Dorothy Hartley: Verjuice

41zXLaljcLL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been reading Lost World: England 1933-1936, a collection of essays by Dorothy Hartley, originally written for the Daily Sketch Newspaper.  Dorothy was an eccentric, a wanderer, and a writer, whose prose style was that of a novelist or perhaps a literary naturalist, but (thankfully) not the dry analysis of an anthropologist. Lucy Worsley, in her foreword to the book, described Dorothy as, “a slightly crazy but utterly admirable figure, who broke free of a solidly middle-class background to become a roving reporter for rural England. To research her books and articles, she travelled the country, interviewing country folk who still just about did things ‘the old way’ before mass production and industrialization and mechanization changed farming beyond recognition.”

I read Dorothy’s writing and meet the kind of writer and explorer I would like to be. But Dorothy slept rough under hedges and was not afraid to wander alone in the remoter corners of rural England. I’m not quite so intrepid. The scenes, people, and lifestyles she captured represented the last gasp of rural life before the industrialization of farming. Her observations highlight the receding quality of this world. Reading them, one begins to see the deep attachment to rural nostalgia underpinning English culture as the twentieth century marches forward. But in Dorothy’s writing, that nostalgia is not saccharine or rose-colored.  It is full of the raw material of old crafts and ways of life.

Dorothy’s writing is filled with the lexicon of another era.  In the passage I share below, she refers to “beetles” and “hogsheads” as she talks of the implements of cider making.  The recipe for verjuice that she provides calls for, “handfuls of damask rose leaves,” an ingredient I’ve never encountered before. Reading her prose, you experience cider not only as a constellation of tastes and smells, but a world of words, of knowledge, of the material experience of a way of life now past. The passage below is not one of her more poetic ones, but it is full of information. The source of her quoted recipe is unclear, but nevertheless, it is replete with detail:

….

From “Let us consider our drinks” in Lost World by Dorothy Hartley

Verjuice

Curiously, the Hereford cider and ‘Along-the-border’ cider are made after the old recipes for making verjuice.  Verjuice was the sharp crab-apple juice, used in medieval cookery as frequently as the lemon is to-day.  It probably had considerable effect in mitigating the massive meat diet and salted-pork-and-beans of those days. Here is the recipe for verjuice, because it is interesting in connection with the cider recipes:-

Gather your crabs as soon as the kernels turne blacke, and having laid them awhile in a heap to sweat together take and pick from the stalkes, then in long troughs with beetles for the purpose, crush and break them all to mash, then take a bagge of coarse hairecloth, as square as the press, and fill it with the crushed crabs, and press it while any moisture will drop forth. Turn it into sweet hogsheads and to every hogshead put half a dozen handfuls of damask rose leaves, and tun it up and spend it as you should have occasion.

Now in parts of the West the best cider makers look out for crabs, and crab trees figure among the hundred odd sorts of apple trees that various makers of cider import, and plant, and transplant, and acclimatize to improve their brews.  Hundreds of letters and MS [manuscripts] are about cider apple trees.

Down South they made the cider through straw and the variety of the brews show the antiquity of the procedure.  Cornish miners used to put hot sheep’s blood into it! Devon folks cream or milk! Kent writers mention the gum of cherry trees. Perry was never so popular, probably because the juicy eating pear, the Wardon, was prized for serving with cream and reverence, and the other pears were woody.  Some recipes make a stew of them in cider.

Cider belongs to the apple-blossom South as surely as whisky belongs to the heather-land North.

 

 

Posted in Apple Varieties, History, Perry, UK | Leave a comment

Pheasants and Pear Trees

IMG_6362aThe end of January is the close of pheasant season in England. The Beater’s Shoot marks the day at the end of the season when the paying guns are done, and the beaters take guns in hand. At this point in the season, one takes aim at the wily fowl who have managed to survive not only foxes and dogs, but the other guns who’ve been at it since November. These are the birds who’ve managed to keep their feet on the ground, or who’ve won the lottery of the air.

I’ll tell you right now, that I’m a terrible shot, and my fumbling attempts with a firearm led me to the conclusion that I am left-eye dominant and right-handed – a physiology at cross purposes for the sport. But I preferred the work of the beater to the sport of the guns anyway. My eyes were better suited to sweeping the scenes of the hedgerows, searching out the silhouettes of trees. Old perry trees. The lone oaks settling in their centuries-old seats on the hills. The hawthorns and the blackthorns dividing the fields.

In England, one of my best friends was a gamekeeper for a small shoot on a local farm, and his sweetheart had an eye for good dogs and taste for good gin. Many of their circle were hunters and farmers and gamekeepers. Even my neighbour next door was gamekeeper. My social circle was the working edge of English Country Life, peppered with people in other professions: occupational therapists, farmers, conservationists, blacksmiths, repairmen, EMTs, and caterers. On the weekends, the working folks would gather for the working man’s portion of the country shoot: we were the beaters.

The beaters stalk the birds, flushing them slowly from their hiding places in the thickets and streams, along the hedgerows, chasing them carefully toward the edge of a hill, where they finally fly up and out, into the air where the gentlemen with guns are waiting to take aim.

On reflection it seems a bit unfair, chasing these dull birds to the edge of their small range of comfort, where they have fed and roosted all summer and fall, towards a trap of forced flight before a firing squad. But crawling through the hedges, and along the fields, the immediate feeling is a quiet rush, the thrill of stalking the quarry. The successful shot is more than the work of a trigger finger and an eye. It is the quick targeting, the end capture of a long slow ramble begun by the side of the road.  Jumping out of an old truck, sweeping the landscape of its feathers, with a long brushstroke traced by wellington boots on the muddy ground, the beaters flush the countryside towards the moment of the shot. And it is almost an afterthought in the air to hours of feet in the mud, wading through acres of wheat and feed corn.

By the end of the season, I knew the paths well. We traced a pattern each time, along a series of field boundaries, scrambling across streams, quiet, so as not to scare the birds to an early flight. You must keep them scuttling across the ground till the last moment. And each time I retraced the path I loved it more. My favourite hedge was one studded with old perry trees. Who knows how old they were? Or if anyone had ever collected their pears? Had they been planted? Had they sprung up as wildings in the hedge? Who could say? I loved encountering trees this way, as signposts on my path, familiar sentinels in the fields, yet lonely, somewhat desolate in the midst of a wild undergrowth of young hedge. We were shooing the pheasants, birds we could rarely see until they flew, through their daily habitat among the shrubs and trees toward a brief and panicked vault towards the sky.

At the end of the first drive, we would end up on the edge of the Dabinette orchard and walk to my friend’s family home for a lunch of pork sandwiches and cider, and set out again for the afternoon. And at the end, tired, we’d walk the last stretch to the pub.

The memory is three years old now. But what I think what a pleasure it would be walk out again with my friends, stand on the headland overlooking the Wye Valley, with Ross below us, May Hill in the distance, and my friends ready with flasks full of home-made sloe gin tucked in tweed pockets to keep us warm from the inside.

We would wave our hands in the air to shoo the birds towards the guns if they took fright and flew.  But from the top of that high hill, the escaping birds could see, like us, the Shire below, peaceful, settled into the grey quiet of winter.

I’m not so different from the pheasant. Who wouldn’t want to keep their heads under these quiet hedges? The trick is to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground.

Days later, after the beater’s shoot at the end of the season, I was in the air too, on a plane, flushed out of my beloved hedgerows by threats slowly pursuing me: the end of a work visa, faltering finances, the duty to return home to tend unfinished business.

It’s not the final shot that hurts – no – it’s the grief of letting your feet leave the textured, familiar ground of a beloved place.

Will the old pear trees still be there when I return, the oaks? They are long-lived trees, and I hope they will still be there to greet me, landing from another life, another textured ground in Ithaca, across the sea.

Pheasant Shoot

Written 2012,
For Toby, Kate, Howie, Ed,  Mel, Laura, Will, Mark, Ru, St.John, and the rest of the Rascals

Brrhhhrrrhh, the roll of the tongue, Brrrhhhrrhh,
A rough coo tumbling into the cover of wheat
Where the birds barely rustle.

The roll of a tongue and the rasp of a stick on the wheat,
The rhythmic beat, and the rough-shod treading of feet
over the wet pasture, over the stile.

Beyond, in the next field over, the unsettled bleat
of a flock of Shropshires retreating from the din of the guns,
to the far side of their pasture.

And the rolling hum of the beaters,
driving their wild feathered flock
towards one last flight for the guns,

From the hedge studded with old perry trees,
From the swollen stream and the bramble-curtained low ravine,
From the pig’s wood, from the maize, from the corn,

Till finally, their long tails trailing them, they fly
Over the guns, and the shots pulse out,
a patter of lead falls, a tuft of feather rips out from a breast

The wings spread out – the bird spirals down
to the crest of a hill,
Where a spaniel gallops, retrieves, the kill.

A whistle blows. The keeper calls the beaters in
To the pub, where they warm themselves
With ale or gin, counting the braces of birds they’ve tied and hung.

We rattle home in an old car that spills Van Morrison out the windows,
softening the curves the lanes.
The pheasants left to grey dim light begin to roost,
climb the darkening air to their nightly rest.

Posted in Landscapes, Perry, UK | 1 Comment

West County Cider Tasting with Peter Hoover

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Host Peter Hoover

The Finger Lakes Cider House is usually full of customers tasting during the weekend. But on a dark Tuesday night in November, a group of local cider makers gathered there around a long table to taste a collection of ciders from  West County Ciders in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.  Hosted by home cider maker Peter Hoover,  the tasting consisted of 15 ciders from West County, many purchased by Peter at a recent sell-off of their older vintages. The tasting was a unique opportunity to taste some older vintages and ponder how the different varieties held up over time. It was also a wonderful experience to taste so many ciders by a single producer and to notice similar taste notes throughout.

But in addition to thinking about the ciders themselves, I’ve also been thinking on how and why sensory learning happens, and how differently the sense of taste is experienced by different individuals.

There are a variety of wonderful blogs devoted to assessing the taste of ciders . These do a great service to the industry, but it has never been my intention in this blog to review ciders (see the links page for some suggestions on blogs that do this well and consistently). I’m interested, however, in the ways that a “review” of a cider is a distillation of a social experience: trying to communicate a most ephemeral personal sensation that may be widely differentiated in quality and character between individuals. We don’t all taste in the same way. How can we talk about it? It’s one reason that social tastings like these are crucial to the education of a cider maker. Discussion of taste is key.  It’s not just that one’s taste experience can be influenced by suggestion, or that one can become proficient, honing the sense with practice (though this is true).  More than that, other people may be more sensitive to something you are less able to experience. They may highlight tastes or smells you might disregard or pass over. Sometimes, to taste is to listen.

I’ll be the first to admit that I find tasting difficult not only to explain, but even to experience consciously. Learning to taste is a process that often seems to slip through whatever neurons fire between tongue and brain, difficult to pinpoint in the transfer, because it is less on the tongue than in the mind, and usually trapped inside another memory.  It is a very delicate and fragile construction of sensory associations, one that must be rebuilt to consider each new drink, isolating the sensations, repeating them often enough to recognize distinct notes.

However, I tend think more in constellations of associations, rather than isolations of sensation. Often, a taste takes me back to moment where I experienced that sense before. Recently a friend handed me a liqueur, and I said: it tastes like the library. I can pick out the individual notes (leather, lemon, liquorice) that define that smell, but the library is a more interesting descriptor for me, personally. I think of my favourite library, the Birks Religious Studies Library at McGill University, where the bearded librarian sewed bookbindings behind his desk, everyone left their shoes at the door to preserve the delicate parquet wood floor, and the desk lamps became little islands of soft light in the early dark of Montreal winter.

Sometimes, a taste does not register for me at all.  Saffron, exquisite and expensive as it is, does not induce any sensation for me. I am dependent on the descriptions of my friend to appreciate its wonders. It makes me appreciate how much I need to cultivate other people, and other experiences, to experience taste.

I’ve sat around many barns and cellars and conferences while people taste ciders and wines and beers and let taste descriptions roll of their tongues in equal measure to the beverages rolling in. The degree to which people can disagree on taste is perhaps one of the social blessings built into the enjoyment of craft beverages, for it allows people to talk longer, enjoy each other’s company more (one hopes).  It generally extends the occasion of drinking by at least a factor of three and allows all kinds of other nuggets of information to emerge: such as the fact that Tremletts Bitter in America is not the same as the variety in England.  Ian Merwin explained this to us as we sipped the West County Tremletts, that the resident tree at the Geneva station must have been misidentified at some early stage, the error only recognized years later by a visiting scientist from Bulmers.

Tasting is never just about tasting, really. And while a descriptive analysis of cider is always useful, especially for the gastronome, the ways in which it the experience of taste are tied to memory, physiology, sociability, and other kinds of knowledge, make it far more complex than a list of tasting notes could ever describe.

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Winner by consensus: A Roxbury Russet Cider

At the tasting of West County ciders, there were certainly many points of departure in describing the tastes, though almost everyone settled in some agreement on the favourite of the night: A Roxbury Russet cider with a blend of 25% Golden Russet, 25% Esopus Spitzenburg, and 50% Roxbury Russet.   In addition, several people noted an overall caramel flavour that pervaded several of the ciders, with speculation that it could be either the result of pasteurization or oxidation. Though few of the sparkling ciders had maintained much fizz, there were several of the older bottles with a surprising freshness and brightness of taste.

 

The following is the List of Ciders we tasted, with cursory notes that reflect a mixture of my own and other people’s comments (though I didn’t record all comments). Dates and blends were not known for all ciders.

But most importantly, the company was excellent, there was much cheese, I learned quite a bit about these apples, and I listened with abandon to the tastes everyone else was experiencing.

The West County Ciders

  • 2003 Baldwin: Beeswax aroma, fruity, light, fresh, in very good shape for its age
  • 2008 Tremletts: Caramel, with some acid (perhaps acetic), very smooth textured.  The nose was more interesting than the taste.
  • 2010 Reine de Pomme: blended with Redfield and other varieties; tannin on the nose and in the texture; taste a bit flat
  • Reine de Pomme 50%, Redfield 10% Roxburry Russet 10%, Calville Blanc 30%: More tannins that the first Reine de Pomme.  Nice finish Carmel nose
  • Heritage: Blend of Dabinett, Baldwin, Geneva Yarlington Mill; cloudy, bottle conditions, Granny smith aroma, clean, tart, champagne
  • Ashmeads Kernal (pre 2010): Slight malolactic mouthfeel; bright flowery perfume, bit of brett, flavor slightly off no some
  • 2010 Pippin: Pippin Varieties (?) Carmel aroma
  • 2011 Bramleys Seedling: 70% Bramley, 30% Redfield; Carmel aroma, not as acidic as one would have imagined for a Bramley, soft, perhaps a malo-lactic fermentation
  • 2014 Redfield: Redfield 70%, Golden Delicious 25%; A group favorite, nice a dic, cherry aroma and flavor
  • Cidre Doux: Blend of Cox, Yarlington Mill, Ellis Bitter, Baldwin.  Soft, not high acid, bubblegum, thin but bitter (not a group favorite)
  • Belle de Bosko0p: with some Esopus Spitzenburg; Tart, green apple, slight carmel, balanced and bright
  • Cidre de Garde: in a french/spanish farmhouse style: very acidic, very funky, perhaps brett
  • Roxbury Russet 50%, Golden Russet 25%, Spitzenburh 25%: A group favorite, very floral nose, almost woody or oaky, very rich, round complex flavor
  • Dorothy’s Rosebushes: Reine de Pomme, Ashmeads Kernal, Geneva Tremletts: Fresh clear, aroma, rich, round taste, balanced acid notes
  • MacIntosh: blended with Golden Delicious: A pleasant surprise! Slightly buttery nose

 – Maria Kennedy, with thanks to Peter Hoover for the invitation and some editorial additions.

Posted in Apple Varieties, North America, Northeast, Tasting | Leave a comment

Cider Salon, NYC

When you need to advance beyond the next creative horizon; when you have an idea buzzing around in your mind that needs to be refracted through the lens of a different constellation of thoughts;  or when you are tired, tired, worn, and barely able to think in the middle of a long slog of seasonal work – what do you do?  Seek out your colleagues. Cider makers are a sociable lot, though often isolated by the demands of their individual businesses.  So it is not surprising when they get together, but it is delightful.  I’ve been fortunate to peek in on a couple of events recently that have opportuned some cider-maker mind-melding.  In this post, I’ll talk about a recent Cider Salon, and in a following post, I’ll write about a tasting with Finger Lakes Cider godfather Peter Hoover.

The Cider Salon at Jimmy’s Number 43 during Cider Week New York was an intimate afternoon and evening of talks and tastings with a variety of cider makers, authors, and orchardists from New York, New England, and even a few invited visitors from the Northwest. Rubbing elbows with fellow cider people was unavoidable, as the space was small, and the audience enthusiastic.  Many a small or aspiring cider maker was there, and the atmosphere was sparking with the individual excitements of cider enthusiasts, tempered by the wonderful opportunity to see and participate in discussions with and between the more established commercial cider makers. This is what makes a salon such a great format – the informal opportunities to chat with colleagues and hear from people whose work your admire.  But also the opportunity to get beyond the sales pitch and talk creatively, intellectually, about the craft with those who know it and love it with equal fervor.

Shepherded by cider writer Eric West and organized and hosted by proprietor Jimmy Carbone and Gay Howard of United States of Cider, the day brought commercial cider makers new and old together. Jacob Lagoner introduced his Embark Craft Ciders from the shores of Lake Ontario, and Jahil Maplestone of Descendant Cider in the heart of the City paired up with Murrays for some cheese tasting. Highlights for me were the sparring contest between Steve Wood of Farnum Hill and Kevin Zielinski of EZ Orchards on the challenges and triumphs of orcharding and cider making in the Northeast versus the Northwest. Reverend Nat himself from Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider also made it out from the West Coast to wow the East Coast apple purists with the hopped, fruited, magicked and suited ciders he has been so successful with on his side of the country.

Andy Brennan of Aaron Burr Cider and Steve Selin of South Hill Cider talked wild apples, a conversation that was continued with Rowan Jacobsen, author of Apples of Uncommon Character and recently an article “The Feral Cider Society”, during an event at Wassail the following day.  Every so often I get author envy when I see someone write a book or an article I wish I had written.  Rowan Jacobsen wins the envy prize this month, but he kindly signed my copy of his book, so thank you sir, for upping the cider writing game!

All cider makers bring something different to the craft, and Steve, Andy, and Rowan bring a particularly artistic viewpoint. Rowan is a writer; Andy is a painter and draftsman; Steve is a musician and luthier.  I suspect that they think about cider, apples, and trees in ways that mirror their other endeavors, reorienting materials, experimenting within the structures of a form, and thus, reorganizing how we experience and understand the the genre of cider itself. They imagine cider in ways that take us outside the orchard, beyond the restaurant pairing menu, and into the unique genetic, environmental landscape that has created the feral apples of the Northeastern United States.

Their approach reshapes not only how we experience the taste of cider made by wild fruit, but how we think about the landscape these feral trees inhabit.  The landscape history of our Northeastern region, one of deforestation, cultivation, and reforestation, is one that most of us are unaware of.  Trees are everywhere, right? They make us see the trees in our wooded regions differently. Through their ciders, though, the palette of the forest, and its depth of history becomes more nuanced. Steve, Andy, and Rowan may be the most recognized voices on the art of wild, or feral fruit, but there are certainly many others out in the woods, who know their trees, and who are exploring the evolving character of the fruitful American woodland.

And it’s not just the forests upstate that are being explored and turned inside out. Even Wassail’s cider director Dan Pucci chimed in to talk about foraging in the wilds of New York City, endeavors chronicled in this Vice article.

This is what excites me most about cider, the approaches that trace not just a taste, or an aroma, but that reorient our whole relationship to landscape through the appreciation of the fruit, the tree, the land, and the people who interact with it over time.

My echo of this Cider Salon on the bare pages of a blog can in no way reproduce the buzz of the crowd or the flow of conversation.  Which is why  I hope there are more cider salons in the future.  The small scale, non-commercial cider makers who peppered the audience certainly can’t make it to NYC often, and Jimmy’s place was barely big enough to hold this inaugural group.  Cider Salons, go forth a multiply.  It would be lovely to see more opportunities to talk about the art, history, and culture of the craft!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cider Week, History, Landscapes, North America | Leave a comment

Cider Week at the Finger Lakes Cider House

Some snaps from an afternoon at the Finger Lakes Cider House during Cider Week Finger Lakes back in October.  Some pressing demonstrations, games, gorgeous weather, and lazing in the lingering autumn sun.

Posted in Cider Week, Events, Finger Lakes Fruit Posts, North America, Northeast | Leave a comment

Two Apple Festivals, One Weekend

Cider Week Finger Lakes was a smash!  And our cup runneth over with events.  To start off this Cider Week, I went to two different apple festivals, one connected to Cider Week, and the other not.

On Friday afternoon on the first weekend of October, I left work early and headed for the Ithaca Apple Festival.  In its 33rd year, the Ithaca Apple Festival had been, until recently I am told, bereft of much connection to apples. But with the advent of Cider Week Finger Lakes, the cider makers are now a big presence at the Apple Festival, which acts as a kick-off for the region’s Cider Week.

Walking down State Street, I could see all the trappings of a street fair calling – some small scale carnival rides, the twirling teacups, a carousel, two gourmet mac and cheese food trucks, a Columbian street food vendor.  A  skinny bearded young guy pulled a cart collecting compost.  A tired carney checked his cell phone. College kids took selfies with their steaming cups of cider, and an old man in overalls stood behind an unglamorous but bountiful stall of vegetables. Two ladies sat beside a community quilt, selling tickets to raffle it off.  A corridor of handmade jewellery and brooms and aprons funneled the crowd crossways.

A steady stream of young professionals and grad students rotated in and out of the Cellar d’Or Wine and Cider Shop, queuing up to taste and take with cider makers from Black Diamond Farm, Redbyrd Cider, South Hill Cider, and Eve’s Cidery, who stood with steady arms and long patience beside their barrels and bottles.

Outside, on the commons, the ciders and the wineries, the soup seller, and the orchards and apple vendors, all made the most of the festival theme.  Fresh apples, apple soup, hot cider, hard cider, sweet cider, dry cider, turnovers from Indian Creek Orchard, and doughnuts from Little tree orchard – and a line 20 feet long to get them.  The horticulture students hawked the fruits of Cornell’s research orchards.

The next day, I headed out to the Newark Valley Historical Society Apple Festival, an event in its 36th year, with no connection to Cider Week Finger Lakes. The weather had turned grey and misty and cold, but I got in my car and drove east on 79 out of Ithaca, turning south down 38, into hills and valleys.  Route 38 is an old turnpike, and you can see the age of the road by its early farmhouses. As I approached the Newark Valley Historical Society Apple Festival, a sign warned cars to slow down, and pumpkins lined the road where policemen directed traffic into the adjacent field.

The small living history museum was filled for the day with demonstrators and vendors of historical, traditional, and rural arts.  An enormous iron kettle filled with salt potatoes was boiling in the midst of the tents, and under two tall old trees, a mobile cider mill was hissing, spitting, grinding, and pressing.

Asking about the mill, I fell into conversation with the husband and wife operating it, who then introduced me to its builder, C.O. Smith, aged 92. Mr. Smith shook my hand and told me that the engine on the mill was over 105 years old, and that he had built the machine to replicate one that his grandfather had used on their farm south of Rochester.  It was built for the festival, which he and others had started as a way to raise funds for the Historical Society.

I wandered through the festival and spoke to woodcarvers from the Catatonk Valley Woodcarver’s group, to a luthier who builds dulcimers in traditional and avant garde designs, and to a beekeeper whose honeys were made of nectars as varied as the apple blossoms of spring to the invasive Japanese knotweed that chokes the landscape and blooms profusely in late summer.

These two apple festivals, happening simultaneously and within 40 miles of each other, and yet in some ways worlds apart, show different sides of the region’s apple culture, speaking to different audiences, in different communities.  The Ithaca festival is more obviously commercial, and the Newark Valley festival skews more historical and educational.  While preserving the uniqueness of each festival and the communities they serve, it would be interesting to see what could happen if the commercial and the educational missions of each festival could enliven and enrich each other.

How much more rooted can commerce be if it can draw on a region’s historical identity? How much more present and emergent can history be if it is a living resource for the new commercial enterprises that Cider Week Finger Lakes seeks to promote? There are more apple festivals to visit, and an exciting possible future for the relationship of Cider Week Finger Lakes to long-running community celebrations.

Posted in Cider Week, Events, Finger Lakes Fruit Posts, History, Northeast | Leave a comment

Cheese Meditation Minute

11329750_10105723696852489_1755273131859855966_nI was drinking a cider and admiring a cheese.   And then I had some cheese thoughts that my friends seemed to enjoy.  Following this, I decided that the cider blog should definitely have a Cheese Meditation Minute every so often.  Because really, what is  cider without a good cheese?  The men of Compost Heap know this well.

As I was waiting for a train in Grand Central Station, I wandered into the Grand Central Market, where the Murray’s Cheese booth beckoned to me with its tempting artful piles of sculpted dairy.  My train ticket was to Beacon, a little town on the Hudson, and thus the name on a small round of cheese caught my eye: The Hudson Flower, a sheep’s milk cheese made by the Old Chatham Sheepherding Co.  Its rind was covered in hop flowers and rosemary, and I decided it would be coming home with me.  It seemed appropriate to pair a flower-covered cheese with my spring blossom pilgrimage.  Also, it was my birthday.  Some people have night cheese.  I have birthday cheese.

A train ride, a long drive, and a few days later, I finally unwrapped this beauty in the company of a bottle of Good Life Cazenovia Hard Cider and a pot of New York wildflower honey.  A perfect trifecta of New York made delicacies.

But the tastes of this cheese initiated a cascade of cheese memories.  Did you think cheese could have this effect on a person?  Now I am thinking of other herb encrusted, flower pressed cheeses that have crossed my path. One is the Hereford Hop, made by Charles Martell, who has preserved and reintroduced many heritage agriculture products of his Gloucestershire region on the west side of the Severn River, including heritage breeds of cattle, cheese, apples, and pears.  The Hereford Hop became one of my favorite cheeses when I lived in Herefordshire.  Hops were a traditional crop for much of the 19th and early 20th centuries in Herefordshire.  Toasted and pressed into the rind, they added a strangely robust nutty floral taste to the hearty cheddar-like cheese.  I purchased it for my farewell party when I left the UK – I think I wanted the memories of farewell to mingle with the taste of Hereford Hop, washed down with bottle-conditioned Dabinette from Mike’s cellar.  I still think about it in moments of gastronomic anglophile reverie.

The other cheese that rose to my mind was the Juliana by Capriole, a goat’s milk cheese made with rosemary and herbs in the rind.  This is very similar to the Hudson Flower itself, but the Capriole was a little more sharp, with a goaty kick.  The Capriole is made in Southern Indiana, and I used to buy it at the Bloomington Farmer’s Market as a special treat.  Once, I visited the farm and creamery down in the rolling countryside north of the Ohio River.  I was always proud to know the Hoosier state I called home could produce such a cheese. Three cheeses, covered in herbs and flowers, made near three beautiful rivers, in three places close to my heart.  Now that feels worthy of a satisfied sigh of creamery nostalgia for a breezy May day. This has been your Cheese Meditation Minute with Maria.  Good Evening, and Bon Fromage!

Posted in Cheese Meditation Minute, Midwest, Tasting, UK | Leave a comment