space was created for her after a pilot season two years ago in which she made her cheeses in the resort’s restaurant kitchen, working at night between 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., when the kitchen was unused and empty. “You need peace to make cheese; it takes time to allow the milk to curdle. You can’t have chefs running around with knives,” she says.

Once it became clear that house-made cheeses were an attraction valued by the resort’s clientele, Executive Chef Clark Norris convinced the management to invest in the construction of a new cheese room for Coniglio. “The customers really like the idea. One day we had a cheese tasting right there in Royal Street restaurant. We made a big cheese board to bring in, and customers coming in in their ski gear were asking if they could have that,” she says. “It’s a pretty high-end food place, so we have direct customers for the fine cheeses we’re making here on the resort. It’s nice for the people who are coming skiing.”

It’s really unique to have access between ski times to a cheese board and charcuterie made from scratch. Everything is made right here on the ski slopes,” she adds. “There’s a nice sunny terrace with a lot of flowers in the summer and great food and everything made from scratch.”

DV Cheese 085She’s now making cheese all year round, supplying the resort’s restaurant kitchen as well as a local grocery chain that’s selling her cheeses in 16 stores around Utah. Coniglio makes European-style cheeses from local raw milk. “We go pick up the cow milk at Heber Valley Farm just 15 minutes away. The goat milk, from Sweet Deseret Farm, is directly delivered by Daniel the farmer, who always has nice stories to tell about his high-quality registered dairy goats. I pasteurize both milks myself at the lowest temperature allowed by the USDA,” she says. “I make a double cream brie that is really nice. There’s a triple cream brie with black truffles that Clark uses over a bison steak with foie gras on top at the Mariposa restaurant. I make a goat cheese with vegetable ash…. A marinated goat cheese with grapeseed oil, cipollini onion, lemon peel and a little sweet red pepper that looks like a little chocolate kiss. It looks really cute. Blue cheese with cow milk, which is not pasteurized and ages a minimum of 60 days. I have a French friend who told me that it reminded her of a Bleu des Causses.”

The road to Deer Valley had its beginning when Coniglio, who was born in Belgium, started making cheese 12 years ago. “I had my own little farm in Colorado, where I had goats and took cheese to the farmers market,” she says. “We had a little piece of land and there were a lot of wineries there, but nobody was making cheese. I was missing my cheese from Europe, where it’s possible to get cheese from Spain and everywhere. I bought some goat milk from a local farmer and took the cheese to little wineries, where they loved it. We bought a goat, then another goat, and soon there were 50 goats.”

Coniglio found places to learn more about cheese. She’s a native French-speaker, and she found an online forum which allowed her to connect with French farmers, and they invited her to come and tour their farm and cheese facility. A few years later, she contacted a French manufacturer while she was looking for cheesemaking equipment, and the company became interested in what she was doing in the United States. “After a few months, they actually hired me as a director of sales for the U.S.,” she says.

As part of her training for the new position, the company brought her to France and then to Germany to visit cheesemakers and learn about the equipment. “They sent me back to the U.S. with that knowledge,” she says.

She had the chance to visit cheesemakers all over the U.S. until the company decided to close down its U.S. sales. “That’s when I started my own company, Fromage Without Borders,” she says. “Colorado was a lot of fun with raising the goats and doing the local farmers market at the end. We were doing some pasteurized cheeses for the market because the law did not allow us to sell raw milk cheeses. We had the good stuff under the table, and good customers knew about it. It was kind of a black market.

That part of her life ended when the farm was sold, and Coniglio moved to Utah along with her goats, which had been sold to a Utah farmer interested in starting a cheese business. “Deer Valley was buying my cheese,” she says. When the farmer decided that raising goats wasn’t for him and sold the flock, Deer Valley offered her the chance to come to the resort. “This is a permanent situation. I told them they need to bring some cows with some bells to put on the ski slopes and have their own cows and goats,” she says. “Right now I’m working on a little project with some ewe milk. We want to do a bloomy rind with a little bit of a blue touch inside. The difference in the milk is so interesting.”

As she continues, she’d like to try her hand at a raclette cheese. “That’s the thought for the future. If we start that, we’re going to have to have a bigger cheese room and a bigger aging room to store all those big wheels,” she says. “But I would love to do that. I would love to make raclette. That would be the next step.”


Fears About Raw Milk Risks Complicate Cheesemaking at Bellwether Farms

By Lorrie Baumann

Cheese is complicated, which is one of the things that Liam Callahan, the cheesemaker at Bellwether Farms, likes about it. “These are my cheeses. I feel like I have license to change them. If it interests me, I can do that,” he says. “I don’t want to do anything that’s less good; everything is in an effort to improve them. I still find that challenging.”

He won a sofi Award last year for his Whole Milk Ricotta and another sofi Award this year for his Blackberry Sheep Milk Yogurt. His Fromage Blanc took a second place award at this year’s American Cheese Society Awards. That’s another thing he likes about his business: “After all these years of Fancy Food Shows and several times being finalists…. It feels good that people still respond to it, that they like the packaging,” he says. “I still get satisfaction from that kind of recognition. I take it with a grain of salt, but it’s great to get some recognition.”

Callahan grew up in San Francisco and didn’t become a farm boy until after he was in college, when his mother, Cindy Callahan, won a long-running argument with his father, a physician, about getting out of the city. “Once we were out of school, she managed to win the tug of war,” he says. They found Bellwether Farms, a 34-acre property within commuting distance from the city, and it didn’t take them long to decide that they were going to need some animals to eat all that grass. “By the end of the first summer, the grass was over six feet tall,” Callahan says.

Then, three years in, the family had about 100 sheep grazing on the farm when a visitor from the Middle East remarked that they could be milking them. “Everyone in the Middle East that has sheep are milking them,” he told the family, as Callahan recalls. “We thought it was a crazy idea at first. We never realized that some of our favorite cheeses were sheep’s milk cheeses. We had never looked beyond the wedge of cheese.”

That question came up as Callahan was finishing school in the spring of 1990, and Cindy asked her son if he thought he might like to learn how to make cheese. “It sounded interesting, sounded challenging. I was able to see something for the work I had done. I felt like I was working with and for the family, which was unusual at the time,” he says. “Once we started it, there was so much to learn. It appealed to me because I’ve always had a scientific analytical side, but there’s a lot of it that’s beyond analysis…. It’s amazing – you never can know it all in this.”

The FDA’s recent heightened scrutiny of raw milk cheeses is one of many issues that’s making it harder to make good sheep milk cheeses these days, Callahan says. “That’s something that adds to the cost of doing business: recordkeeping, additional lab work,” he says. “It’s an expensive move for a HACCP program to be implemented and maintained. That’s really tough for the smaller people. It’s tough for everyone. When you’re a one-person or a two-person operation, it takes a full-time person to be the liaison to the regulatory side of the industry.”

He points to current uncertainties surrounding how cheesemaking is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that are frustrating him. Most of the code under which his operation is regulated is subjective, he says. “The key phrase is ‘in a sanitary method’ or ‘well-maintained,’ and there have been differing opinions of what that means,” he says, citing last year’s controversy over aging cheese on wood boards as an example.

While it’s possible to almost completely eliminate the risks of consuming cheese, that would come at a price, according to Callahan. “Somewhere at the back of everybody’s mind, we’re worried that that’s where it’s going to go. For a lot of products, it wouldn’t do good things to the product,” he says. “It’s like fresh fish versus canned fish or a smoked fish versus canned fish. They’re both preserved, but by taking it to a further step with the canning, you completely change it. It’s no longer the artisan, traditional smoked fish. It’s the same thing for cheeses.”

Those uncertainties and the greater scrutiny that’s being directed at raw milk cheeses may end Bellwether Farms’ production of raw milk cheeses, Callahan says. “People like our raw milk cheeses, and we can’t meet the demand for them, but they are growing at a slower pace than our other products, and as it grows to be a smaller part of what you do, you start asking yourself if the risk, you start thinking about whether you’re going to have a problem,” he says. “Raw milk cheeses present a bigger risk, and it impacts everything you do because people hear that. It damages the brand.”


Marin French Cheese: Grounded in Tradition and Moving Forward


By Lorrie Baumann

In 1865, Samuel L. Clemens was living in San Francisco, writing articles for newspapers and wondering if he had any shot at a career as a humorist. He was also apparently drinking quite a lot, which means that there actually is some chance that he tasted the Breakfast Cheese made by Jefferson Thompson, who founded his west Marin County dairy farm that year. He sold the cheese he made in the creamery that would eventually become known as Marin French Cheese to San Francisco saloons who sold it to their customers.

No, Marin French Cheese’s official history doesn’t document any consumption by the writer who’s best known today as Mark Twain, but there’s no way to prove it didn’t happen, after all. What we do know is that Thompson launched his Thompson Brothers Creamery in 1865 on a 700-acre dairy ranch that’s now known as Hicks Valley Ranch near Petaluma, California. He sent his Thompson cheese by horse and wagon and then by boat to San Francisco’s saloons, where dock workers began calling it “Breakfast Cheese.”

1865Thompson’s two sons, Jeff Thompson, Junior and Rudolph Thompson, took over the creamery in the early 20th century, and Jeff, Jr. traveled to Connecticut to learn to make European styles such as Camembert, Brie and Neufchatel. He branded his French-style cheese Rouge et Noir, French for “Red and Black.”



In the 1990s, Marin French Cheese was acquired by cattle rancher and real estate developer Jim Boyce, who modernized the cheese plant and expanded distribution of the Marin French cheeses. In 2005, Marin French Cheese achieved distinction as the first U.S. company to be awarded Gold in a European competition for Triple Crème Brie, besting the French in that category. The 2014 World Cheese Awards in London honored Marin French Triple Crème Brie cheeses with three out of four awards in the soft-ripened category, awarding a Super Gold to a new cheese, Supreme. Following that win, the company’s legacy cheese, Petite Breakfast, was selected as a winner in the 2015 Good Food Awards, recognizing authentic and responsibly produced food.

Moving Forward

After Boyce’s untimely death in 2010, Marin French Cheese was acquired by The Rians Group of France, which has since modernized the creamery with state-of-the-art equipment and aging rooms, new packaging with redesigned labels and an expansion of the retail shop on the creamery property. This year, Marin French Cheese is celebrating its 150th anniversary with a year-long schedule of celebratory events that pay tribute to the company that is the longest continuously operating cheese company in the United States.

Rians, a French company that specializes in farmstead cheeses with European AOC and AOP identities, bought Marin French Cheese with the knowledge that the company operates in a very environmentally conscious community and saw a fit that matched Rians’ environmental ethics and respect for the places in which its cheeses are created, said Eva Guilmo, Quality and Food Safety Manager for both Marin French Cheese and Laura Chenel’s Chevre, which was acquired by Rians in 2006. “Rians Group is built on having many small creameries that have terroir and a close relationship with their environment,” she said.

Like Laura Chenel’s Chevre, where Rians built a new creamery from the ground up that incorporates modern technology to save both energy and water, Marin French Cheese is adapting its operations to modernize and to save water, said Miguel Da Conceicao, Site Manager for Laura Chenel’s Chevre. He arrived in California three years ago after transferring from a Rians goat cheese plant in France. “Every year we are doing things. That’s why in three years, we have saved 30 to 35 percent of the water compared to what we used when we started this plant [at Laura Chenel's Chevre],” he said. “We haven’t waited until California was in crisis to start doing things.”

Proactivity is the word, always, and we want to stick to that,” Guilmo added

Marin French Cheese gets its water from natural ponds on the property that are fed from snowmelt and rain, although it hasn’t snowed here since 1990. “Each year, after the winter, we look at our ponds and we manage from that,” said Amelie Curis, Site Manager for Marin French Cheese. “I think it will be okay for this year. We should be okay for the next two years.”

Marin French Modernizes

As it modernizes its operations, the company is working closely with the federal Food and Drug Administration as well as state regulators, Guilmo said. “We’re working on the design of the machines to ensure that they comply with the rules and even go beyond them in terms of standards of cleanliness and food safety. The dairy inspector comes every three months and we discuss the requirements for the dairy industry,” she said. “With the implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the FDA is moving from a system of management of corrective actions to a system of anticipation of the risks with the implementation of prerequisite programs which are good practices to run a food manufacturing plant. They’re asking more about control points and trends management before serious problems arise and require the manufacturer to issue a recall. We’re moving from a corrective era to a proactive era in food safety.”

Industry self-policing is also helping to ensure that consumers are getting the safe cheese they want, she said, noting that the large retailers have begun asking their suppliers to provide products that meet consumer demands, such as dairy products made without the use of rBST, the bovine growth hormone that increases milk production when injected into dairy cows. “The use of rbST was approved as safe by the FDA. The FDA found that there is no significant difference between milk derived from rbST-treated and non-rbST treated cows, but the distributors want rBST-free milk. The same thing is happening with GMOs,” she said. “Consumers are always pulling us forward before the government does. By the time the government acts, we’ve heard about it, and it’s already being discussed, which is a big advantage.”


FDA Gathers Data on Safety of Raw Milk Cheeses


By Lorrie Baumann

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking for comments and data about the safety of cheese made from unpasteurized milk with a view to regulating more carefully how cheesemakers produce raw milk cheeses. “We are taking this action in light of scientific data on potential health risks associated with consumption of cheese made from unpasteurized milk,” according to an FDA notice published on August 3.

The public has until November 2 to submit either electronic or hard-copy comments and scientific data and information to the FDA. Electronic comments should be submitted to with reference to Docket Number FDA-2015-N-2596.

The FDA is relying on a 2012 review of outbreaks of foodborne illness that occurred in the U.S. between 1993 and 2006 that pointed a finger directly at cheese, and to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk in particular. According to that study by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the review included 121 outbreaks of foodborne illness involving dairy products between 1993 and 2006, and among these, 73 (60 percent) involved nonpasteurized milk and resulted in 1,571 cases of illness and two deaths. Out of the 65 outbreaks involving cheese, 27 involved cheese made from raw milk, a figure that’s particularly significant since less than 1 percent of the dairy products consumed in the U.S. during the time period were made from unpasteurized milk, according to the FDA. The 38 outbreaks involving cheese made from pasteurized milk resulted in 744 illnesses and 1 death, while the 27 involving cheese made from raw milk resulted in 641 illnesses and two deaths.

According to the 2012 study, all of the illnesses involving nonpasteurized dairy products were caused by bacteria, although a number of species of bacteria were involved, including Campylobacter species, Salmonella species, E. coli, Brucella species and Shigella species. Three of them were caused by Listeria. That suggests that the contamination more likely came from the dairy environment than from the humans who handled the milk, who’d have been more likely to pass along viruses than bacteria.

The FDA notes in its call for data that cheeses made from unpasteurized milk are required by federal regulations to be aged, typically for 60 days or more. This was presumed to reduce the risk that disease-causing bacteria would still be alive in the cheese when it was eaten, but recent research has shown that the 60-day aging period for soft ripened cheeses might actually increase the risk that the cheese will cause listeriosis, the infection caused by Listeria, by giving more time for the bacteria to multiply. It is not legal in the United States to sell soft ripened cheeses made from unpasteurized milk outside the state in which they were made, but such cheeses can be made and sold in states that permit sales of unpasteurized dairy products.

Dr. Catherine Donnelly, a Professor of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Vermont, is among those who agrees that the FDA should take another look at whether the 60-day aging period for raw milk cheeses does more harm than good in the case of soft ripened cheeses. “The 60-day aging rule should not be applied to a soft-ripened cheese,” she said. The rule makes sense in the case of hard cheeses made from raw milk, she said. “As cheese ages, the pH goes down and the moisture declines, and you’re creating that inhospitable environment [for harmful bacteria].” But in the case of soft cheeses such as a brie or Camembert, the surface molds that are essential to creating the cheeses produce amine products that raise the pH of the cheese, creating an environment in which bacteria can thrive, she said. “Mature ripened Camembert has a pH about 7 [which is neutral]. As the pH goes up, you start getting conditions that allow the growth of Listeria. That’s why in cheeses like brie and Camembert, you get very high levels. The FDA should never have applied the 60-day aging rule to a soft-ripened cheese, but it’s part of our Code of Federal Regulations. That’s not a very good rule from a safety standpoint.” The good news for cheesemakers, however, is that FDA’s soft cheese risk assessment shows that if every batch of raw milk soft ripened cheese is tested for Listeria, the risk is actually lower than that for soft ripened cheese made from pasteurized milk. Donnelly also points out that Food Standards Australia New Zealand conducted a 2009 Risk Assessment of raw milk cheese, which concluded that “Campylobacter spp. [species] were found to be a negligible risk in both raw milk extra hard and Swiss-type cheeses. The presence of Campylobacter spp. was not assessed in raw milk Cheddar, blue, Feta or Camembert cheeses. However, Campylobacter spp. are unlikely to grow in milk or cheese, as their growth requires reduced oxygen tension and temperatures between 32 – 45°C and they do not survive well under slightly acidic conditions, or in the presence of greater than 2 percent salt.”

There’s little question that soft cheeses made from raw milk are potentially more dangerous than hard cheeses made from raw milk. Studies indicate that the risk of illnesses may be orders of magnitude higher for unpasteurized dairy products than for those that have been pasteurized. “In France, you can’t legally sell Camembert beyond 55 days. Why? Because it’s too dangerous,” Donnelly said. She’s concerned that the FDA might now decide that no cheeses should be made from raw milk even though the harder cheeses are much safer. “I’ve studied listeria for a long, long time. I share the concern about the growing incidence of listeria in elderly and susceptible population. Soft cheese is just one category of products that the FDA has determined to be a risk,” she said. “I am just concerned that this might carry over to other varieties of cheese made from raw milk that have been shown to be very microbiologically safe – things like the harder cheeses made from raw milk.”

She points to a 2014 study conducted by scientists affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that distinguishes the types of cheeses involved in 90 outbreaks caused by cheese between 1998 and 2011.While 38 of the outbreaks (42 percent) were caused by cheese made from unpasteurized milk, 44 (49 percent) were caused by cheese made from pasteurized milk. Queso fresco was the most common cause of the outbreaks, including 18 due to cheese made from unpasteurized milk and one due to pasteurized cheese. An additional seven outbreaks reported an unspecified type of soft Mexican-style cheese. “Homemade” cheese was the second most common type reported for the outbreaks due to raw milk cheeses.

The soft unaged cheeses imported from Mexico were responsible for 13 outbreaks – more than a third of all outbreaks associated with cheese during the period. Nine of those were caused by Listeria. In five outbreaks, all due to cheeses made from unpasteurized milk, the cheese was produced or sold illegally. Commercial importation from Mexico of cheese made from unpasteurized milk is illegal unless the cheese has met FDA aging standards, although travelers are allowed to bring in limited amounts of raw milk cheeses for personal use. However, these raw milk cheeses imported for personal use are often illegally sold once they’re in the United States.

The 2014 study concluded that “In addition to using pasteurized milk, soft-cheese-making facilities need to ensure strict sanitation and microbiologic monitoring. Labeling of cheese should include whether the milk used to make it was pasteurized or unpasteurized, whether the cheese was aged and for how long, and the license number of the production facility.” The report adds that, “Efforts to reduce production and sale of illegally manufactured cheeses as well as continued binational collaborations are needed to address the issue of illegal cheese importation.”

This is where the real risk lies” stated Donnelly.


Lifeway Foods and the James Beard Foundation are Cooking with Lifeway Kefir

Lifeway Foods, Inc. has signed on as a national sponsor of the James Beard Foundation’s third annual Taste America®: “Local Flavor from Coast To Coast” national epicurean tour.  As part of the program’s 2015 itinerary, a line-up of world-class chefs will demo custom recipes using Lifeway Kefir products at local Sur La Table® locations in select Taste America cities. Reservations for the free cooking demos will begin two weeks prior to each event. For more information, visit

“Our partnership with the James Beard Foundation is an incredible opportunity to introduce our kefir to a new audience and to demonstrate its versatility as a hot new ingredient,” said Julie Smolyansky, Lifeway’s President and CEO. “Working with innovative chefs who are at the forefront of their industry will allow us to prove that kefir is much more than a drink and allow them to bring a new flavor profile to menus across the country.”

Spanning six weekends between September 18 and November 7, 2015, the program will kick off in Miami and visit a total of ten dynamic culinary cities across the country throughout the fall. Each stop will feature a special Friday night benefit dinner crafted in collaboration with a Taste America All-Star and a Local Star chef, during which guests will enjoy a palette cleanser of Lifeway Frozen Kefir products. The Taste America agenda will continue the next day with free, in-store consumer events at a local Sur La Table location. The lineup of public programming will include “cooking with kefir” demonstrations in select markets (BostonChicagoMiami, and San Francisco) led by celebrated chefs from the area. Lifeway representatives will also be sampling kefir products before and after the cooking demonstrations in all 10 Taste America cities.

“Taste America was created with the goal of bringing together top innovators in our food world to educate and entertain Americans about local flavors from coast to coast, ” said Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation. “As many people might not be familiar with kefir, we are delighted to have Lifeway Foods on board as a national sponsor providing our guests with a deeper understanding of the product, its rich history, health benefits and the delicious ways it can be used. We can’t wait to see what recipes the chefs come up with!”

Canadian Cheese Takes Best of Show at ACS

By Lorrie Baumann

Celtic BlueFor the first time in 30 years of competition, the American Cheese Society’s Best of Show winner was a Canadian. Celtic Blue Reserve from Glengarry Fine Cheese in Ontario, Canada, took home the purple ribbon in a ceremony held on Friday, July 31 in Providence, Rhode Island. The winning cheese is the result of 20 years of work on the recipe, said Margaret Peters-Morris, who began making cheese from the milk from her family’s dairy farm in the early 1990s.

In the years since, she has been an important mentor for many American cheesemakers, who were delighted to see her skills recognized with the Best of Show award, said Mateo Kehler, Cheesemaker for Cellars at Jasper Hill, who took home the third place Best of Show ribbon for Harbison, a soft-ripened cow milk cheese bound with cambium from spruce trees harvested seasonally from the farm, as well as five other awards – six first-place ribbons and two second-place ribbons. “When we started making cheese, we called Margaret,” he said. “I’m so happy to see her win because she’s been a part of lots of people’s worlds for a long time.”

Harbison was a happy accident that occurred in 2008 when a batch of brie-style Moses Sleeper cheese was found to contain too much moisture, and Kehler rescued it by strapping a spruce band around it. It’s named after Anne Harbison, an honorary granny for all of Greensboro, Vermont, where Jasper Hill Farm is located. She’s 95 years old this year and has been a cheerleader for the Kehler families from the beginning. “We wanted to honor a living legend among us,” Mateo Kehler said. The cheese, formed in a 10-ounce round, is made from pasteurized milk. It peaks at about 70 days of aging, when it’s soft enough to eat with a spoon. “It is possible to eat a whole one by yourself,” Kehler said.

Second place in the Best of Show category was taken by a pair of cheeses in a tie between Standard Market Cave Aged Chandoka from LaClare Farms Specialties, LLC and Cheesemaker Katie Hedrich Fuhrmann and Roth’s Private Reserve from Emmi Roth USA in Wisconsin. Chandoka is a mixed-milk cheese made with goat’s milk from the cheesemaker’s family farm and locally sourced cow milk. At three days of age, it’s Cryovaced and shipped in refrigerated containers to Standard Market for affinage. It’s larded and bandaged there and aged for six months before sale. It’s a good gateway cheese for consumers who aren’t familiar with goat milk cheeses and aren’t sure they’ll like them, but who are curious and willing to try something new, Fuhrmann said.

The 2015 ACS Judging & Competition saw 1,779 entries of cheeses and cultured dairy products from 267 producers. Entering companies represented 31 U.S. states, and three Canadian provinces. Three hundred fifty-five ribbons were awarded: 95 first place ribbons, 127 second place ribbons, and 133 third place ribbons. The cheeses were judged over a 15 hour period in which 20 teams of judges ranked 50 to 60 cheese per day. Each cheese receives a score for both technical merit and aesthetic qualities, and the two scores are combined for an overall score. Ties are permitted only for second and third places in each category, so that for each category, the winning cheese stands alone. Along with their ribbons, the cheesemakers receive both technical notes and aesthetic comments from the judges. “The competition is the ribbons; the judging is the evaluation and the feedback,” said Tom Kooiman, who chaired the judging committee.

Listeria Found in Picnic Gourmet Spreads

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) is warning consumers not to eat products made by Picnic Gourmet Spreads because these products might be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.The potentially contaminated products include Red Pepper Feta Cheese Spread, Moroccan Cilantro Cheese Spread, Tandoori Garlic Cheese Spread, Herbed Goat Cheese, Parmesan Cheese Spread, and Chipotle Sage Cheese Spread. These products were distributed to retail stores in Maryland and other states including Kentucky, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

The contamination was discovered after routine retail sampling by the DHMH Office of Food Protection, and subsequent analysis by the DHMH Laboratories Administration revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in the product.

The company has ceased production and distribution of these products, and DHMH continues its investigation into the source of the problem. There have been no complaints about these products to DHMH, and DHMH is not aware of any illnesses associated with the products to date. The department urges consumers who might have Picnic Gourmet Spreads products to dispose of them.

Listeria bacteria can cause a serious infection called listeriosis. Listeriosis is caused by eating food contaminated with Listeria bacteria and typically occurs within three days to 10 weeks of consumption (usually within three weeks). Symptoms of listeriosis include fever, muscle aches, headache, stiff neck, confusion, loss of balance, and convulsions, which can be preceded by nausea or diarrhea. Listeria infection can be treated with antibiotics.

Persons at higher risk for disease include pregnant women, newborns, elderly persons, and individuals with a weakened immune system (for example, persons with AIDS, cancer, diabetes, or kidney disease). Listeriosis in pregnant women may cause fever and other flu-like symptoms, which can be mild. However, because Listeriainfection can cause premature labor, premature delivery, miscarriage, stillbirth or severe infection of newborns, it is especially important that pregnant women avoid these products.

If a person has any of the above symptoms and has consumed products from Picnic Gourmet Spreads, they should consult their healthcare provider, DHMH stated.

Lifeway Foods Inaugurates Kefir Production at New Waukesha Facility

Lifeway Foods, Inc. has announced the beginning of kefir production at the former Golden Guernsey dairy plant in Waukesha, Wisconsin, that it acquired in May 2013 to increase its manufacturing capacity. Lifeway has been processing raw milk and producing its own bottles at the plant for more than a year, following major renovations as well as food safety certification of the upgraded facility.

With the global market for probiotics expected to reach $52.34 billion by 2020, the company plans to capitalize with its 170,000-square-foot plant that will more than quintuple the combined manufacturing capacity of Lifeway’s three existing facilities to support ongoing growth in the company’s kefir business. The company plans to produce its top-selling products in Waukesha, taking advantage of both the large space and new high-speed manufacturing equipment to meet the demand for nutritious products from consumers throughout the country.

The Waukesha plant currently employs moire than 40 people, of whom more than 25 percent are former Golden Guernsey employees who lost their jobs after a bankruptcy filing closed the 58-year-old business.  Lifeway purchased the shuttered plant for $7.4 million.

“We acquired the Golden Guernsey plant because we urgently needed more production capacity,” said Julie Smolyanksy, President and CEO of Lifeway Foods. “Renovating the building to meet our specific manufacturing and packaging needs has been a top priority, and the start of kefir production in Waukesha is an important milestone that will help drive the next chapter in the company’s growth.”

Bonne Bouche from Vermont Creamery

By Lorrie Baumann

Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche cheese, discovered around 2002 by New York’s famous French chefs, is now becoming well known among consumers as well as a favorite among cheese mongers. The cheese has won multiple awards from the American Cheese Society, a gold award from the World Cheese Awards, and a gold sofi for Best Cheese or Dairy Product at the 2012 Fancy Food Show.

“We often submit that cheese because it’s our favorite. For Vermont Creamery, it is a well-known cheese. We’ve won a lot of awards with Bonne Bouche, and for the industry and for artisanal cheese, it’s a great example of where the market is going,” says Allison Hooper, Co-founder and Cheesemaker of Vermont Creamery. “It’s got consumer customers who really love it and ask for it by name.”

“It’s a very difficult cheese to make, so we’re super-proud of it,” she continues. “When it wins, it gets a nod that it’s a great cheese deserving of accolades.”
Bonne Bouche is an ash-ripened goat milk cheese made in traditional French style. Consumers often say it reminds them of a brie, and those famous French chefs likened it to the Selles-sur-Cher produced in the Centre region of France. It’s sold in a four-ounce round that’s shipped in a wood box at an early stage of its aging that gives the retailer a few weeks to keep it in the case at peak ripeness. The wood box allows the cheese to continue to breathe, wicking away excess moisture and also helping to prevent the cheese from drying out. “It’s also tall enough so that when the crate is shrink-wrapped with a perforated film, the film doesn’t touch the rind, which is important with these geotricum [mold] rinds. It’s very important that the rind continues to breathe,” Hooper says. “It’s the intention that, when the retailer gets this cheese, we’ve done everything right, so they don’t need to do anything with it except merchandise it.”

When the Bonne Bouche is fresh, it has the acidic tang expected of a fresh chevre. Then as it ages, the paste mellows and loses its acidity and gains a melon-ish sweetness with some of the yeasty taste of the rind. “It’s quite aromatic, but when you put the cheese in your mouth, it’s less strong-tasting than its aroma,” Hooper says. “It’s surprisingly mild, for the fact that it’s made of goats’ milk and that it is a ripened cheese with an aromatic rind.”

As it ages, the Bonne Bouche gets softer and sometimes gets a little runny under its edible rind. Consumers really like that softness, Hooper says. “It has a nice amount of salt in the cheese, which is important to the proper growth of the rind, and the saltiness add great flavor to the cheese.”

“While it is made from goats’ milk, it doesn’t have the characteristics that we think of with goat cheese. It tends to lose its goatyness as it ripens, she adds. “For those who don’t reach for goat cheeses, they are surprised by how much they like it.”


This story was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.

The New Super-Trendy Vegetable: Beets


By Richard Thompson

Beets are getting a whole new look this year, emphasizing their nutritional benefits while being featured in products that appeals to shifting consumer tastes. Similar to the way kale appealed to consumers last year, beets are being marketed as the new super trendy vegetable, grabbing the attention of food retailers and restaurateurs who are selling more items with beets in them than in previous years. Beet products are becoming so popular that this year’s list of sofi Award finalists include two different beet products that were up for three different awards between them.

The past five years have seen beets become more common place as people are more educated about them, says Natasha Shapiro of LoveBeets, known for their popular beet-featured product lines. Adding to the 20 percent increase in distributorship they have seen in the last year is their variety of beet juices and line of beet bars. The Love Beets health bars are coming in Beet & Apple, Beet & Cherry and Beet & Blueberry with all three made gluten-free and with clean ingredients. “We are making beets more fun, accessible and upbeat,” said Shapiro, “We’re modernizing the idea of beets.”

Blue Hill Yogurt, whose Beet Yogurt is a sofi finalist, combined the earthy sweetness of beets with the acidic tangyness of yogurt for a natural and unique trend that could push people looking for something new in milk products. Amped with raspberries and vinegar to maximize the natural earthy sweetness of the beet, Blue Hill wants people to think outside of what is normally thought of with beets and yogurt. “This is a savory yogurt that offers some sweetness, but not fruit-like sweetness. It’s a great afternoon yogurt,” said David Barber, President of Blue Hill.

Beetroot Rasam Soup from Cafe Spices, another finalist for the sofi Award, is competing in two categories, New Products and as a Soup, Stew, Bean or Chili Product. The colorful soup that pairs roasted beets pureed into a tomato base with tamarind, garlic, chiles and mustard seeds is an inspiration from the company’s culinary director and chef Hari Nayak.

Featuring naturally occurring nitrates that help extend exercise performance, fitness communities have long embraced the healthy benefits of beets. Coupled with social media and a general health conscious mindset in consumers, appreciation of beets has spider-webbed through mainstream markets, according to Shapiro. “Its the one vegetable people feel strongly about, Shapiro said, “At events, people just want to share their experiences about beets.”

Adam Kaye, Vice President of Culinary Affairs for Blue Hill, who worked with Dan Barber on their sofi nominated Beet Yogurt, goes one step further. Kaye has seen the appreciation of beets growing beyond it being a fancy potato and finds the whole vegetable incredible. “There is something about the beet that straddles the savory and the sweet,” said Kaye, “You can taste the earth in beets.”

This story was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Gourmet News, a publication of Oser Communications Group.


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