Our Wisconsin Cheese Trip Day 4: Short On Time, But Not On Cheese

Our final day

We began our fourth day in Wisconsin in Sauk City at Carr Valley Cheese Company, where we met owner Sid Cook. Sid, a certified master cheesemaker, has more national and international awards than any other cheesemaker in North America. He’s also a fourth-generation cheesemaker who received his license at the young age of 16. To top all that, Sid is an amazing storyteller with a life full of Wisconsin cheese-making stories. We had the pleasure of sitting down with him and tasting a variety of his creations while getting to hear his tales of how these delicious creations came to be. This was truly a wonderful learning experience.

After Carr Valley, we traveled to Madison and had lunch at The Old Fashioned, a restaurant that is a favorite on the square, across from the Wisconsin state capital. After lunch, we walked through the impressive capital building to get to the other side of the square, to visit a cheese shop called “Fromagination,” a beautiful store dedicated to all things cheese. Fromagination, with its stunning cheese cases, wonderful displays and amazing customer service, is a must-see if you are ever in Madison!

Afterward, we were off to the airport and headed back to Oregon.

The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board made our visit of the state’s dairy land a unique and enjoyable one, sending us all back to the Pacific Northwest with a much better knowledge and understanding of Wisconsin, its cheese and the amazing people who make it!

Our Wisconsin Cheese Trip Day 3: Family Day!

Our little group had become a family of sorts by day three, so it was fitting that we would be visiting family-owned and operated creameries.

A visit to Henning’s

Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese in Kiel has been around for four generations, since 1914, and is led by Kerry Henning, master cheesemaker. His brother, Kert, gave us a lovely tour of the cheese shop with a viewing window over the cheese factory.

Inside the viewing room was a gorgeous display of old-fashioned cheese-making equipment and tools. As we toured, we got to see two “mammoth” cheddar wheels, one 4,000 pounds and another 5,000 pounds. We walked through the label storage, then in to the viewing room again to taste an array of cheddars, including a 10-year aged cheddar. It was the creamiest orange cheddar ever!

Henning’s supports local dairy farmers by buying milk within 30-mile radius for making their cheese. They also rent their equipment and factory space to other creameries that don’t have a place to produce cheese.

Next up… Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese

Next on our tour was Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese in Waterloo. Four brothers, their wives and children and even grandchildren are involved in making their fresh, farmstead cheese. They utilize sustainable production, from the feed and cows to milk and cheese – even their energy! Their manure-digester produces methane energy for their whole operation – and then some – for over 200 families in their county. The best of both worlds: tradition meets modernism.

More tastings!

We had a mini trade show later that afternoon, and my favorite items were from Hooks Creamery in Mineral Point. Founded in 1972, this husband-and-wife creamery, which since enlisted the help of other relatives, makes wonderful cow/goat/sheep’s milk cheeses. All their sheep’s milk cheeses are quite incredible, but their Ewe Calf to be Kidding three-milk blue cheese is a show stopper!

Dinner was at Quivey’s Grove in Madison. The building is an old farmhouse and stable turned into a superb restaurant and cool, casual grill. It featured an amazing menu with delicious local products – Wisconsin-made, only!

Our aperitif was a beer and cheese tasting conducted by the wonderful Sara Hill, Manager of Cheese Education and Training for the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. Wisconsin cheeses were paired with Wisconsin craft beers; each pairing brought depth to each and every one of the ingredients involved.

The art of pairing at its finest!

Our Wisconsin Cheese Trip Day 2: LaClare Farms & BelGioioso

LaClare Farms

LaClare FarmsWe boarded the bus at 7:45 am and made our way to LaClare Farms in Malone, about an hour’s drive from Green Bay. On the way there, the sun shone on miles of lush green pastures that made it evident as to why Wisconsin came to be known as “America’s Dairyland.” Giant wind turbines, driven by steady breezes, dotted the landscape and looked completely alien in comparison to the natural beauty surrounding us.

First, on the day’s agenda, was a tasting of Deer Creek cheeses at the LaClare Farms Cafe. Wheels of Deer Creek Cheese are easily recognizable by the storybook-like illustrations that adorn the labels of these multiple award-winning cheeses, with names such as The Doe, The Stag, The Robin and The Blue Jay.

For me, the most memorable of these cheeses was probably The Robin, a bright orange, buttery Colby dotted with fine air pockets that give it a slightly crumbly quality. For someone raised on Wisconsin cheese, this particular one may not be all that remarkable, but for me it was a small revelation. It was my first taste of a real Wisconsin Colby, completely unlike the dense, waxy, orange-colored cheeses bearing the same name that I had encountered in the past.

The Doe is a bandage-wrapped cheddar with a fairly subtle addition of vanilla that lends the cheese a little warmth and spice. The Rattlesnake, a creamy, tequila-spiked cheddar with an aggressive habanero bite, lives up to its name. The Blue Jay is a mild and creamy blue cheese laced with crushed juniper berries. I’ve never tried a blue cheese-stuffed olive in a martini before, but I may have to have one after tasting this blue, which would bring a double hit of juniper to a gin martini or else introduce a bit of juniper into an otherwise juniper-less vodka martini.

We tasted several more delicious Deer Creek cheeses before it was time to meet the owners of LaClare Farms.

How it all started 

Larry and Clara Hedrich, whose names come together to form LaClare, started their cheese-making journey in the 1970s with two goats and the belief that the greatest gift they could give their children would be to instill them with the work ethic of life on a farm. At the time, goat cheese was not very popular in the United States, so raising goats was something that Larry and Clara did in addition to their day jobs of construction and teaching agricultural science, respectively. It wasn’t until the 1990s that they found cheesemakers to buy their milk and finally in 2008 developed their first cheese.

Today, they have a picturesque goat farm that includes a cheese-making facility, well-appointed country store and a beautiful café, featuring large windows with views of the milking parlor and cheese-aging rooms. Their daughter, Katie Fuhrmann, is the cheesemaker for LaClare farms. In 2011, at the age of 25, she was the youngest person and the second woman to win the U.S. champion award at the United States Championship Cheese Contest for Evalon, a hard, gouda-style goat cheese. We got to try this delicious cheese, along with many others, after hearing the Hedrichs tell us their story and leading us on a tour of the farm and cheese plant.

Listening to Larry and Clara, one of the things that really stood out was the intelligence with which they run their business and the relationships they have with other farmers and cheesemakers. They have been all over to see what works and what doesn’t and is using this knowledge to create a successful business.

Their line of goat milk yogurts was developed using a counter-top yogurt maker that sat in a closet for years after they received it as a wedding present – it’s just one example of how they’ve been able to utilize their resources to the fullest to create something amazing. And lucky for us, we got to try many of their incredible goat milk and goat milk yogurts, in addition to their cheeses.

The Evalon was, of course, delicious, as was a cows’ milk version called Grevalon for which Katie was experimenting. Chandoka is a wonderful goats’ milk cheddar and is available in either its standard form or as a cloth-bound aged wheel.

Don’t forget the cheese curds!

Another revelation of the trip was enjoying their goat cheese curds – delectable on their own, deep-fried as part of our lunch at their cafe. Deep-fried cows’ milk cheese curds are great, too, but the goats’ milk curds had a lighter, fluffier quality when fried that made me want to skip over the cows’ milk ones. Luckily, we have begun carrying their goat cheese curds in our cheese shops, so I can recreate this experience at home.

You might assume after two cheese tastings and a cheese-filled lunch we would be tired of cheese. Nope. Not even close, which was good, because immediately after lunch we headed to Denmark for a tour and tasting of BelGioioso cheese.

BelGioioso Cheese

The tour of BelGioioso was a much different experience, due to the larger scale of their cheese-making operation. We put on lab coat-style jackets, hairnets and wore headsets, so that we would be able to hear our guide over the noise of the factory as we went on our tour.

Although cheese was being made in much larger quantities here, there was still much that was done by hand. We saw workers cutting, flipping and stacking curd that would become provolone cheese. Elsewhere, someone was feeling the mozzarella, checking to see that it was the right consistency, as it was stretched and formed by machine. We also saw the production of mascarpone, the giant brining tanks that hold the torpedoes of provolone, and tubs of stracciatella, the creamy filling for burrata.

Another thing that was perhaps a bit surprising, given the scale of the cheese-making, was the freshness of the milk. All of the milk comes from farms within a 30-mile radius of the factory. And at the height of mozzarella-making season, they can’t get the milk from farm to cheese vat fast enough.

After the tour, we headed back to BelGioioso’s corporate offices in Green Bay for a tasting of their cheese. It was mostly cheeses that we were familiar with, but more cheese is never a bad thing – and it was interesting to hear them talk about their business.

New finds at the farmer’s market

On our way to dinner, we saw a farmer’s market near the restaurant, so we made an impromptu stop to wander around and sample more cheese, of course! It is where I saw and ate ground cherries for the first time – they are sort of like a miniature tomatillo with the same papery husk but with a fruity flavor.

Dinner was at Hinterland Brewery Restaurant. The food was great, and I had the first of several positive seafood experiences of the trip. I had a wonderful nduja-crusted whitefish. Also, on this trip I was able to try walleye and perch for the first time; both were delicious. The smoked lake trout at another restaurant was also a winner, so I guess I ate lot of fish on the trip because, apparently, when you are eating pounds of cheese each day you crave something a bit lighter at mealtimes. Except for the deep-fried cheese curds, which we tried to eat on a daily basis because, really, how could you not?

It is Wisconsin after all.

Our Wisconsin Cheese Trip Day 1: Go Pack Go!

Welcome to Wisconsin!

Wisconsin is known for two things: cheese and football. In a state with lush pastures, lots of open space and millions of cows, it’s not hard to understand why dairy is such a huge industry. The Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board is responsible for marketing and promoting all cow’s milk products made in the great state of Wisconsin.

Welcome to Lambeau Field

But how did the Green Bay Packers become such a well-known team? There were five of us from the Market of Choice cheese team that got to find out! The WMMB invited us to Wisconsin for a trip to visit some wonderful cheese makers and take a tour of Lambeau Field, home of the Green and Gold.

A storied history

The Packers have a fascinating history, even for those of us who are not football fans, so to have the opportunity to tour their home field and see where the NFL really got its start was great fun.

Our tour guides were two longtime Packers fans, Larry and Dave. As residents of Green Bay, they both have a huge investment in the team.

We learned that the Packers are the only publicly owned NFL team. The team belongs to the people of Green Bay, which guarantees huge community involvement. Lambeau Stadium is an enormous facility; it seats about 80,000 people – almost 80% of the population of Green Bay! Even in the middle of winter, games can still be played on the natural turf field, because it is warmed underneath by heated water pipes, keeping it snow-free. Townsfolk even volunteer to help clear the bleachers of snow and debris before each game — Green Bay fans are devoted people!

Lombardi TrophyLambeau Field and stadium are named for the man who started the team, “Curly” Lambeau. The Packers started out as the Acme Packers before the NFL was even an official organization. Curly was one of the initial investors in the budding National Football League, and the Green Bay Packers were the first Super Bowl Champions.
They currently hold the most championship titles, including four Lombardi trophies, which was named after their famous coach, Vince Lombardi. There is a 50-foot-tall replica of the trophy just inside the stadium walls.

 

Dedicated fans

Every seat in the stadium belongs to a season ticket holder, so getting in to a Packers game is no easy task. Season tickets can also be passed down to family, so they’re rarely up for grabs.

Lambeau FieldWe had the chance to walk through the home team entrance tunnel and see the field from just a few feet away. We were not allowed to actually walk on the field, but we got to see the turf and imagine what it must be like to walk out of the tunnel to thousands of screaming and cheering fans.

Everywhere you go in Green Bay, there is green and gold. From the light plates on the walls of the stadium to flags in the houses along the street, the Packer “G” is omnipresent.

The pro shop at Lambeau is huge — if it can be printed with a logo, they have it. I even saw dog clothing and cat toys with the green and gold emblazoned on them.

Good eats

Just above the pro shop is a restaurant called 1919 Kitchen and Tap — 1919 is the year that Curly Lambeau formed the Packers, and the food at 1919 is homage to good, hearty Midwestern fare. Sausages, burgers, house-made sauerkraut and, of course, cheese. You can’t have a meal in Wisconsin without deep-fried cheese curds. The ones at 1919 were crisp and hot and some of the best I’ve tasted.

StatuesOutside the stadium are three statues – two monuments to the men who made the team a reality and one dedicated to the people of Green Bay. The statue is a reference to the “Lambeau Leap,” a practice by some players of leaping into the end zone stands after scoring a touchdown.

The history of Green Bay and its hometown team is long and legendary. They are woven together like a green and gold scarf. Green Bay relies on football and the Packers rely on Green Bay. You can’t have one without the other, and the people of Wisconsin wouldn’t have it any other way.

The progress of Peru’s coffee processes

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans

Cayona in the Chulucanas mountains.

Cayona in the Chulucanas mountains.

Ten years ago, a group of grocers from the West Coast visited Cepicafe co-op in Piura and coffee farms in the mountain town of Cayona in northern Peru. I’ve heard about that trip for years. When an anniversary trip was announced, I was ecstatic to be given the wonderful opportunity to partake in a similar trip. The objective was to learn firsthand how the co-op works and, for those who went on the previous trip, how things have advanced.

Cepicafe co-op began 18 years ago with 14 farms producing coffee, chocolate and brown sugar. They have since joined forces with other co-ops under the new name Norandino. They now work with about 7,000 organic farms in the co-op, some of which produce cotton, fresh fruit and marmalade. We visited some coffee farms in the small mountain town of Cayona, Norandino’s coffee milling facility, as well as their quality control, or “QC,” lab for chocolate and coffee, and the packaging plant for brown sugar.

A makeshift bridge along our travel route.

A makeshift bridge along our travel route.

Our trip into the mountains
The van ride up into the Chulucanas mountains started with pavement but mostly followed a gravel road cluttered with small boulders. In the summer (a.k.a. the rainy season) the road is impassible. We drove through several riverbeds and about a dozen small streams and creeks that make the drive unmanageable many months out of the year. The road on the other side of the mountains goes through Canchaque and adds a couple hours to the trip.

We were lucky to miss the rainy season and be there in time for the harvest. Our van, packed full of weary travelers, wasn’t what you’d call a four-wheel-drive vehicle. After exiting the van several times to pass some tough terrain, we were happy to reach our destination.

Where's Marni?  The group of farmers that met us on our arrival in Cayona.

Where’s Marni? The group of farmers that met us on our arrival in Cayona.

Welcomes changes – power and roads
When we arrived in Cayona, we were welcomed warmly by many of the farmers. Some of traveled several hours to see us, arriving by donkey. I was so honored by the villagers’ innate hospitality and kindness; they do not get visitors often.

One of the major upgrades the villagers got in recent years was electricity. The government came through and added power throughout the village, and grated a road up through Canchaque using bulldozers. Parts of this new road were previously footpaths.

Harvesting coffee is hard work
These farmers are living and working at 5,000 feet with steep inclines in their fields. I was having a tough time not falling down the mountain while picking. But not to worry, we all made it through a few hours of harvest, with only slight wear and tear.

One of the farmers, Luciana, took me under her wing and helped me pick. She showed me how to pick the red coffee cherries and the ones starting to turn color. She then went through all the trees and picked the ones I missed!

Washing the beans.

Washing the beans.

Once the beans are washed, they are spread to dry outside. The dark beans are dried with the coffee cherry intact. Once dried, they are bagged and stored until taken to the milling facility in Piura.

The beans are poured into the tank above, after their first washing they go to the de-pulper, says plant manager Don Sergio with Tom Hanlon-Wilde from Equal Exchange translating.

Processing the beans
After the beans were harvested, we walked alongside the donkeys hauling the bags of beans headed to the de-pulping and washing station. The coffee cherries are gravity- and water-fed through the de-pulper. Once the cherries have been sliced open they continue down the washing station, where they pass through a large screen.

They are soaked overnight in water to ferment, then continue down the washing station the following day on their way to be dried in the sun. In previous harvests, they hauled the beans in wheelbarrows down to be dried. With modernization the last couple of years, they are now piped under the road, then hauled a short distance to be raked out into a thin layer.

Once the beans are dried, they are placed in their new storage facility, awaiting their long trek to the city. The cherry pulp is then composted and used in a fertilizer mix later in the year that is spread over the coffee plants.

Coffee plant diseases, roster eye and rust on a leaf.

Challenges in the field decrease yield
The farmers are working with Luis, Cepicafe’s agronomist, to cultivate the soil to increase production to combat the problems they are having with disease. In Cayona, they’re fighting two problems: rooster eye and rust. Four years ago, the farmers were yelding about 225,000 to 250,000 pounds of good-quality, exportable coffee. This year, they are hoping for 100,000 pounds.

A handful of green coffee beans sent from the farms. In the top right corner, you can see the parchment (or paper) that needs to be removed before it is ready for export.

Milling, cupping and tasting
We drove the smoother but longer drive up through Canchaque (the proclaimed organic coffee capital of Piura) and back down to the town of Piura. When we visited the co-op’s coffee-milling facility, the plant manager showed us how they process the coffee coming from the farms. This is where they remove the parchment from the beans, sort them and bag them into 60-kilo burlap bags. Upstairs was the QC lab with small roasters and a variety of brewing methods used to check the quality of the crop coming in from the farms.

After going through the de-pulper, the beans flow through the screen into the fermentation tanks below.

Great White cacao beans are cut in half. In the center is the most desirable quality; they are an even brown, not too dark or too light.

Along with coffee cupping, we were lucky enough to taste some chocolate. Coffee and chocolate – yes, please! The cacao farmers have discovered they have been farming a rare heirloom varietal thought to be extinct. This white cacao is fetching top prizes and top dollar in the world market.

In the lab, we tasted the roasted beans, pure chocolate liquor and sampled chocolate. I was quite intrigued to find the characteristics of the beans were prominent in the flavor of the finished product. The liquor was intensely flavored and salty, with notes of sesame seeds, almonds and vanilla with underlying acidity throughout and a slight bitterness and smokiness on the finish. The finished chocolate bar had notes of coconut on the nose, with a tangy-tart tamarind fruit on the palate, followed with black currants and finished with an almost malted barley creaminess.

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans.

Red Bourbon Coffee Beans.

This was such a wonderful, truly incredible trip! I’ve learned in talking with our local coffee roasters that several of them have been buying beans from Cepicafe over the years; it was great to make the trip and have that local connection. If you would like to hear more stories of my travels or see more pictures, please stop by the Corvallis Market and ask me about it. I am happy to share them with you!

Boarding the plane to Peru to bring back tales of beans and brew

I have a wonderful opportunity to go to Peru to learn how they harvest, wash and dry coffee beans. This week, I will fly into Piura and meet the staff of CEPICAFE and take a tour of the processing plant. Then we will drive to Coyona and meet with the co-op members. Working with the group, I will harvest beans and see how they transport them to the mill, where we will de-pulp and sort them. I will be learning about shade-grown coffee and organic farming. And I will have an opportunity to tour the nursery and learn about the trials and tribulations of the coffee bean farming industry in northern Peru. This is a fantastic opportunity that I will be sharing with all of you through pictures and my blog when I return. Wish me luck!

And be sure to read Tom Hanlon-Wilde’s post on our Travel Blog about the conditions of the family farms of the small co-op Jose Gabriel Conorcanqui.

Of mudslides, rust and 10 years of friendship

This blog was contributed by Tom Hanlon-Wilde of Equal Exchange. Corvallis Coffee Steward Marni Furse will be traveling to Peru this week so check back soon for a blog about her trip.

Losing a cow is like having your savings account wiped out. Several animals were lost to the family farmers of the Cooperative José Gabriel Condorcanquí in Peru when this past March, unusually heavy rains fell for a few days and caused small mudslides. The innumerable shade and native trees farmers maintain around their coffee plants limited damage, but for those small-scale growers who lost livestock and stables, the loss can push them to the economic brink.

Equal Exchange works with democratically-organized, small-scale farmers. In northern Peru, those growers farm a handful of acres on which they cultivate their own food and coffee intercropped with orange, banana and shade trees. When the harvest is bountiful and prices are good, growers will use extra income to invest in animals – cows, goats, chickens, etc. When savings are needed for medical bills or a wedding or other big life events, those animals can be sold to provide the income. Several growers lost that safety net. In response, the members of Condorcanquí are developing plans for a co-op built and owned stockyard.

“This project will improve the nutritional options not only for the farmers but also the entire population especially the school-age children, expecting mothers, and elderly members,” explains Arnaldo Neira, co-founder and general manager of Cooperativa José Gabriel Condorcanquí.

This year will not be the year farmers recover from the loss. World coffee prices are low and yields are down. Equal Exchange pays prices the farmers set democratically to ensure a dignified living. This level, defined by the Small Producers Symbol certification program, is 75% higher than the current world market price. Prices for coffee have fallen because the crop looks to be very good in East Africa and Colombia (and hopefully benefitting our farmer partners at Gumutindo, Sidamo, and CCAOC), as well as in Brazil and Vietnam.

While yields are good in some areas, the farmers in Peru at Condorcanquí are facing substantial crop losses due to the yellow coffee rust. This plant disease, which weakens the coffee tree and thereby reduces fruit development, spreads quickly and is affecting growers from Mexico to Bolivia. The farmers of the co-op are fighting back with organic disease-control methods and, through their national level organization, have already won government assistance following a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture. These efforts will likely bear fruit but not in time to save the 2013 crop.

Despite it being a tough year, the farmers of Condorcanquí are excited for the upcoming visit by the same store managers who first visited their village of Coyona a decade ago.

This week, Marni Furse of Market of Choice, Bob Gerner of the Natural Grocery Company, Michelle Franklin of La Montanita Co-op and Hilary Dart of BriarPatch Co-op will return to Coyona a decade after their first visit. Also joining the tour are Kimberly Hash of Lakewinds Natural Foods, Joe Damiano of Greenstar Co-op, Claudia Crowder of MOMS Organic Marketplace, and Domie Brown, Hilary Johnson, and Rafael Aviles of Equal Exchange.

Black Sheep Creamery

Black Sheep Creamery is owned and operated by Brad and Meg Gregory who juggle family, farming, cheese making and retailing with humor and grace. I wanted to see how they do this and they were kind enough to find a day that wasn’t booked solid to let me come out to the 100-year old farm that they’ve called home since 1992. You can see great photos and monthly musings from the farm at their website.

Located just six miles west of Chehalis, Washington, Black Sheep Creamery was busy when I arrived for my visit between the sun showers of mid-June. Meg Gregory was working with Kathy, one of their seven part-time employees to pull together an order for a local distribution house. A truck was parked in the driveway ready to carry the cheese off to a Portland warehouse and then to customers throughout the Northwest. Brad Gregory was finishing up the morning milking in the white cider block building that houses the milking parlor and make room for the creamery. The “girls” are milked six at a time and, with 78 milking ewes, this takes two and a half hours and is done twice a day. Cheese making is done from February to September and supplies four different Farmer’s Markets in the summer and year round demand from restaurants, retail stores and their own farm stand, which also sells the wool from their sheep.

Brad and I walked behind the milking ewes as the resident “sheep herding” dog directed them back to their grazing pasture that sits next to the Chehalis River. There are also two “guard dogs” that follow the sheep and keep watch to prevent the local coyotes from attacking the sheep. They also have a forth dog that Brad says he’s ruined and made a “stick dog” because all it wants to do it play fetch! He stopped at the large pen holding this spring’s lambs to check the condition of a hoof or two while more lambs crowded around hoping for treats and attention.

I’m a shameless fan of Black Sheep Creamery’s fresh cheeses and when I see lambs in the fields, I know it’s time for those great seasonal cheeses! Available only April through August, these cheeses have a wonderful, creamery texture and come in several flavors. The “Fresh “ is the plain cheese while the “Honey Vanilla “ is delightfully sweet and amazing crumbled over fresh berries or lightly grilled peaches. My personal favorite is the “Tomato Basil Garlic.” It is delicious spread on rustic bread or crumbled over a salad. These flavors and more will be featured at your Market Cheese Shop on the Savories ad that starts July 12 so come in and check them out!

As we walked, Brad talked with me about the operations of the creamery and some of the goals that he and Meg have for the future. They are doing enough business that expansion is on their minds and hopefully a larger cheese vat in the future! Happily more people are becoming aware of sheep’s milk cheeses and how they are not only wonderfully full flavored and protein rich but also more easily digested by people that can have problems with cows’ milk. Black Sheep has a range of aged cheeses, some like their Tin Willow has their sheep milk mixed with cows’ milk from Tin Willow Farm and other cheeses such as their Feta and Mopsy’s Best are all sheep milk. They’ve received American Cheese Society awards for cheeses submitted to competition for several years and I’m sure this year their winning streak will continue!

Stepping into the packaging room in front of their aging cooler, I could see skeins of colorful wool yarn and roving that is available for sale at the farm and also at great events like the Black Sheep Gathering that happens in the early summer in Eugene. After chatting for a bit, I took a tub of my favorite fresh cheese and headed out so that they could continue with their busy day. As I drove through the lovely green country side of western Washington I thought about how lucky we are in the Pacific Northwest to have Brad and Meg doing great cheese in our corner of the world!

Mondovino 2013: Dawn of the Red, The Climax, Vive la France!

For a sense of terroir, iconoclasm, and just plain orneriness, there’s still no place like France. What a shame to see this disappear as the homogenization of wine, in the guise of Brighella and his fourteen hands slinging stinky red herrings to and fro, continues with furious alacrity.

“Contre nous, de la tyrannie,
L’entenda sanglant est leve!…
Marchons! Marchons…!”

Taking this to heart, I made my way back to the table where Monique Bonnet poured me a glass of the 2009 Chateau Suau Cadillac, Cotes de Bordeaux Rouge. Fermentation in stainless, with aging after malo in French oak (30% new) for 12 months. Forty five percent Merlot, 55% Cabernet. Linear, with lots of berry jam and notes of roasted chestnut elegantly juxtaposed.

Further south the wines take on a different expression. The Cooperative S.C.V. Castelmaure was founded in 1920 and consists of 65 members. The vines are planted on 350 ha. around the hamlet of Embres in south western France’s AOC Corbieres. I visited the property in 2006 and fell in love with the stone bridges dating from classical Roman times, and the angular, vertiginous landscape. The wines exhibit the unique terroir of the area, showing flint, peppery, chewy tannins and smokehouse notes with plenty of jam. 2010 Castelmaure Col des Vents Rouge, 50% Carignan, 35% Grenache and 15% Syrah.

Chateau Fontane is located on the Vidourle River, near Sommiéres in the Languedoc. Vines are grown on 25 ha. of clay and limestone. 2011 Chateau Fontane “Cuvée M” Côteaux du Languedoc had vivacious tart black cherry with a play of dried herbs and spices rounding out a very appealing sense of terroir. Hope to see this one on the shelf soon!

“…it makes a sweet melody when you walk beside it, and its voice is softer than its character. Many French poets were born along its banks. Rivers do more than irrigate the soil. Wine grows on the slopes, and poets flourish. The troubadours sang here in the Middle ages.” From Joseph Roth. Yes, I’ve finally arrived at that most magical of terroirs, where the white cities rise on the plains and mountain tops and history recedes into a heat mirage. In the middle of the Rhone valley is the city of the anti popes, Avignon. And the source of the wine that comes in the bottles with papal regalia often stamped on the neck.

First stop is Domaine Grand Veneur and a friendly chat with Christoph Jaume. I was impressed with the 2011 Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhone Rouge Reserve. Inky red with lavender pouring from the glass. Full, luscious mouthfeel with prickly acidity and clay tannins providing firm support. Long and powerful finish. In stock now at our Willamette Street store. Following this stellar act was the more elegant 2011 Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Les Champauvins. Seventy percent Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre. Fine grained tannins with garrigue, subtle notes of oregano, olives and baked clay. Simply spectacular was 2011 Grand Veneur Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Les Origines. Fifty percent Grenache, 30% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre. Average age of vines is 70(!) years. “It exhibits significant creme de cassis, kirsch, blackberry and licorice notes along with a touch of vanillin. Full-bodied, but also accessible, plump and succulent, it can be drunk early in life or cellared for 10-12 years.” Wine Advocate #203 Oct. 2012: 90-92pts.

At the next table I was delighted by a perennial favorite. Chateau de Ségriès Côtes du Rhone 2012. Fuller than the ’11, a touch darker and with noticeable lavender overtones, ripe fruit and hints of baked clay. Look for this to arrive in a month or so as we are almost sold out of the ’11. Fifty percent Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Carignan and 10% Cinsault.

To end my tour of the white cities, I finished with the Henri de Lanzac 2011 Côtes du Rhone Clos de l’Hermitage, from a 3.5 ha. vineyard located in the “Quartier de la Chartreuse de Villeneuve-les-Avignon.” Thirty three percent Grenache, 33% Syrah and 33% Mourvédre. Average age of vines is 40 years. Twenty one days skin maceration in temperature controlled concrete vats, nine months in 5% new French oak from Seguin Moreau and 95% in 1 year-old barrels. Lively with lots of peppery tannins, luscious berry layered with baked clay and subtle, smoky components ending in a powerful, integrated finish! Coming very soon…

All the wines listed above are either in stock (as noted) now or in shipment to arrive soon at our Willamette Street store.

As I was in an area of the country steeped in history, I brought my son along to soak up the ample ambience. Here we are making the acquaintance of a very young George Washington near a little log cabin he used as a military office from 1755 to 1756 while planning and building Fort Loudoun in Winchester, Virginia.

Monodovino 2013: Dawn of the Red

After initial pleasantries and some dalliance with bubbly, I finally arrived at my favorite tables. Coming full circle, I began with the Rubus Old Vine 2010 Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, Australia, and the Old Vine 2010 Zinfandel, from Lodi California. Ninety points from the Wine Spectator: “Polished, supple and juicy, with red berry, black cherry, licorice and white pepper flavors…” The Zin was finished in French and American oak for nine months. Dark ruby red with lots of interlocking cedar, berry and spice notes and a peppery finish. I’m looking forward to both of these arriving soon!

Chakana Winery (see my March 14 Mondovino 2013 post below) just keeps making outstanding reds that consistently beat down the competition. The Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Malbec 2011 (in stock now at the Willamette store) are no exception. The Malbec in particular is showing ripe, dark berry fruit and velvety, dusty tannins that flow into a fine, powerful finish.

And so many new wineries to contemplate:

Cholila Ranch, with a picaresque history: “On February 20, 1901, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, boarded the British ship Herminius and steamed off to build a new life for themselves in the ‘United States of the Southern Hemisphere.’ They settled in a sheep ranch at Cholila Ranch, in the deepest Argentine Patagonia, under the alias of James Ryan and Harry A. Place, where they were considered respectable citizens.” – Extract from Digging Up Butch & Sundance, by Anne Meadows.

Point man for the winery is Roberto de la Mota. The winery is located at 39° south latitude, in a landscape crisscrossed by dusty roads paved with stones. The Cholila Ranch 2011 Malbec is aged in American and French oak for nine months. Black in the glass, with wood smoke, vanilla, blueberry and plum notes. Very long finish.

Viejo Isaias, in Mendoza, is owned by Rodrigo Manuel Romero. Rodrigo’s initial vintage was in 2004. I have a particular weak spot for Bonarda, both from Italy, where it has one expression, and Argentina, where it has another! Viejo Isaias 2012 Bonarda Clasico is a wonderful example of what can be done with this varietal in Argentina. Fuliginous in the glass, packed tight with tart black cherry, tobacco and a hint of exotic five spice!

Early last year we tasted the Viña Siegal 2010 ‘Uber Cuvee’ Cabernet Sauvignon, a delicious and lively blend of 85% Cabernet and 15% Syrah from the Cochagua Valley. A stunning value that many of you bought by the caseload to take advantage of our 15% discount. Well, I’m happy to say the 2011 is equally ‘uber’ drinkable! Owned by Alberto Siegal and his father, Don Germán. Winemaker Nicolas Oyarzun uses grapes from 15 year-old vines harvested in late April. The wine is then given eight weeks of aging in French with a medium toast.

Moving, dodging and ducking, I made my way to the Aussies and Thorn-Clarke Winery. Started working with these wines in our old location and have always found the Milton Park Shiraz to be a prime value wine exhibiting that unique Australian terroir. Evocative of Bordeaux is the Thorn-Clarke Quartage 2010. Blended from 43% Cabernet, 33% Cabernet Franc, 12% Malbec and 12% Merlot. Even better was the 2010 Shotfire Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz. Very dense in the mouth with pencil lead and dust focused on rich berry fruit with lots of mouth grip and length. A powerful example of what Barossa can achieve! Ninety one points from the Wine Advocate. Coming soon!

In addition to these wines, there were some extremely attractive private label bottles from Thorn-Clarke. Under the Cool Winds label, a racy Shiraz 2010 with lovely blackberry and plum notes and Pinot Noir 2010 that sported tart pie cherry and brioche managed to distract my attention momentarily from the next table. Vive la France!

Up next, Dawn of the Red: the Climax. Stay tuned…