Monday, January 12, 2015

Exploring the cheeses of the world: Attending Terra Madre & Salone del Gusto October 2014

This past fall, I had the distinct honor of being chosen as one of just 240 US delegates to attend Slow Food’s 2014 Terra Madre & Salone del Gusto global food conference in Turin, Italy.

Delegates from over 130 countries came together to talk about food and demonstrate their cultural traditions of agriculture, fishing, preserving, and cooking food, and to share their food movement success stories, challenges and lessons learned.

I sampled so many great foods from all over the world and, of course, coming from a cheese maker’s perspective, I naturally gravitated toward all the cheeses.

Shawn Saindon with Parmigiano-Reggiano

I attended many cheese-related classes, tastings and talks hosted by cheese makers and purveyors from different regions of the world. Many of the cheeses discussed were officially inducted into The Ark of Taste, a Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. 

This project was created to draw attention to certain foods and their possible extinction within the next few generations either through modernization, lost traditions or through tightening health and safety regulations. 

These classes, as well as the entire Terra Madre conference, gave me an amazing opportunity to speak directly with different food producers and to get a real sense of the importance of biodiversity not just within the cheese making world but within the overall food system as a whole. 

For more information on the Ark of Taste project, visit

So, I thought I would share with you a little about some of the cheeses I experienced. The following include some cheeses that I never really knew existed if not for the Ark of Taste project and the Slow Food conference.

Turkmen Fringe Cheese
An interesting cheese that I completely fell in love with is called Turkmen Fringe Cheese. I stumbled upon this fantastic cheese at one of the Slow Food tasting classes. This particular class was called The Cheeses and Wines of Turkey.
Turkmen Fringe Cheese
Its origins come from the cities of Kars and Ardahan in the East Anatolia region of Turkey and dates back as far as the Ottoman period.

Turkmen Fringe Cheese is normally made with non-fat cow’s milk, although sometimes sheep’s milk is used. The milk is boiled with the whey from the previous batch of cheese, acting as rennet. It is then boiled until the milk curdles and then cooled down. The curds are kneaded and stretched to create their string-like shape then stretched and rubbed continuously with salt until it looks like spaghetti. It can be eaten fresh or preserved for 1-2 years.

Older traditions have the cheese pressed in animal skins and buried underground to help with the development of molds

I found this cheese to be fantastic! It is odorless and dry with a consistency of straw but when you eat it, it melts in your mouth instantly into a sort of a milky mozzarella consistency. You can really taste the milk, which is very important to me. Some people in the class found the cheese to be too salty, due to the brine, but I found it to be a good balance of flavors.

I could totally see kids loving Turkmen Fringe Cheese as it is a good play on the concept of string cheese. 

It surely was one of my favorite discoveries on this trip and leaves me completely intrigued with the cheeses of Turkey.

Marayn de Bartassac Cheeses –Southwest France

Lovers of an extremely strong, spicy and earthy flavor will love appreciate these cheeses.
At the Terra Madre side of the food conference, this booth was one of the more popular of the cheese related booths, mostly because of the huge and gorgeous display of these ancient looking pucks of French cheeses. 

They seriously were the cheese rock stars of the conference.

I’m talking about the cheeses of the micro-dairy Marayn de Bartassac from the Gascony area of France.

They are based on ancient recipes that date as far back as 1300 A.D., revived by philosopher and cheese guru, Hugh Lataste, along with his wife and daughter.

I was told that there are around fifty varieties of this cheese made from cow, sheep or goat milk. Most are a hard cheeses wrapped in grape leafs and/or rubbed with spices and black pepper.

They were absolutely beautiful and the recipes to make them are rich with traditions and history.

 In all honesty, I found these a bit too strong for my palate, since I tend to have a reaction to some spicy, peppery foods, but I really appreciated the opportunity to try something so different than any cheese I have ever encountered before.

Finally, you couldn’t be at Salone Del Gusto and Terra Madre, or in Italy, for that matter, without tasting some of the Italian signature cheeses. 

Many great cheeses of the region were in attendance and I was constantly in a state of awe while being amongst them, such as Parmigiano-Reggiano, Mozzarella di Bufala (made with the milk from water buffalo) and Pecorino. 

But the handmade, stretched cheese, Caciocavallo, was one I had a lot of fun discovering and it was everywhere!
Literally translated, Caciocavallo means “cheese on horseback” and can be seen hanging, with a rope around its neck, from a wooden dowel to drain and dry.  

 It hails from southern Italy and is usually made from cow’s milk but I also tried some made from buffalo and sheep’s milk.
It’s made similar to the way you would make and shape mozzarella but it is set in a brine for a few days after being shaped. Then a string is tied around it and hung up to dry and left to age for about two months before consuming.

It has a rich and buttery flavor with a smooth texture. I especially loved how I really could taste the most important part of the cheese - the milk! 

There were many smoked varieties, as well, and some even were embedded with a ‘gem’.

These special treats are called Riavulilli (little devil). While this cheese is being shaped, the cheese maker inserts a black olive, a piece of citrus fruit or even a piece of cured pepperoni into the stretched curd. The cheese's head is then formed and tied, usually, with a piece of vegetable fiber rope called raffia. 

Final Thoughts
There were so many amazing offerings presented at Terra Madre & Salone Del Gusto that these few cheeses I mentioned in this post were only the tip of the ice berg. 

It was inspiring to me to see such cheese making traditions continuing on to future generations. It was also an eye opening experience for me to see the important role that diversity plays in cheese making and our food system as a whole.
Finally, I would like to give a heartfelt thanks to everyone who have supported me and helped me to attend this important, educational conference. This trip couldn’t have happened without you. Thank you!

#salonedelgusto #newenglandcheesemaking #SlowfoodUSA #slowfoodinternational #winterhillfarm #portlandME

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Need supplies for home cheese making? I always recommend the New England Cheesemaking Supply Co.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Dog, Stalking Cheeses and other things to think about when getting started.

For this weeks blog post, I am a guest blogger over at the amazing foodie blog called Lover Of Creating Flavours. In this post I discuss stalking the cheeses at the grocery store, my dog and some things to think about while preparing to make cheese at home. View it here

Here is an excerpt: 

...I’m sure the security guards at the local grocery store had me on some kind of watch list for years. They’d routinely clock me as I would get drawn, like a moth to a flame, towards the cheese section. I could almost hear them say on their radios, “There he is, boys! Keep your eye on that weird cheese guy…”

View the rest of this blog over at Lover Of Creating Flavours! 


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#ArtisanCheeseMaking #homecheesemaking #makingcheeseathome #artisancheese

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

I sometimes asked do you make cheese at home?

The first thing I did in preparing to make cheese at home think about doing it. Seriously, this step lasted almost ten years and was by far the hardest step to complete.

There were always reasons to not get started. Reasons like: "I have to work", "I'm too tired", or my favorite, "I have an album to go record". It amazes me the natural abilities that humans, especially myself, have towards procrastination.

Just remember: the longer you wait to kick start the things you want to do in life, the longer it's been since you first started thinking about it.

I know, pretty deep.

Mozzarella in its natural habitat.

Luckily, I have an amazing wife who recognized my interest in the cheese making arts and decided to make the last holiday gift giving season's theme all about cheese making. For this, I am forever grateful.

Two Cheddars hanging out just air dryin'
So, with that said, I feel like it's my duty to now help you, yes YOU! So to get started I will share all the things that helped me to get the ball rolling. Not everyone starts off in the same way, but this is just how I started.

First off, these are the essential items she bought that helped me to dive right in: books and cheese kits.

Book on Cheese Making 
Artisan Cheese Making at Home by Mary Karlin (Ten Speed Press)
The photography is amazing. Every recipe and story about each cheese is rich with historic detail and is very scientific in every step. Although it can be a little stuffy and snobbish at times, it is my 'go-to' book for planning and brainstorming cool cheeses to make.
 Buy Book Here!

Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll

Ricki Carroll is known around the cheese world as the "Queen of Cheese" and there is a well-deserved reason for this. She is the owner of the New England Cheese Making Supply Company. All the recipes are easy to follow without pretense. Plus this company is the best place on the web for cheese making supplies. I'll get to that in a second....
Buy Book Here!

Cheese Making Kits
The Books and the Kits
The Cheese Making kits I was given had been purchased at the New England Cheese Making Supply Company’s website. This Complete Set is actually two kits in one - the ultimate startup. It combines the 30 Minute Mozzarella & Ricotta Kit and the Basic Cheese Making Kit. You will be able to make Gouda, Farmhouse Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Cottage Cheese, Feta, Colby, Mozzarella, Parmesan and Ricotta.

They also include many of the supplies you will need to start your cheese making, including:

  • Basket Mold
  • Vegetable Rennet Tablets
  • Mesophilic DS Starter
    Teaching the sister-in-law how to make Mozzarella
  • Thermophilic DS Starter
  • Dial Pocket Thermometer,
  • 1/2oz. Calcium Chloride
  • 1 yd Re-usable Cheesecloth
  •  Dairy Thermometer
  • 1 yd Butter Muslin
  • Citric Acid
  • Vegetable Rennet Tablets
  • Cheese Salt
  • Two Recipe Booklets.

I swear, you will feel like a cheese making rock star when you hold that first slice of pizza smothered with your own fresh mozzarella.
Buy it here!

Draining the Ricotta

To tell you the truth, the recipe booklets that come with the kits were a little weird. I mean, in trying to make cheese making a bit more family friendly, they use cartoon cows to teach you how to stir your curd. This isn’t something that most grown-ups would think of when they ponder the hundreds of years of artisanal craft that went into the development of some of these cheeses. But bizarrely enough, in the end I found that the cartoon cow was a perfect way to ease some of the anxiety and pressure in of all the steps involved in how to make cheese at home.


Wouldn't you know it? Just like everything else in life, you are never as completely prepared as you think you are. The kits my wife bought me were awesome, but the further I ventured, I realized that they included only the basic keys for producing cheese. I still needed a few more things for the kitchen…

So off I went and picked up a few additional tools - and I'm truly glad I got these extra items. Trust me: they ended up being very helpful.

Curd Knife

  • 16 qt Non reactive stainless stockpot. I already had one but found that having the second made doing the water bath method for certain cheeses easier.
  • Curd Knife. Get the longest one! That way you can use it for any curd cutting at any length.
  • 9" Stainless Straining Skimmer with about 4-1/4" diameter ladles. Made for scooping your curds from the pot into a cheese cloth lined mold for pressing or into butter muslin for draining.
  • Bamboo mats. For drying’ your hard cheeses, man. 

  •  A really good Stainless Steel Thermometer. Get one with an 8” stem or longer. And don’t forget to calibrate it correctly- very important! 
    In Maine We call this a "Skimmah"
  • Acid Meter. Checking the pH of your milk is important sometimes if you’re extremely picky and perfection is in mind. Testing and monitoring the acid levels and the development of acid during the process, will help you with making more consistent batches of cheese.
  • Cheese Press. This can be a pricey thing to buy. I got one from a friend and it was the most affordable one out there. It's holding up well, but it's kind of cheap and I definitely see the need to upgrade soon.You can find quite a selection if you look around online, and on EBay you can find some really wacky cheese press designs, but even better if you can find a local shop for supplies. It seems many people have their own idea of physics these days. I'll have a whole other post on presses later.
Every kid remembers their first cheese press.
And since we are all just starting out, may I recommend getting extra Butter Muslin and Cheese Cloth? I say this because maybe a certain someone might have ruined a bunch until he figured out how to use it correctly. I'm not saying who...I'm just sayin'.

Milk & Other Ingredients...

Because of personal preference, I use only raw, organic cow or goats milk (not pasteurized), which can be purchased at most natural food stores in Maine. There is a real difference in flavor coming from grass fed, organic cows. I have the luck of being able to get fresh cow milk from my wife's family's organic dairy farm. It's pretty cool to meet the cow that produced the essence of what will be your creation. I also try to use only vegetable rennet and fresh organic herbs.

You don't have to be all organic and natural. But be aware that there will be some differences in the recipes which you will need to adjust to. 

Thanks to this lady, my first cheddar was a success.
The only kind of milk you can not successfully make cheese from is Ultra-Pasteurized. All the good stuff has basically been cooked out of it and its become, in my opinion, utterly useless as a food product. It’s pretty much just white water. The big companies did this so that it would last longer in transportation and on store shelves. Seriously, what’s the point of drinking milk without the flavor and the nutrients?

Again, there is so much to this subject. I will have a on post milk later on down the road.

Ok, so there is the list of supplies that I started with.  Please, I would love to hear from any of you about how you got started. Comment away or email me at

Time to get busy! We're going to learn how to make cheese at home! My next post will be a full recipe for a good cheddar, and I'll be checking out David Bowie's The Next Day, The London Suede Bloodsports and the new Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, so get your cheese making supplies in line and your iPod warmed up!


Don't forget to visit the Of Song And Cheese  Facebook Community over at Facebook.

Email Shawn Saindon


Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Cheeseman Cometh...

 Top: Sage Infused Cheddar.  Bottom: Farm Style.

Just so you all know: I am new to cheese making and am in no way a master cheese maker. Well, at least not yet. I have always wanted to try cheese making and after many years of thinking about it, I decided now is the time to just DO it. Dive right in and make homemade cheese!

The tipping point was when my wonderful wife bought me my first cheese-making supply kits and recipe books for Christmas. I'm guessing she got sick of hearing me talking about it all the time! So with that said, keep my experience level in mind as you try out some of the recipes in future blog posts. 

Up to this point,
over these snowy days of winter, I've tried making a few mozzarella and hard cheddar cheeses. In the beginning, there were lots of emotional ups and downs, existential internal dramas, and lessons learned throughout my trial-and-error period. But surprisingly, they all ended in certain successes. I believe fully that I am indeed becoming one with the curd.

But I have to say that, so far, I love the making of hard cheeses more than soft cheeses. I don’t know why this it because I get an intense feeling that I’m making something…important? Something akin to a piece of art? Like when I write a really, really good song. Something that when people walk into a room, as soon as they see it, you can hear them say to each other: Now, there’s some fine craftsmanship.

Me still lovin' the soft cheeses...
Don’t get me wrong - soft cheeses are amazing and yummy. I wouldn’t pass up a great spreadable goats cheese or tasty mozzarella. They play their part in the grand spectrum of the dairy arts, but they all seem so temporary.  Some soft cheeses are consumed almost as soon as they are made. Their memory may fade by dessert time.

But a good hard cheese travels through time whilst undergoing such amazing physical and chemical changes. At the end of its long journey, the aromas and flavors do victory dances through your senses as the hard cheese tells your palette the tale of its epic adventure through the ages. That’s right, kids! Hard cheeses are things of wisdom.
Or maybe it’s me. Maybe it's because I feel like I’m making something that I can own or “collect”? It’s cool to look in the cheese cave, which I will talk about later, and see these wheels on the shelves. There’s a certain level of self-fulfillment and pride when you step back and say, “I made that....I nurtured those.”

Farm Style Cheddar right out of the press air drying.
After all, there’s a substantial investment of time and energy put into it. You are going to care for this...thing... like a two pound baby for two,four...even up to ten months, in some cases.

You will be checking on it, wondering if you screwed it up until that fateful day that it sits hapless upon the buffet table next to a perfectly paired wine.
There’s also been another, more unexpected pleasure to this new pastime of mine. In this day and age it’s hard to find time to slow down and do any of the things in life that you want to do. Like listening to new music, which I have loved doing since I was younger. I've found that making hard cheeses demands me to slow down and become one with the process. There’s no multitasking or the making of other plans for the day.

Especially when it comes to particular steps in the process, for example, where you have to stand at the stove and stir curd for almost a full hour. I’m just standing there, stirring the curd, and listening to the entire new David Bowie album.

I imagine cheese making a horrible profession for someone with A.D.D.

But that’s what I’m getting into here: I’m focusing on a simple, yet complex process—and I’m finding it surprisingly enjoyable. I’m reveling in the wonder of one of life’s most magical alchemies’ while also finding the time to just…be…and use that time to carve out space to listen to the music that inspires my creativity.

So, with those early revelations out there, I do hope you enjoy this blog and get something out of it. Whether your a master cheese-maker, a beginner, or more apt to critique the music I'm spotlighting here...Please feel free to comment or drop me a line. I'd love to share and connect with other cheese and music lovers out there.


If anyone is interested, I have started a Facebook group page for anyone who wants to chat about music and cheese:
Please come join in!

Shawn Saindon on Facebook