Mac-N-Cheese, Cheese Traveler-Style

Mac-n-Cheese? Yeah we do that. On February 20, 2016, the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York held it’s 7th Annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl competition. The Cheese Traveler, sandwiched in between 30 stations of Hudson Valley cheese-y competitors, served up four-cheese enrobed caserecci pasta curls topped with apple-jack, red wine, and goat horn pepper-braised lamb and garnished with preserved lemon gremolata. Representing The Cheese Traveler, Cheesemonger Ryan Skrabalak and his assistants Morgan and Marina assembled gorgeous little “bowls” of the finest pasta and cheese we could offer.

Around the Siena College Marcelle Athletic Complex basketball court, 2,500 mac-n-cheese enthusiasts wandered through mac-n-cheese laden tables dodging around makeshift lines, elbow to elbow, brandishing muffin pans filled with two ounce “bowls” of the day’s competing mac-n-cheese entries. Since it was the seventh annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl, many of these folks knew the ropes from previous years, and they brought their own muffin pans to line up, evaluate, and rank the pasta bowls.

At our station, smack-dab in the center of the court, people lined up from midcourt to the sidelines and down the aisle to the far corner. Hundreds of people pushed forward to the table at all sides, hoping to steal a chance to get some of the fast-dwindling supply of caserecci curls. Some waited in line a second or third time for another two-ounce portion. It was heated. It was flying. And it was totally crazy in there.

Our supply ran dry at 12:55 p.m. with over an hour and a half more of the event to go. Did we bring enough to spare? Probably not. We brought eleven pounds of Hessian Hill local, grass-fed lamb shoulder and leg (retailing between $12.95 and $14.95 a pound), over thirteen pounds of bronze-dye cut, fresh-water pasta, hand made by the Masciarelli Pastificio (pasta house), the oldest and smallest pasta producer in Abruzzo, Italy (retails $9.95 a 1.1 lb. package), and a four-cheese medley of Pecorino Fiore Sardo ($23.50 lb.), Tomme Chebris ($24.50 lb.), Edelweiss Havarti ($9.95 lb.), and Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar (donated by Cabot). With the crowd hopping and the mac-n-cheese bowls flying, we could barely keep up with the demand.

If you missed out on this year’s action, you can still try our delicious cheeses and prepared foods. Come out to the 8th Annual Mac-N-Cheese Bowl, or better yet, stop in at 540 Delaware Avenue during business hours. See you soon!


Left to Right: Marina, Ryan, and Morgan Skrabalak


Former Dairy Farm Thrives by Raising Organic, Heritage Meats in the Hudson Valley

Tilldale Farm Pasture

by Alifair Skebe

Autumn pastures are turning into winter at Tilldale Farm’s Open House on October 20, 2013. The farm, located in Hoosick, NY, is offering fresh pressed cider, hay rides, roast beef made of their red Devon, heritage breed cattle, and pulled pork from their Tamworth herd. Dan Tilley, co-owner of Tilldale Farm with his wife Joanne Tilley, has converted his family’s old dairy farm into a thriving, organic meat farm. This year Tilldale Farm was named Rensselaer County’s 2012 Conservation Farm of the Year. Walking across the lawn, Dan points, “That’s the barn where I milked for 37 years.”

The old Tilldale white milking barn is covered in dust. An old Horizon milk plaque, washed over with a coat of primer, hangs on an outside wall. Inside, silage and cobwebs hang off the steel bars of the stalls where cows used to milk. In the center of the room, adolescent Tamworth pigs graze at makeshift troughs. At the sound of our footfall and voices, the pigs stand at attention, then march forward in a line formation like a standoff, or maybe they’re just looking for a feeding.

Tilldale Farm Dairy Barn Tamworth Pigs

For years, Tilldale farm provided organic milk to the large organic, dairy corporation Horizon and other businesses. A few years back, a friend of Dan’s introduced him to the red Devon breed. When Dan tasted the superior texture and flavor of the breed, he was hooked. Dan began to sell off his dairy cows and introduce red Devon into his remaining herd. His cattle are now over ¾ red Devon with trace features of Angus. To diversify, he also raises a small herd of heritage breed, organic Tamworth pigs and organic chickens for meat and eggs.

TIlldale Dairy Stalls

Keeping to his organic roots, Dan and his wife Joanne decided to pasture-raise the animals and to go through the expensive process to label their pastures and meat USDA certified organic. Joanne, a certified dietitian and nutritionist, says, “Pasture-raised animals have a higher nutritional content than grain-fed animals, are high in essential fatty acids and Omega-3s, and are free of industrial contaminants such as hormones and antibiotics.”

Dan walks us through the herd of cattle – the old mammas, young calves, and castrated adolescent males. On a two-day old pasture, they graze contentedly. “The red Devon is a docile breed,” Dan says. A black-faced lady follows me. I’m standing on her grass. She comes within two feet of me and stares at me from the side, with one large eye. Then she turns and stares me down face-forward with her two big brown eyes, wide wet nose, and tuft of wiry curls on her forehead. Not as docile as a dairy cow, she stands at a distance, resisting touch.

In a small patch of pasture just beyond her, Dan points out his moveable chicken coop. These organic chickens will use the pasture as 20% of their feed, and the rest is a mix of organic grains. The Tilleys plan to increases the number of organic chicken they raise from 100 this year to 250 next year. Off in the distance, a Holstein stands out with its characteristic black and white fur, a legacy of Tilldale’s dairying days. Dan remarks, “The Holsteins were all sold off to the neighbors.” They don’t make for good meat. The devon breed, in contrast to other breeds, has a strong, dense flavor with good marbling. As a heritage breed, it was bred to be raised entirely on grass.

Tilldale Farm Chicken Coop

As we walk a little further into the field, more cows notice our presence. They look up from their grazing. Intruders into their space, we are more curiosities than offenders. Dan explains the rotation schedule of pasture-raising cattle. “They never graze for more than a day in any one area of the 60-acres of pastureland,” Dan says. (The total acreage of the farm is 300 acres.) Dan rotates them acre-by-acre over a 30-day cycle. He says, “The cows graze constantly and will take a pasture down to dirt quickly. By rotating them in a cycle, the first pasture is back to two feet tall by the close of the month – the best condition for the cows and the pasture.”

Tilldale Red Devon Cattle

As the summer season closes in Upstate New York, the cows are just beginning to feed off of this year’s bailage. Bailage is a fermented hay taken from Spring pastures and cured over months in white, plastic-wrapped bales. Once baled, the hay must be half-dry to ferment into bailage, a nutritious mix of grasses that allows Dan to overwinter his cattle without grain supplement. This will keep the animals organic and solely pasture-raised all year round, even as they spend the coldest months in the barn.

Five years ago, Dan retired the dairy farm. Currently, Tilldale farm has around twelve purebred red Devons. The breeding mother is eleven years old, and this year she gave birth to her first bull. For six years she bore heifers. A Devon herd is highly sought after and takes time to build.

Overall, Tilldale Farm is home to about 150 cows. Each cow will pass the seasons happily there for about three years. The first year mother and calf will spend together; the second they distance themselves, growing larger; and the third year they will achieve the desired weight for them to be ready for market.

Tilldale Cow

The time and energy the Tilleys put into raising and overwintering the herd is different than other local livestock farmers who will buy adolescent cows at auction in late winter to early spring and push to get them up to weight and market ready by fall. This method saves them the expense of feeding the cattle through the cold, New York State winter. The cows purchased at auction may or may not have been raised on pasture. Even farmers who are pasture-raising their herd may feed the cows some grain both to get them up to weight and to give the meat the grain-fed flavor that Americans have grown accustomed to in the last thirty years. The Tilleys, by contrast, are committed to maintaining their herd from live birth to market on nutritious, organic grasses, and to raising their animals ethically, responsibly, and in a low-stress environment. This process takes about three years, and includes overwintering in the barn on bailage for at least two winter seasons.

Walking back to the farmstead, we notice a woolly bear caterpillar sauntering along the grass. Eric Paul, owner of The Cheese Traveler, picks it up and lets it meander across the palm of his hand. Old farmer’s lore tells that the longer the black band of the woolly bear caterpillar, the colder the winter. A yellow band in the middle presages a hard snow. “Looks like it’s going to be a cold winter this year,” Dan says.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Tilldale beef and pork can be found in the Capital District at various local restaurants and markets. Flash frozen meats are sold at The Cheese Traveler and The Delmar Farmer’s Market. Chef Ryan serves up a delicious pulled pork sandwich at The Cheese Traveler’s cafe, and Chef Ian of Capital City Gastropub on New Scotland Ave. makes a delicious Tilldale organic beef burger. You can experience Tilldale meats in a variety of dishes at Gastropub and Mingle on Delaware Ave in Albany. The meat is also available for sale right off the farm – Tilldale sells CSA shares and individual packages. You can contact them by phone at (518) 686-7779 or by email at Their website is and they are also on Facebook


Washington County Cheese Tour This Weekend

This weekend, Washington County cheese makers will host the annual Cheese Tour on Saturday and Sunday, September 7-8 from 10 AM to 4 PM. Come sample fine cheeses in a bucolic setting, see the animals, and view the farms and countryside.

Washington County is home to some of New York and Vermont’s finest farmstead and artisan cheese makers in the country. Washington County bridges the rolling countryside between Eastern New York and Vermont, and each year, the cheese makers open their farms to visitors for a driving or 21 – mile cycling weekend tour.

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 - Corner Field Farm

Washington County sheep crossing sign close to 3 – Corner Field Farm

Charming country pastures and six pristine farms are the perfect place to sample local sheep, goat, and cow’s milk cheeses. Washington County offers all the variety of traditional cheese making culture from yogurt, to young, soft, and bloomy-rind cheese, to natural aged, washed-rind, and blues.  Moreover, some of the cheeses have taken national awards at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition, placing first, second, or third in their category out of over 1,800 cheeses.

3-Corner Field Farm

3-Corner Field Farm

Among the farms to host the tour are:

1 – Argyle Cheese Farmer
2 – 3-Corner Field Farm
3 – Consider Bardwell Farm
4 – Homestead Artisans at Longview Farm
5 – Sweet Spring Farm
6 – Sugarloaf Farm

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Washington County New York Cows relaxing on a sunny day at late morning.

Last year, The Cheese Traveler visited the two farms Consider Bardwell Farm and Sweet Spring Farm, and this year, we are a sponsor for the Cheese Tour. You can read about our trip last year in “Weekend Adventures of The Cheese Traveler.” We are very excited to support our local cheese makers. This week in the store, you can enjoy a 10% discount on Washington County cheeses including 3 – Corner Field Farm yogurt, Brebis Blanche, Shushan Snow, Battenkill Brebis, Frere Fumant, and Consider Bardwell Farm Manchester, Dorset, Rupert, and Pawlett. Come in for a preview!

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Frere Fumant from 3-Corner Field Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Jeff Bowers of Sweet Spring Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Gouda from Longview Farm

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

Manchester and Cheese List from Consider Bardwell

You can access this year’s Cheese Tour Brochure at this link: 2013 Washington County Cheese Tour.

Locality, Farm-to-Table, and the Future of American Cheese: Musings on This Year’s American Cheese Society’s Conference

by Alifair Skebe

Earlier this month the American Cheese Society (ACS) celebrated its 30th anniversary in Madison, WI, the largest dairy-producing state in the United States. The conference ‘A Dairy State of Mind’ brought together cheese makers, dairy scientists, cheese retailers, importers, and distributors and featured ACS’ national, annual cheese competition of over 1790 cheeses and various workshops.

Cheese makers meet Cheesemongers. L-R Mary Quicke of Quickes Farm, Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler, and Chris of Consider Bardwell Farm
Cheesemakers meet Cheesemongers. L-R Mary Quicke of Quickes Farm, Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler, and Chris Gray of Consider Bardwell Farm

Eric Paul, Cheesemonger-owner of The Cheese Traveler, remarks, “The State of Wisconsin and the City of Madison were great hosts. We toured farms and hung out with local cheese makers and checked out the amazing delights of the city.” Many cheesemakers were like Chris Roelli, of Roelli Cheese and the beloved Dunbarton Blue, who woke up at 3 AM to milk the animals and make cheese before driving into the conference to meet and network with fellow cheesemakers, distributors, and retailers.

City retailers got into the excitement of ACS: Fromagination, a retailer located on the square, converted its cheese display to showcase local and regional Wisconsin cheeses. Slipping away from the conference, Mr. Paul explored the Madison Farmers’ Market, the largest producer-only market in the U.S. A coveted spot in this market took Nancy Potter of our favored Potter’s Crackers four years to get in!

During the busy day Mr. Paul ate lots of fried cheese curd (click here to see Gordon Edgar’s blog post on this regional specialty); and imbibed reasonable, but copious amounts of, New Glaurus Spotted Cow Ale, a regional specialty, all while amidst old friends, making new friends, attending workshops, tasting some of our favorite cheeses and products, and discovering new ones.

Madison, WI Farmer's Market, currently the largest outdoor market in the USA
Madison, WI Farmer’s Market, currently the largest outdoor market in the USA

The conference themes “farm-to-table,” and “local” are concepts that we at The Cheese Traveler set out to put into practice. Odessa Piper, founder of the famed Madison restaurant L’Etoile and 1970s pioneer of the sustainable, locally-sourced movement, in her opening keynote address outlined the ideas behind ‘local’ and ‘farm to table’ and shared her reflections on a life in the industry. She noted that the definitions are not a simple designation of miles from a central location, but rather, “local [or terroir] is a distance best measured by our hearts.” Locality is a relationship of the consumer to the producer. Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler adds, “This relationship is, in some ways, sentimental; it’s about our individual relationship to the bounty of the land. It has to do with going to the land and seeing and experiencing it.”

Uplands Cheese, makers of Pleasant Ridge and Rush Creek reserve award-winning cheeses
Uplands Cheese, makers of Pleasant Ridge and Rush Creek reserve award-winning cheeses

This topic resonated throughout the conference. Valerie Henbest, while talking about the importance of signage on cheese during her panel An International View of Cheesemongering, said, “[the sign] ties the customer to the story – distance needs more poetry.” In other words, the greater the distance a customer is located from the terroir, the greater the need for ‘poetry,’ a story or beautiful words that capture the spirit of the land. Through language rather than personal experience, the relationship can be felt. As a merchant retailer, The Cheese Traveler travels to the producer to develop a relationship and returns to its customers in Albany to share the story of the cheese makers and their cheeses. As well, The Cheese Traveler shares with blog readers a love of traditional, artisanally-crafted cheese and foods.

A quick snapshot of The International Cheese Guild's Annual Ceremony

A quick snapshot of The International Guild du Fromage (International Cheese Guild)’s Annual Induction Ceremony

At the Keynote breakfast and later at the induction ceremony for the International Guild du Fromage, Eric had the pleasure of spending time with Mary Quicke of Quickes Farmhouse Cheddar located in Devon, England. Quicke’s family has been making traditional cheddar in Devon from raw, grass-fed milk on their 450 year old, 1,200 acres estate. She described the farm as a fascinating place where Pangaea had once been united. Ms. Quicke asked if we sell her cheese at The Cheese Traveler. Without hesitation, Eric answered that his shop does sell her traditional clothbound cheddar, because the story of cheese is the story of tradition: even though there are delicious American farmhouse cheddars, made and aged in the traditional British way, great American producers descend from European ancestors. Eric calls European cheeses “the antecedents of American cheeses,” because of his background in Classical philology. The Cheese Traveler wants its customers to be aware of this tradition, so the shop sells both domestic and imported small-scale, traditional cheeses.

As a cheese shop, The Cheese Traveler’s role is to develop relationships with producers and become knowledgeable about all aspects of the cheeses sold in our shop. At ACS, Eric was able to talk with U.S and international cheese makers about their farms and their methods of cheese making. In addition to the aforementioned conversations and discoveries, Eric developed three important relationships with some of America’s most acclaimed cheese makers: Jasper Hill Farm, Consider Bardwell Farm, and Uplands Cheese. We are excited about how these new developments will change our shop for the better!

Jasper Hill Farm. Out of Mr. Paul’s meetings, there came about a new and very exciting development. In the coming weeks, Eric and his team of cheesemongers will begin periodic visits to Jasper Hill Farm to taste and select the cheeses sold at The Cheese Traveler. This hand-selecting will deepen our relationship with Jasper Hill – their cheese makers, the farmland, and ultimately the story of their cheeses – and ensure that we are getting the tastiest cheese. Jasper Hill Farm won five awards this year, including three first place finishes and the coveted Best of Show award for Winnimere. We are planning our first visit up to Greensboro, Vermont on August 25th and 26th. Zoe Brickley of Jasper Hill, who prior to moving to Vermont was a manager at Murray’s Cheese in New York City, will come down to The Cheese Traveler later that week for guest cheesemonger, training, and lots of tasting. We’ll announce the date of Brickley’s visit on Facebook and Twitter.

Consider Bardwell Farm. Eric spoke with Chris Gray about touring and making cheese at Consider Bardwell Farm. Consider Bardwell has been a great supporter of The Cheese Traveler, helping out and sampling at our Grand Opening last November. Be sure to check them out at the Washington County Cheese Tour, which is coming up on September 7th & 8th (Click here to go to the Washington County Cheese Tour’s website). The Cheese Traveler is thrilled to be one of the sponsors of the tour this year!

Uplands Cheese. The day after ACS, Eric rented a car and drove an hour west of Madison to Dodgeville to visit Uplands Cheese. As Eric drove out to Dodgeville, he saw Wisconsin’s sloping hills, different from the state’s terrain that had been scraped flat by receding glaciers at the end of the last ice age. Eric spent the afternoon with Andy Hatch, who just a few days prior announced that he was buying the farm from the original owners and who happens to have family in Schoharie, County. They walked the fields, visited the herd, toured the cheese making and aging rooms, and tasted three different batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve.1

Wisconsin's Farm fields at Uplands Cheese
Wisconsin’s Farm fields at Uplands Cheese

Eric talked with Andy about how he and his cheese makers develop the complexity in their cheeses: raw grass-fed milk and careful aging. They produce rich, complex milk by cultivating a complex mixed breed of cows and encourage complex microflora in the milk (good bacterial diversity) by only feeding cows grass and rotating them from paddock to paddock. As Andy walked with Eric through the creamery, he told him that the goal of the cheese making process is precision and consistency. Andy went on to say that a careful and laborious aging process brings out the complex flavor in the Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese. Young wheels are washed and turned daily and aged on wood, cheeses in the middle of their aging are washed 3x per week and turned, and cheeses at the end of their aging are washed 2x per week. Andy and Eric tasted three batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, enjoying the complex flavor and differences in each batch. We are eagerly anticipating the coming season of Rush Creek Reserve this fall.2

Competition: This year over 1795 cheeses were entered in the competition. Here are some of the award-winning cheeses that you can find in our shop:

Best of Show – Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere.

  • First3– Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. Ewe’s Blue,4 Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere, Spring Brook Tarentaise, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Rogue River Blue, Boston Post Dairy Eleven Brothers.
  • Second – Rupert, Marieke Premium Gouda, Caveman Blue, Baetje Farm Bloomsdale, Grafton Village Vermont Clothbound Cheddar.
  • Third – Cooperstown Cheese Jersey Girl,5 Jasper Hill Farm Harbison, Upland’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Avalanche Goat Cheddar, Evalon, Dancing Fern.

New Cheeses: Of course there were also new cheeses from familiar and new creameries. We are excited to bring you these cheeses in the coming weeks and months.

  • Meadowood Farm – in Cazenovia, in Madison County, NY, is in our backyard. Meadowood Farm makes farmstead sheep, and cow and with sheep mixed milk cheeses. We plan on getting Rippleton (a washed-rind, sheep’s milk cheese reminiscent of the washed-rind sheep’s milk cheeses from Corsica, but washed in fresh, unfermented beer from Empire Brewing in Syracuse), and Ledyard (a ripened, sheep’s milk similar to the leaf-wrapped robiolas from Piedmont, aged in wild grape leaves that have been soaked in a wheat beer brewed with local concord grapes). Look for Meadowood Farm cheeses in the shop in September after everyone returns from vacationing in early September.
  • Ruggles Hill Creamery – every Ruggles Hill creamery goat cheese we tasted confirmed for us that they are making some of the best goat cheeses in America. They are a micro-creamery, meaning they milk only 28 goats. This limited supply could also mean that it will be difficult for us to get their cheese, however we’re hoping that Eric’s hometown connections will help (he was raised in Hardwick, where the Ruggles Hill farm and creamery are located.
  • Floryis Truckle – this was a delicious cloth-bound cheddar aged over 12 months. It is made in Missouri and was honored with 2nd place in its category. It had a rich texture and complex layered flavors that were not too sweet: reminiscent of the British clothbound cheddar.

    Sampling Floryis Truckle

    Sampling Floryis Truckle

  • Bleu Mont Creamery –Willi Lehner has a tiny creamery in Wisconsin where he uses grass-fed milk from Uplands Cheese. Lehner took home a numerous awards in the competition including the first creamery ever to tie itself when their 12 Month Bandaged Cheddar and Big Sky Grana tied for 3rd in the Best of Show competition. Everything Eric tasted from them was delicious and full of flavor. Lehner makes cheese in very limited supply, but we are excited to try to get some over the next few months.

Specialty Food: Accompaniments are a cheeses best friend and so at ACS there were many tasty accompaniments we enjoyed and plan to bring to the shop. Here is a sampling of what you might expect to see coming to the shop:

  • Creminelli Salami – we tasted some great Creminili salami at the show and we are sure their salami will eventually make its way to our shop, particularly the bacon salami, the Camanial and the luscious Musica.
  • Smoking Goose Charcuterie – a new small production salumier out of Indiana, who sources their meat from local, sustainable, natural farms. They are experimenters who are not afraid to make great tasting, more exotic meats. They have a wonderful duck prosciutto.
  • Treat – Sarah Marx Feldner has a little bake shop in Milwaukee, WI where she makes spiced pecans. She makes a candied pecan and a candied spiced pecan that have excellent flavor and a wonderfully, crispy, candied coating.

Special acknowledgement goes out to David, Josh, Callen, Leigh, Joanne Tilley and Ali who did an awesome job sampling and selling the delicious, traditional and artisan products we have at the shop and at the Delmar Farmer’s Market while Eric was away. Great job everyone! The shop and market stand looked great!

1 Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which won 3rd place this year, is the only cheese to win Best of Show at the American Cheese Society 3x’s, the only 3x winner in the Cheese Category at the Good Food Award, a winner of Best of Show at the U.S. Cheese Championship (making it is the only cheese to win both ACS and the US Cheese Championship), and a super gold winner at the Guild of Fine Foods’ World Cheese Awards. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is a mainstay on our cheese counter.

2 Uplands makes Rush Creek Reserve when the animals are coming to the end of their lactation cycle and they are producing richer milk. Rush Creek is an un-cooked, un-pressed, washed rind cheese that is wrapped in spruce bark, made in the style of Vacherin Mont d’Or.

3 Cheese that win fist place in their category complete for Best Of Show.

4 We carry Old Chatham’s Shaker Blue which is made in smaller batches from raw milk. The texture tends to be slightly more firm than Ewe’s Blue; the flavor is more complex with earthy, brothy, lanolin notes.

5 Sharon Tomaselli, the cheese maker of Cooperstown Cheese let out the happiest shriek of the competition when Jersey Girl was announced the winner third place winner in the prestigious open category American Original.

Are Ramps the New Arugula?


by Alifair Skebe

In 1983, ramps (or wild leeks) appeared on the American fancy foods scene with a recipe or two popping up in food magazines throughout the decade. By the late 90s, ramps reached celebrity status as the new, hip ingredient for gourmet chefs from New York City to Chicago for its versatility, unique flavor, and brief season. [1] In short, ramps are fairly rare and comparatively valuable. However, with over a decade of popularity and exposure, one might well ask: Are ramps overhyped? overharvested? overdone? Have ramps lost their cool?

A rather pedestrian item, the North American ramp (allium tricoccum) grows in deciduous damp woodlands, emerging in early spring, from March in Southern Appalachian states to May in the Northern seaboard and into Canada. Arguably, ramps were never very chic. Their name derives from their Eurasian cousin ramson (allium ursinum) from the Old English hramesan. Loved by brown bears, wild boars, and humans alike, the ramson or wild garlic has been a European and Anglo Saxon staple from antiquity to the present. The wild, foraged plant has a dense nutritional value and has traditionally been used in regional cuisines, notably from Germany to Italy to Russia, each dish unique to the country of origin. Classic British and Celtic cooking pairs the allium with other seasonal greens such as chickweed and nettles, or wild mushrooms, and includes them in soups, fritters, and puddings.

When the pioneers came to the new land, they identified the native American ramp with its cousin and named it accordingly. Some consider the name ramson to come from the “ram” associating the plant with the sign of Aries, the time when the plant grows and is harvested. Most likely the name derives from the Greek cognate krómmyon meaning onion. On the North American continent, the first peoples included ramps in their diet, seasoning their cuisine with its strong flavor. The Menominee called it “pikwute sikakushia” meaning skunk, and the Cherokee developed sustainable foraging practices, replanting the roots to keep the stock growing. To this day across Appalachia, the descendants of the settlers and natives hold festivals to celebrate the Spring ramp harvest.

The ramp has a variety of uses. Its leaves are rich in nitrogen, magnesium, calcium, and selenium, and it is known as a spring tonic. The greens are satisfying after a long winter without fresh foods, and the ramps effectively cleanse the kidney and liver. The 2005 documentary King of Stink highlights the influence and importance of the ramp in the Appalachian diet as well as some of the more interesting products that come from it, like ramp wine and pest control spray (click on the title to view the video).

Close to Albany, NY, home of The Cheese Traveler, some folks are extending the ramp celebration tradition to New York. 2013 marked the Third Annual Ramp Festival in Hudson, NY where fine chefs from Upstate and New York City showed off their ramp creations. For a gorgeous photo album of the event, check out Linda’s blog post at Wild Greens and Sardines. A variety of dishes graced the festival, held in an old, converted 19th century factory. The fanciness of the event and the quality of the foods seemed a leap beyond ramps’ working class roots. The most common ramp festival pairings are, and have been for over a century, fried ramps, bacon, cornbread, and beans, and depending on the region, barbecued chicken or fried trout.

More important than the food itself is the feeling behind what ramps represent. Ramp hunting is a good day or two out with friends and family just having a good time. Processing the ramps is chatting and enjoying one another’s company. Cooking is a celebration of nature’s bounty. Whether or not ramps will stay in fashion in the restaurant world, their presence in folk cuisine and specialty foods remains strong. The resurgence in popularity of ramps for a broader audience brings a classic food item back into the diet.

Ramps can be found in season (April-May in NY) at The Cheese Traveler. When foraging ramps, Suzie Jones of Jones Family Farm in Herkimer, NY, who makes a fresh ramps chèvre, advises to “take only 10% of what is available” to avoid overharvesting. When possible, replenish with the root stock.

For the close of ramp season, we at The Cheese Traveler recommend a simple puree of the leaves and a pickling recipe for the bulbs.

Ramp Pesto

Ramp Pesto


1 cup walnuts

1/4 lb. parmesano reggiano

1 tsp salt

30-50 ramps leaves and stalks, washed and trimmed

1/2 cup olive oil

Pesto IngredientsCut Ramps

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until the mixture is even consistency. Serve over warm orecchiette pasta or smeared on a slice of fresh bread. Add a slice of prosciutto to taste.

Ramp Pesto Sandwich

Pickled Ramps

Pickled Ramps


3/4 cup vinegar

3/4 cup water

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp pickling salt (we used Himalayan pink salt)

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

1/2 tsp dried hawthorne berries or juniper or coriander

Nora chili flakes (Spanish pepper)

1 bay leaf

1 lb. ramps, washed, trimmed, with leaves removed

Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. Boil and whisk until granules are dissolved completely.

Clean glass pint jars with hot, soapy water to sterilize. Place spices in the bottom of the jar and pack them with cleaned ramps.

Pour liquid over the ramps leaving a 1/2 inch headspace. Tap the jar to loosen the trapped air bubbles. Wipe lids and apply a clean lid and ring.

Seal jars in a boiling water bath to preserve.

If you prefer not to can for long term storage, you can forgo sealing the jars in a boiling water bath. Place the jars in the refrigerator. Let ramps pickle for at least a week before using. They will last up to two weeks.