Bellwether Farms, renowned for nearly 30 years of making award-winning sheep milk and cow milk cheeses, has unveiled its first mixed-milk cheese, named Blackstone. The handsome 3-1/4 pound wheels are a blend of local Jersey cow and sheep milk, dotted with black peppercorns and sporting a gorgeous dark rind. The rind results from a mixture of crushed black pepper, oil, rosemary and vegetable ash that is hand-rubbed on each wheel during its six-to-eight weeks aging at the creamery. The first wheels of Blackstone are arriving in Bay Area retailers and restaurants this month.
Bellwether’s proprietor and cheesemaker, Liam Callahan, developed Blackstone for an American market hungry for mixed-milk cheeses. “We like that Blackstone combines the best of both worlds,” says Callahan. “Our premium Jersey cow milk gives the cheese a creamy mouthfeel while our sheep milk deepens the complex flavor.” Callahan named the cheese Blackstone for its resemblance to the volcanic rock outcroppings surrounding the family’s Sonoma County dairy farm. Bellwether Farms is a family business founded by Cindy Callahan in 1986 with a flock of sheep needed to control grass on their Sonoma land. Today, they milk 350 sheep and every cheese, and yogurt is made on the farm by Liam and his crew, while business administration is handled by Diana Callahan, his wife.
Blackstone joins the roster of Bellwether’s popular aged cheeses, Carmody, San Andreas and Pepato. The creamery’s fresh and cultured products include top-selling sheep milk yogurts, Whole Milk Basket Ricotta, Crème Fraiche, Fromage Blanc and Crescenza.
Another cause for celebration at Bellwether Farms is an unprecedented fifth consecutive award for its Whole Milk Basket Ricotta from the esteemed Good Food Awards competition, honoring products that are authentic and responsibly produced. The exceptional flavor and texture of Bellwether’s Whole Milk Basket Ricotta comes from three specific steps: First, it is made using fresh whole Jersey milk delivered daily from a neighboring farm. Ricotta cheese is often made from only whey left over from cheesemaking. Second, traditional cultures are introduced to coagulate the milk for a slow fermentation, developing flavor and transforming it into moist, pillowy curds tasting of rich cultured cream. Faster-acting vinegar or citric acid are commonly used instead of cultures in ricotta making. Finally, the cheese is hand-ladled into perforated basket-style containers to protect the tender curds in transit to stores and restaurants. This distinctive ricotta cheese also took a bronze medal at the 2010 World Cheese Awards in the UK, competing against fresh ricotta from Europe. Bellwether Farms Whole Milk Basket Ricotta is available in specialty stores throughout the Bay Area and select regions across the U.S.
GNP Company®, a provider of premium natural chicken in the Midwest, will be adding two new attributes to chicken products sold under its flagship Gold’n Plump®brand. The attributes include “No Antibiotics–Ever” and the American Humane Certified™ farm program seal. The first Gold’n Plump products featuring both of these claims will hit store shelves in March, with more added in the summer. The company will gradually extend these attributes to the entire Gold’n Plump line, with the goal of all products to offer them by 2019.
“The demand for products raised humanely and with no antibiotics ever is growing,” said Julie Berling, Director of Strategic Communications and Insights for GNP Company. “One study shows as many as 42 percent of chicken consumers say ‘hormone- or antibiotic-free’ is an important factor to them. And 92.6 percent of consumers find it very important to buy humanely raised meats.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council reports chicken raised without routine use of antibiotics is no longer a niche business and that chicken leads the meat product movement towards reduced antibiotics use.
Not All Claims Equal
The company says its flagship Gold’n Plump brand will be one of the first mainstream chicken brands to fully transition its entire product line to be raised without antibiotics of any kind.
“Not all antibiotic claims are created equal,” explains Brian Roelofs, Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Service for GNP Company. “Many companies are making statements about eliminating the use of antibiotics medically important to humans. GNP Company’s move is taking that further—eliminating all antibiotics of any kind for its All Natural Gold’n Plump products now, with the remaining portfolio to follow.”
The USDA only allows products sourced from chickens never-ever given antibiotics their entire lives, including when inside the egg, to be labeled as “No Antibiotics–Ever.”
The Gold’n Plump brand’s transition is gradual to ensure continuous humane, ethical animal care and product availability. GNP Company continues to believe animal antibiotics, when used judiciously and as needed under veterinarian guidance, are safe for animals as well as humans. Yet, it also recognizes consumers’ and customers’ growing desire for choices in the meat case that are raised without antibiotics. Roelofs added, “We will continue to reduce our antibiotics use in response to consumer and customer demand. However, we will continue to treat flocks for illness, including the use of antibiotics when necessary, as withholding treatment is not ethical or humane.”
Humane Care Promise Becomes Certified
As Gold’n Plump products transition to a No Antibiotics–Ever product line, it will also become officially certified by the American Humane Certified farm program. “GNP Company has always been committed to the humane treatment of our chickens,” said Roelofs. “We first partnered with the American Humane Certified farm program in 2010 to certify our Just BARE® products under the program’s rigorous standards. Since 2013, we’ve been auditing our contracted family farm partners and grow-out barns—including those responsible for the care of Gold’n Plump flocks. The official certification of Gold’n Plump formalizes our already steadfast belief in humane care.”
For products to display the American Humane Certified seal, GNP Company’s animal care, handling and processing practices are independently, third party audited and must meet or exceed the agency’s more than 200 rigorous requirements.
A majority of core Gold’n Plump products, such as small and family packs of boneless skinless chicken breasts, chicken thighs and ground chicken, will carry both the No Antibiotics–Ever claim and American Humane Certified seal by summer 2016. All remaining Gold’n Plump value-added retail, deli and foodservice products will transition by the end of 2019.
Extensive media and in-store support will help drive awareness for this Gold’n Plump product line transition in select markets. A mix of advertising will run via print, online, mobile, video and radio channels. Gold’n Plump messaging will be shared among social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Point-of-sale shelf-talker materials will deliver the news in-store.
BJ’s Wholesale Club, Inc. (BJ’s) has announced that Robert Steele will be joining its board of directors, effective March 24, 2016.
Steele currently serves on an advisory board for CVC Capital Partners, who with Leonard Green & Partners are the principal owners of BJ’s. Prior to joining CVC, Steele served as Vice Chairman of Global Health & Well-Being at Procter & Gamble Company from 2007 until his retirement in 2011. Steele held numerous leadership positions in his 35 years with P&G including Group President of Global Household Care, Group President of North America, Vice President North America Home Care, and a variety of brand management/sales positions. He has served on several boards of directors, including Kellogg Company, Beam Company, and for over 20 years served as a trustee of The St. Joseph Home for Handicapped Children. In addition to his advisory role at CVC, Steele serves on the boards of directors of Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., and Berry Plastics.
Steele brings rich industry expertise in his role as an adviser to CVC. “I am thrilled to have an executive of Rob’s talent and experience joining our board,” said Chris Baldwin, BJ’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “I look forward to having the benefit of Rob’s expertise and guidance as we manage BJ’s going forward.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon has announced a proposed rule designed to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants increased access to healthy foods by requiring stores that accept SNAP to stock a wider array of food choices.
“USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” Concannon said. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”
The 2014 Farm Bill required USDA to develop regulations to ensure that stores that accept SNAP offer a broader variety of healthy food choices. The stocking provisions in the proposed rule would require SNAP-authorized retail establishments to offer a larger inventory and variety of healthy food options so that recipients have access to more healthy food choices. SNAP retailers would be required to offer seven varieties of qualifying foods in four staple food groups for sale on a continuous basis, along with perishable foods in at least three of the four staple food groups. The staple foods groups are dairy products; breads and cereals; meats, poultry and fish; and fruits and vegetables. In addition, the proposal calls for retailers to stock at least six units within each variety, leading to a total of at least 168 required food items per store.
This proposed rule is one of many ways USDA is working to expand access to healthy foods for SNAP recipients. USDA has piloted the use of incentives to purchase healthy foods at point of sale in various venues, including farmers markets and small groceries where the incentive provided for additional purchase of local produce. The 2014 farm bill provided $100 million for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants to expand this effort, which USDA awarded to grantees in the spring and fall of 2015. USDA has also worked to increase SNAP participants’ access to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers, resulting in over 6,000 authorized locations – an eight-fold increase since the beginning of this administration.
USDA is working to ensure that access to food retailers is not hindered for SNAP participants as a result of this rule. Comments and suggestions on the proposed rule are encouraged to help USDA determine when, where, and if any flexibility should be provided to prevent reductions in SNAP client food access.
The proposed rule also underscores USDA’s authority under the Food and Nutrition Act to publicly disclose information about SNAP retailers disqualified or sanctioned for program violations. Information to be disclosed under provisions of the proposed rule would be limited to the name and address of the store, the owners’ and officers’ names, and the nature of the violation for which the retailer was sanctioned.
“SNAP violations are a serious matter,” Concannon said. “Public disclosure of this information is intended to serve as a deterrent against retailer fraud. The information would provide the public with insight into the integrity of these businesses and individuals.”
As the nation’s first line of defense against hunger, SNAP helps put food on the table for millions of low income families and individuals every month and is critical in the fight against hunger. SNAP is a vital supplement to the monthly food budgets of about 45 million low-income individuals. Nearly half of SNAP participants are children, 10 percent are elderly and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households with earnings.
SNAP plays an important role in reducing both poverty and food insecurity in the United States—especially among children. SNAP is an effective and efficient health intervention for low-income families with a positive impact on children beginning before birth and lasting beyond childhood years, improving health, education, and economic outcomes. Over 260,000 retailers nationwide are currently authorized to redeem SNAP benefits.
Comments on the proposed rule will be received for 60 (calendar) days dating from February 16. For more information see the Federal Register Notice.
Natural Grocers will open a store in Coppell, Texas, on Tuesday, March 8. The store, which opens at 8 a.m., is located at 120 S. Denton Tap Road. This will be Natural Grocers’ 15th location in Texas.
Natural Grocers will provide the Coppell community with fresh produce that is exclusively USDA Certified Organic, as well as other healthy, affordable, organic and natural products. The store will feature a mix of national brands and a selection of locally produced products from Texas in a small, neighborhood market environment. The Coppell store will also feature a Nutritional Health Coach and offer free nutrition education classes to the public. Natural Grocers Coppell will be openseven days a week.
In response to consumers’ desire to make more informed choices about whether to eat foods which are made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs), New World Pasta Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ebro Foods, announced that its brands: American Beauty®, San Giorgio®, Ronzoni®, Creamette®, Prince® and Skinner® have earned NonGMO Project Verification on their most popular pasta products.
“Today’s consumer is demanding transparency in food labels. Simply put, consumers want to know not just what’s in their food but also where it comes from,” said Paul Galvani, Senior Vice President of Marketing for New World Pasta. “We are proud to be leading the way in the pasta category by earning Non-GMO Project Verification.”
Over 200 pasta products from Ronzoni, Creamette, San Giorgio, American Beauty, Prince and Skinner will carry the new verification seal. New World Pasta products bearing the Non-GMO Project Verified logo began appearing on shelves in 2016. The Non-GMO Project seal is the most trusted sign that a product is produced through best practices for GMO avoidance.
The pasta brands from which New World Pasta formed are built upon a firm commitment to quality and value. The brands began as family-run companies, some more than a century old, and the principles that helped garner their intense customer loyalty are the same principles that guide New World Pasta today.
Following the release of a surprise statement by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) expressing respect for the artisan cheesemaking community and announcing that FDA is “pausing its testing program for non-toxigenic E. coli in cheese,” FDA Deputy Director for Foods and Veterinary Medicine, Michael Taylor, met with raw milk cheese producers on February 12 to learn more about the concerns of the American artisan cheese industry.
This Listening Session was held at FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, where Taylor was joined by Dr. Susan Mayne, Director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and a number of pertinent FDA staff. In opening remarks, American Cheese Society (ACS) Executive Director, Nora Weiser, expressed that “ACS’s desire to preserve and protect traditional cheesemaking practices; ensure safe, diverse products for consumers; and work with regulators to avoid undue and unnecessary barriers to growth are shared by many allied industry groups.” Weiser went on to name over 20 industry groups that support ACS in this direction, including numerous regional cheese guilds, international cheese organizations, and other dairy industry groups.
Seven ACS members, all raw milk cheesemakers from around the country, lent their voices to advance the dialogue and understanding that are needed to ensure continued growth of the artisan cheese sector. Presenting cheesemakers focused on several key issues:
Taylor emphasized that “we have to work together, and ACS is positioned for leadership in helping FDA understand what works for your product.” He went on to explain that preventive controls (PC) are about industry knowing what is needed and assessing what history has shown is successful. In response to ongoing concerns over changes to the 60-day aging rule, Taylor assured the group that any change to the rule will not be a surprise to stakeholders, and that this open dialogue is a prelude to any future rule-making or comment process. He stated that we must “look at raw milk cheese in [the] context of the PC framework.”
Mayne agreed, stressing the importance of science. She pledged that FDA will seek outside consult from academia and science in approaching artisan cheese safety. She sees moving forward in three steps: dialogue, which was furthered at the Listening Session; data, which must be shared openly; and scientific engagement, with technical discussions informed by what cheesemakers are doing.
Spurred by Taylor and Mayne, those present agreed that the next step is to pull together a group of relevant stakeholders, technical experts, and appropriate FDA staff to convene and discuss what preventive controls might look like for raw milk cheesemaking, and how testing can play its appropriate role in verifying controls. Jeremy Stephenson, cheesemaker at Spring Brook Farm in Vermont and member of the ACS Board of Directors, captured the theme of the meeting when he stated, “Concrete, measurable steps need to be taken on the part of FDA at every level to give the cheesemaking community confidence that regulators are operating in the spirit of FSMA. We need and value good regulation both to protect our customers as well as our collective industry.”
Food Marketing Institute (FMI) commended the U.S. House of Representatives for approving on a bipartisan basis (266-144-1) legislation that offers workable solutions to fix flaws contained in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final chain restaurant menu labeling regulations that were expanded in 2015 to apply to grocery stores.
FMI President and CEO Leslie G. Sarasin said, “The Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of 2015 (H.R. 2017) is not about being ‘for’ or ‘against’ the inclusion of nutrition information on menus. Instead, the bill injects some common sense into the rule by avoiding a one-size fits all system and allowing supermarkets to provide this important information to their customers in ways that are most accessible and useful to the customers for whom it is intended.”
She continued, “FMI has fervently pursued legislation because FDA has not been able to resolve through regulation the supermarket industry’s recorded concerns and needed clarification. With the quickly approaching deadline for compliance, FMI members desperately need this helpful bi-partisan legislative resolution.”
Importantly, the bill does not exempt supermarkets or any other retailers from the nutrition information requirement. Instead, it offers practical suggestions for menu labeling regulations in a grocery store setting along with flexible disclosure options. Provisions of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act of interest to the supermarket industry include:
Sarasin commented, “We appreciate the support of such an impressive and diverse group of Members of Congress – they are true champions of solving problems for the 1,225 businesses and 40,000 stores FMI represents.”
California’s premier cheese event, California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, is celebrating its tenth year, March 18 – 20, 2016, in and around the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma. Representing 10 years of cheese education and appreciation, this year’s festival brings together chefs, artisan cheesemakers, farmers, educators, authors, brewers, winemakers and enthusiastic guests for three days of cheese tasting and celebration. In honor of this exciting milestone, local celebrity chef Joey Altman is emceeing two spirited evening events Under the Big Top: Friday’s lively “Cheesemongers’ Duel – The Best Bite,” and Saturday’s “California Cheesin’ – We Do It Our Whey” 10 Year Celebration.
There are also an array of educational seminars and pairing demonstrations on Saturday morning and afternoon, led by some of the world’s most respected cheese experts. Seminar topics range from pairing cheese with sake to the similarities of making cheese and chocolate, and will take place at the Sheraton Sonoma County and the new Cowgirl Creamery Warehouse in Petaluma. Details about these seminars and the weekend’s festive evening celebrations Under the Big Top are as follows:
Friday, March 18
Cheesemonger’s Duel – The Best Bite
Friday night Under the Big Top at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma is where California’s top cheesemongers will take center stage in a light-hearted yet energetic competition to see who can create the best bite using local artisan cheese. Local celebrity chef and educator Joey Altman is joining in on the fun as judge and emcee for the evening, and guests are encouraged to vote for their favorite bite while enjoying plenty of artisan wine, cider and beer. A “Fantasy Cheese Table” will also be on display, so guests may taste the wide variety of local and rare cheeses at this not-to-be-missed party to kick off the weekend. Tickets $50; Under the Big Top at the Sheraton Sonoma County, 6 – 9 p.m.
Saturday, March 19
Seminars and Pairing Demonstrations
Bringing attendees face-to-face with the experts who work with and create some of America’s best artisan cheeses, the Saturday seminars and pairing demonstrations tend to sell out early every year. Taking place at both the Sheraton Sonoma County and at Cowgirl Creamery’s new warehouse in Petaluma, industry experts will enlighten guests on a variety of topics, such as:
The ticket prices for the seminars include a catered lunch by Petaluma Market from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. During the lunch break and after the afternoon seminars, several local cheese authors will be available for book signings in the lobby of the Sheraton Sonoma County and books will be available for purchase by Copperfield’s Books.
Seminars and Pairing Demonstrations to take place at the Sheraton Sonoma County and Cowgirl Creamery Warehouse; 10 – 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 – 3 p.m.; Tickets $75; More seminar details may be found at http://artisancheesefestival.com/schedule-of-events/saturday-evening-grand-tasting/
California Cheesin’ — We Do It Our Whey!
In celebration of a decade of California’s Artisan Cheese Festival, guests are invited to taste their way around this evening celebration of California cheese, Under the Big Top at the Sheraton Sonoma County in Petaluma. Guests will sample cheese-infused dishes from some of the Bay Area’s best chefs and restaurants, including Backyard (Forestville), the girl and the fig (Sonoma), and Nick’s Cove and Cottages (Marshall). Attendees will then cast their vote for their favorite dish and the winner will be announced by the evening’s emcee and local celebrity chef, Joey Altman. Artisan wines, beers and ciders will be on hand to complement each dish, and live music, a “Whey Cool Bubbles Lounge,” and a special tribute to some of the icons of California’s artisan cheese industry will round out this festive gastronomic showdown.
Saturday, March 19, 2016; Under the Big Top at the Sheraton Sonoma County, 6 – 9 p.m. Tickets $75.
Throughout the weekend, guests will have the opportunity to experience new, limited-production and rare artisan cheeses while supporting California farmers and cheesemakers in their ongoing effort to advance sustainability. Tickets to most of the festival’s events are still available, including two days of farm tours exploring northern California farms from Marin County to Sacramento; Sunday’s Bubbles and Brunch with visionary chef John Ash; and the grand finale: Sunday’s Artisan Cheese Tasting and Marketplace. Tickets for all events may be purchased at www.artisancheesefestival.com.
By Lorrie Baumann
As the market for quality cheeses grows, cheesemakers like Marieke Penterman of Marieke Gouda depend on professional cheesemongers to continue educating their customers about the products in their cases. That’s particularly important if, as some cheesemakers say, the cheese market is not driven so much by a definition of “local” that depends solely on geography as it is by a definition of “local” that connotes a community of like-minded people who share a cultural context. It’s cheesemongers who tell the stories that communicate that cultural context to their customers, Penterman observes. “It’s fun to see the cheesemonger community grow and develop a passion for the cheeses. It’s a kind of community,” she says. “Those people are so essential to the food industry. They represent us in the stores, and they talk about us, and they pass on that passion for cheese. It’s just phenomenal.”
Penterman herself experiences that sense of community among those who appreciate fine cheeses, she says. “When you go to a food show, it’s always fun to see people enjoy it, and it’s so rewarding and encouraging in what you’re doing.”
The awards that Penterman has won at many of those food shows are permanent symbols of how much her cheeses are enjoyed. Since she started making cheese in 2006, Penterman’s company, Holland’s Family Cheese, has won more than 100 national and international awards, including awards for all of its Marieke Gouda varieties. She has recently added Marieke Gouda Honey Clover, Marieke Gouda Cranberry (seasonal) and Marieke Gouda Jalapeno to her line. Marieke Gouda Bacon is the very latest flavor in the line, made in collaboration with Nolechek’s Meats, a butcher that’s local to Marieke Gouda’s home in Thorp, Wisconsin.
“They have been phenomenal. They put our Gouda in their brats and their hot dogs, so we thought we’d put their bacon in our Gouda,” Penterman says. “Bacon Gouda is really phenomenal!”
Marieka Gouda Foenegreek, which has won multiple awards, was one of the first cheeses Penterman made when she went into commercial production. She’d been thinking about adding walnuts to her gouda, but she’d hesitated because bringing tree nuts into a food facility is not done lightly. Then she tasted a fenugreek Gouda during a visit to the Netherlands and decided that the nutty flavor of the fenugreek seeds satisfied that craving without adding the tree nut complication, so she decided to try making it herself. It didn’t go well at first.
“It was so smelly in the house. I cooked the herbs in those days in our home kitchen,” she recalls. The simmering fenugreek smelled so bad that she changed her mind about adding it to her cheese, but then her husband, Rolf, suggested that she go ahead, give it a try and see how it turned out. “He doesn’t like to waste things,” Penterman says.
The cheese was aging when Penterman got a call from the Dairy Business Innovation Center to alert her to a 2007 competition. She picked a cheese to enter, and she asked one of her team members to pick a cheese. Rolf picked a third cheese, the Marieke Gouda Foenegreek. “Rolf picked the Foenegreek, and right away it won a gold award at the 2007 championship, so it was pretty cool,” Penterman says.
American consumers’ enthusiasm for Marieke Gouda and for Gouda cheeses in general is elevating both the availability and the quality of fine cheeses in the marketplace as cheesemakers improve their products to meet consumers’ expectations, Penterman says. “You can see the consumer starting to realize what good cheese is. Consumers are willing to spend a little extra to taste good cheese and to support local farmstead cheesemakers,” she says. “Overall cheese quality has improved. Flavor profiles are getting better. People are traveling and tasting cheeses and returning passionate about cheeses. I think that in general the quality for sure made a big jump in the last 10 years.”