So What Do You Do with Fennel Leaves?

At The Delmar Farmers’ Market yesterday, Farmer DJ and a customer were talking over the colorful mounds of vegetables at his and Farmer John’s stand. The contention was fennel: what is it? how do you cook it, and then, the point at which my ears perked up: “So what do you do with the leaves?”

Fennel, classic to French cooking and also known as anise, comes from the parsley family and has a taste similar to licorice or tarragon. The entire plant can be used in both cooking and herbal medicine, and the leaves or fronds are particularly aromatic and delicate in texture and flavor. So, I got myself some fennel from DJ and took to the kitchen that night. In this article, you will see two variations on fennel fronds’ use: one with cheese and another a classic fish dish using salmon from “fin.”

The Risotto

A summer risotto with fennel fronds

All risottos use the same method of slow cooking Arborio rice, a highly absorbent rice from Italy, adding a dense stock and white or light red wine, and finishing with a flavorful cheese to create a rich, creamy texture. Because Arborio rice is imported and very fine, it can be costly. This recipe substitutes half of the Arborio rice for pearled barley, which has a similar texture and absorbency. Other ingredients can be grown in your garden and found in a local farmer’s market or specialty foods shop.

In this recipe, the vegetables garlic scapes, spring onion, and snap peas are balanced with the herbs and spices fennel frond and French paprika so as not to overpower the delightful taste of the washed rind cheese used.

Garlic Scape, Snap Pea, Fennel, and “Maggie’s Round” Risotto

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 4 garlic scapes
  • 1 small onion
  • splash of Banyuls vinegar
  • 1 cp Arborio rice
  • 1 cp pearled barley
  • 1 qt stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1 cp Pino Grigio wine
  • 1 cp fresh snap peas
  • ¼ cp fennel fronds
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp French paprika
  • 2 oz. Maggie’s Round, Pawlette, and/or Berleberg diced

Melt butter in a pan on medium heat. Heat stock in a separate pan and keep covered on low heat. Cut scapes and onion into butter and sauté until onions are semi-transparent. Add a splash of Banyuls (or similar light wine or rice vinegar). Add rice and barley and sauté in the butter for 1-2 minutes. Begin to add the warm stock, one cup at a time as the rice adsorbs the liquid. Stir often. When the rice and barley begin to plump, add paprika and salt, snap peas and fennel fronds. Add wine. Finish with your choice of cheeses mentioned. Stir until the cheese melts evenly throughout the risotto. The risotto will be done when the rice has taken in all the flavor and is al dente. The risotto will look creamy and generously wet around the rice and barley, neither dry nor runny. Pepper and salt to taste.

Fennel Salmon with Collards and Kale

Fennel fronds and thick greens make a wonderful base for cooking fish, and the flavor of fennel pairs particularly well with salmon. This recipe steams the fish over a bed of greens, and the fish soaks up the flavors as the steam rises.

  • 1-1/2 lbs fresh salmon
  • 2cps fennel fronds coarsely chopped
  • 4 large collard leaves cut in thick strips
  • 4 Red Russian kale leaves coarsely chopped
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • a splash of Banyuls vinegar
  • a drizzle of A L’Olivier Herbes des Provence olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Use a dutch oven or similarly large, heavy pot with lid on the stove top. Heat the pot to medium to low. Line the bottom of the pot with the cut fennel fronds, collards, and kale. Gently place the salmon on top of the greens. Juice the ½ lemon on the salmon. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to moisten the salmon and greens. As the salmon steams, the oil will release into the greens and the greens will protect the salmon from burning. Add a splash of Banyuls vinegar and drizzle of Herbes des Provence olive oil. Let cook until the fish is pink and flakes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Welcoming the Third Annual Cheesemonger Invitational

Rodolphe le Meunier goat’s milk tomme from Jura

This Saturday, an epic cheese contest will take place—the Third Annual Cheesemonger Invitational. Fifty-two cheesemongers from around the world will compete for glory and one thousand dollars in honor. The competition will be judged by fifteen preeminent people from all areas of the cheese business and hosted by the big cheese in importing, Adam Moskowitz of Larkin. Coming on the heels of the famed Fancy Food Show, here is a place for the best and most seasoned mongers to compete for bragging rights to be called the best in the business.

This event is more than a grand fete for cheese or “curdocopia,” as Adam calls it. This is a gathering for cheesemongers, a place for those who wield knives, wheels, and cheese paper, to revel in cheese and the craft of mongering and to show off their skill. Should you think that cheesemongers are simple folk, there are a battery of difficult questions and divisions in the contest that evaluate their skill set. It is something of a “Top Chef” for cheese sellers who, in order to monger well, must demonstrate with precision deep and wide knowledge of world cheese types, textures, and tastes through blind tasting and identification, physical acumen which includes cutting precisely to the ounce requested, and artistic sensibility in plating the cheeses with style and grace. With wheels of all different shapes, sizes, and types, both tasting and cutting precisely by sight and sense can be a Herculean task. Some of the contest divisions include:

1)      Does the monger have a breadth of cheese knowledge?

2)      Has he honed his sense of taste?

3)      Can she move people with wit and charm?

4)      Does he have passion for the craft?

5)      How precise in cutting to order?

6)      How fast and neat can the monger wrap and label?

7)      Can she create magic in just one bite? and can she duplicate this sixteen times?

The inaugural Cheesemonger Invitational took place in 2010 as a closed competition where ten of the most renowned cheese shops in the United States competed against one another. Matthew Rubiner, owner of Rubiners’ Cheesemongers and Grocers in Great Barrington, MA, was awarded the esteemed winner.

Last year was my first year attending CMI. The competition was opened and expanded to include an application procedure and additional divisions of the contest. Proven cheesemongers in the business were open to compete in four contests, and forty mongers from around the world answered the call. Though I was not competing, I drove down from Albany on a sunny afternoon in great anticipation, eager to see my former co-workers from Formaggio Kitchen and mongers I met at a workshop in Philadelphia. I arrived in New York City about an hour before the competition started and I met some people with whom I had only been in contact with over the internet and read about in cheese magazines. It was a rockstar event for me, seeing the best in the business gathered for a celebration together to share what we love.

Once I arrived, I checked in past the long lines.  Next to admission table, at the patio, they were grilling raclette and serving it on a graham cracker with a tablet of dark chocolate and a cornichon. The warm raclette melted the chocolate. It was warm, gooey, and cheesy with a good balance of a sweet and meaty cheese with the sour vinegar pickle with earthy chocolate. After a delicious opening bite, I entered into the warehouse mob scene where folks milled about. To the far left of the open warehouse space were the mongers gathered in anticipation before the big event. I ran into Ian Peacock of Di Bruno Brothers and exchanged greetings, remembering my tour a few months back of Di Bruno Brothers’ original store on 9thStreet, a little shop packed to the brim with cheese nearly overflowing the counters and cases and specialty foods filling the walls. Then I saw Tripp, my best buddy at my short-lived stint at Formaggio Kitchen. I grabbed a beer from Six Point Brewery and noticed Rodolphe le Meunier’s table full of mounds of uncut wheels of cheese. Rodolphe is a fantastic cheese affineur (see our blog post A Visit to the City of Cheese). Rodolphe was off in the judging room, so his counter was understaffed with a single, older French gentleman. Sensing a need after a brief conversation with the Frenchman, I jumped behind the counter, broke down the wheels, and cut samples for the crowd. I intimately tasted some of the most delicious hand-selected and aged wheels from France that could be found anywhere in the U.S.

Side view of Rodolphe le Meunier cheese

Side view of Tomme du Jura

The competitors proclaimed their love of cheese in the first contest over a cheering crowd. Rodolphe’s table held a great view of the competition and we watched the forty mongers set with the task of tasting unlabeled cheeses and identifying country of origin, type of milk, and length of age. The event was a little messy, I must say, with the judges judiciously recording each monger’s answer and forty mongers shifting about the stage. But the thrill of the crowd kept the contestants enthusiastically progressing through the round.

With two contests and twenty mongers left, the third round featured a precise cutting of a ¼ pound of cheese from an unlabeled wheel, and to then cut, wrap, and label two cheeses in a minute. The wheels varied in heights and densities, so each contestant had to intuit what was in front of her. The crowd was reeling with the sounds of a DJ mixing in the back, the clock ticking, and the contestants’ actions projected close-up on a large screen. Each time a contestant weighed in his cheese, the weight was shown from a gigantic digital scale, and the audience went wild. But finally, could they label the cheese with legible handwriting in so little time?

Then the last ten contestants moved into the final round. They each had to create the perfect pairing bites for sixteen judges from items they brought with them, including cheese and accompaniments such as chutney, nuts, vegetables, fruits, bread, beer, and wine. The beauty was in each person describing his pairing to the judges. My buddy Tripp of Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, I believe would have won this round because food pairing was his specialty; however he had been taken out in one of the former rounds. Brooke who worked at Formaggio Essex in Manhattan, Tripp’s distant “cousin” in the Formaggio family, moved into the final round with Tripp’s pairing – Challerhocker with a cockle and wild fennel pollen and a gherkin. However, another great monger, Steve Jones won with another pairing featuring Challerhocker with caramel-bacon popcorn, and a Belgian-style ale. Everyone fist-pumped and cheered and congratulated each other in the end. At the time the winner was announced, I was “wedged” between the last year’s winner Matthew Rubiner and then winner Steve Jones. What a place to be in!

After the contest we partied into the night, celebrated our enthusiasm for cheese and cheesemongering, and retired to Brooke’s place to get some shut-eye. I am eagerly looking forward to this year’s event held on Saturday, June 23.

My cheesemongering family will still be at market this Saturday, so come down to get your cheeses for the weekend at the Delmar Farmer’s Market, 9-1pm. I’ll be back the following Saturday at Delmar, and this Tuesday, 4-7pm at the Delaware Farmer’s Market in the parking lot of the Delaware Branch of the Albany Public Library at 331 Delaware Avenue, Albany, NY.

National Dairy Month, New York State, and the Plight of the Small Farm

June is National Dairy Month, a time that America has set aside to celebrate the bounty of milk produced across the country. Summer months experience a surplus of milk after the brief Spring months of live births and the coming in of the milk. At this time animals are pastured and milked twice a day. At The Cheese Traveler, we love cheese and celebrating all things cheese-related. Milk is the number one ingredient in the cheesemaking process along with salt, culture, and rennet. It is also the official beverage of New York State. In our research on the history of National Dairy Month, we had some surprising discoveries.

The auspicious date – 1937, the first “National Milk Month” later coined in 1939 “National Dairy Month”– coincides with one of the largest labor strikes in New York State history – that of the Dairy Farmers’ Union. As milk production increased with the aid of mechanical and scientific advancements in the early decades of the twentieth century, the depression era significantly decreased the demand for milk and dairy products. Moreover, the cost of transportation of milk increased. Retailers and large scale cooperatives responded by slashing prices, engaging in a price war, and developed a monopoly in the state undercutting the cost of production for small, family farms. So, as the National Milk Month campaign advertised at local shops to increase the demand for a surplus supply of milk, farmers were waging a battle on the farm front to stabilize prices on milk, respond to the increased cost of production, and secure their small farms.

The Dairy Farmers’ Union strike was not the first dairy strike in New York State, nor the first instance of corruption in New York’s dairy industry. In 1858, the “swill milk” scandal of watered down, contaminated, or doctored milk was uncovered in New York City which necessitated standardized practices in the industry for public health safety. Contaminated and diseased milk from poor milk handling to animal cruelty – such as feeding distilled whiskey mash to cows or lifting and milking a dying cow – was often and unknowingly the cause of transmission of infectious disease.   In 1933 as commodity prices fell, New York State’s milk strikes spread like wildfire and grew quite violent, bringing the state close to marshall law as one New York Times reporter noted. The 1937 strike, following the largest drop in milk prices in fifteen years, was eventually successful, as small family farmers shut down two of the largest milk cooperatives in the state through persistent and surreptitious means, from picketing with long boards with exposed nails to protect their picket lines from anti-strike motorists and greasing the train rails to prevent milk shipment departures from the facility.[1]

Some memory of the battle persists today as small farmers still bemoan the large-scale factories’ hold over pricing and the market. Small scale dairy farming continues to be difficult to near impossible to sustain on only commodity production.

To celebrate National Dairy Month, we at The Cheese Traveler see cheese production as the natural response to summer’s increased milk supply. It takes approximately ten pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese. A gallon of milk is about 8.6 pounds, so to make one lovely ten pound wheel of Madeleine for example, Sprout Creek Farm uses over twelve gallons of goat’s milk. Likewise, cheesemaking has been the historical solution to excess milk supply. Other countries with a long history of incorporating cheese in their diet such as Greece and France experience lower rates of hypertension and obesity in the population than those in the U.S. The health benefits of cheese – offering a high-quality protein as well as calcium, phosphorus, and Vitamin A[2] – provide a strong support for the continued development of cheese production and its ties to local and regional food culture.

In New York State, home of The Cheese Traveler and the third largest dairy-producing state in the country, small farms have turned toward farmstead and artisan cheesemaking as a value-added option to increase their viability. Value-added products are those that take a commodity such as milk and add labor, time, and craftsmanship to it to make it more valuable. The art of cheesemaking adds value in several ways: a low price commodity becomes an economically viable agricultural product, a perishable becomes an “aged” product, saving the cost of freezing or keeping milk cooled through the winter months of low milk production, and a commodity with little variation becomes highly diversified in form, taste, and craft.

The Cheese Traveler is deeply committed to selling the cheeses of these small producers who either use their own milks produced on their farms or use locally sourced milks from natural, grass-fed, pastured, or organically fed goats, sheep, and cows. So, as we commemorate June as National Dairy Month, let us also remember the efforts of our forbears who have fought to make food safe, affordable, and delicious. Cheese is a wonderful addition to any meal and can be added to enhance the flavor of many summer dishes. We have been enjoying the classic Mediterranean beans-n-greens with white beans, radicchio, mizuna, fresh oregano, rosemary, thyme, and garlic scapes, onion, balsamic vinegar; sautéed in butter; finished with olive oil, salt, pepper, and Toma Pepato from Cooperstown Cheese Company.

Ben and Mino enjoying a cheese plate together


[1] Kriger, Thomas J. “The 1939 Dairy Farmers Union Milk Strike in Heuvelton and Canton, New York: The Story in Words and Pictures” The Journal for MultiMedia History. Volume 1 Number 1 ~ Fall 1998

[2]Cheese and Healthy Eating.” Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® and National Dairy Council. 2011

What “Artisan” Really Means

Cheese maker at Sprout Creek hand curdling milk for making cheese.

I have been in the artisan food business for 13 years. My work in the food business has primarily been in “artisan cheese and artisan specialty foods.” In recent months, I have noticed the debate over the terms “artisan” and “artisanal” and their wide-spread commercial use, following the introduction of Domino Pizza’s Artisan Line. An article came out last week in The Atlantic Wire writing an obituary for the word: “Artisanal, Reluctant Branding Pioneer Dies at Age 474.” The word ‘artisan’ came into use in food because the words ‘gourmet’, ‘fine’ and ‘specialty’ became meaningless after they were co-opted by the mainstream food industry.

Gordon Edgar, author of Cheesemonger: Life on the Wedge, wrote a blog article entitled “Don’t Mourn the Death of Artisan.” In the article, Gordon suggests, citing various examples of recent media, that cheesemongers abandon the now meaningless term artisan and continue to focus on quality. Just as the micro brew makers were unshaken by the fallacious, industrially produced “craft beers,” “artisan” cheese makers and sellers must continue to support high-quality, hand-crafted cheeses…without the jargon. He says, “Once people taste handcrafted, well-made, well-aged cheese, they are hard to fool with imposters.” On the whole I agree with Gordon that the word artisan has been co-opted; however, as a cheesemonger, I argue that it is his and my job to define these words with clarity. The words “artisan” and “artisanal” have long and clear definitions with respect to cheese.

Patrick Rance, author of The French Cheese Book, defines “artisanal” as “Cheese made by hand rather than by machine.”[1] This meaning derives from the word “artisan” understood as a “handicraftsman.”[2] The earliest form of the words come from the Latin ars, artis which denote both the artisan’s “craft, skill, or trade” and the artist’s “work of art, invention, or device.”[3] Artisans formed guilds to protect trade secrets, and the guilds were necessarily small. Today these secrets can be learned at programs such as the Cheesemaking Certificate Program offered at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont. Artisan cheese makers today are truly old-world craftsmen, producing cheese by hand in the old tradition. As food artists, they infuse their own skill and ingenuity into the batches to make delicious variations.

Sharon and Bob hand making cheese at Cooperstown Cheese Company

In France the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée has long maintained categories and conditions for production. To me, the A.O.C. definitions provide such clarity:

* fermier (made in a farmhouse, chalet d’alpage, buron, or other mountain hut) — An individual producer uses the milk of animals (cows, goats, sheep) raised only on his or her farm to make cheese following traditional methods. Milk from neighboring farms is not allowed. Only raw milk may be used. Quantity Produced — Small

* artisanal — An individual producer uses the milk of animals raised on his or her farm, or buys in milk to make cheese. The producer is the owner of the dairy but all the milk may be bought elsewhere. Quantity Produced– Small to medium

* cooperative (also fruitières) — The cheese is made in a single dairy with milk provided by members of the cooperative. Quantity Produced — Medium to large

* industriel — The milk is bought from a number of producers, sometimes from distant regions. Production is industrial. Quantity Produced — Large.[4]

These classifications help to be able to talk about very specific standards for production when it comes to cheese. Until recently this language for talking about method, sourcing, and scale has been efficient and effective. The co-opted industrial use of the term has certainly clouded the ability to get the message out. For my business, I am specifically interested in cheeses made as artisanal and fermier, which can easily be translated as “farmhouse.” I continue to use these words frequently with customers and in cheese descriptions, because despite the hype, I am still able to convey a specific meaning for the term that has a history in cheese production that persists today.

Most of the specialty foods that I sell and find most interesting are of a similar scale of production with similar ingredient quality and sourcing; therefore, I use similar terms to describe them. And yes, there is an entire section of the food industry ubiquitously known as “specialty foods.” The larger businesses will continue to try to steal market share by using words falsely; however, the best cheesemongers will continue to showcase a true product worth the quality and the name. With so many companies out there redefining what “artisan” means, the cheesemongers with both knowledge and integrity are the A.O.C. for America, distinguishing the standards and measures for quality products and delivering these to our public.


[1] Rance, Patrick. The French Cheese Book. London: Papermac, 1991, 537.

[2] Oxford French Dictionary

[3] Traupman, John C. The New College Latin and English Dictionary. New York: Bantam Books, 2007, 68.

[4] See French Cheeses, published by Dorling Kindersly, revised edition 2000, Pg. 22.

Join Us Tomorrow, June 2 at the Delmar Farmers Market

We are so excited to announce that tomorrow is the start of the Delmar Farmers Market and The Cheese Traveler will be selling cheese there for a second year. Come by between the hours of 9am and 1pm to get your fantastically tasty summer cheeses (click here for directions). The Cheese Traveler will feature an array of small production farmstead and artisan cheeses, many of which are award-winning, from farms within a fifty mile radius of Delmar.

3-Corner Field Farm, Shushan, NY

Naturally Raised, Grass Fed Dairy, Sheep and Lamb

   3-Corner Field Farm is nestled in the Battenkill River Valley at the foothills of the Green Mountains on the border of New York and Vermont. They are one of the few farms in the country that milk sheep for use in the production of gourmet cheeses and yogurt. Their sheep are raised with care and respect on beautiful, organically managed pastures, and are never given hormones or unnecessary antibiotics. They are raised the old-fashioned way: outdoors, on pasture, eating natural grass, clover, and alfalfa.

Berkshire Blue, Great Barrington, MA

Handmade by Ira Grable using raw milk sourced from two small jersey cow dairies.  Crafted in the tradition of an English Stilton.  Berkshire Blue has won many international awards.

Berle Farm, Hoosick Falls, MA

 Beatrice Berle owns and operates a beautiful, 600 acre, certified organic, solar powered, 1840′s farmstead.  She hand-crafts artisan cheeses, using milk from her 6 cows.

Consider Bardwell Farm, West Pawlett, VT

Angela Miller, Russell Glover, Chris Gray, and  Peter Dixon, have revitalized the 300 acre Consider Bardwell Farm– the oldest cheesemaking cooperative in VT.  They hand-craft cheeses using goat’s milk from their 100 goat herd and cow’s milk from 30 jersey cows from neighboring Jersey Girls Farm.  Their cheeses have won numerous awards at the American Cheese Society Annual Conference and Competition

Cooperstown Cheese Company

Known iconically as the “The Red Roof 6 miles south of Cooperstown on Route 28,” Cooperstown Cheese Company handcrafts artisan cheeses from locally-sourced, raw cow’s milk. Their Toma Brand Cheeses are made from milk from Brown Swiss cows raised naturally and hormone free on Lester Tyler’s family farm, Sunny Acres Swiss. Their Jersey Girl Colby is made with grass-fed, raw milk from Autumn Valley Farm in Worcester, NY.

 Cricket Creek Farm

Located in Williamstown, MA, Cricket Creek Farm handcrafts award-winning, raw, grass-fed cows milk cheeses made by certified artisanal cheesemakers. The land is cared for organically; the farm is Certified Humane, has a bakery, and sells eggs, beef, and pork.

 Old Chatham Sheepherding Company

Produced in New York’s bountiful Hudson Valley, Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s award-winning sheep’s milk cheese and yogurt are celebrated for their uniqueness and distinctive flavors.