Farmers and Purveyors
Sundays to me are synonymous with the Schenectady Greenmarket. We are lucky to have a bunch of great four-season markets, so if you are closer to Troy or Saratoga, Saturday is your day.
At their heart farmers markets are about farmers. The land around the Capital Region is lush and provides a remarkable bounty for the region. But local food advocate Noah Sheetz reminded me that food doesn’t have to be grown out in the countryside.
His website, the Chefs Consortium, is featuring a 30-minute documentary today entitled City Farmers. You can watch it as soon as you are done reading today’s post from your computer. Noah described it as, “A beautiful movie, shot in reel to reel film, that documents the urban gardening movement in NYC in the ’90’s. Many of the gardens in the movie have since been bulldozed as a result of urban housing development.”
You should watch it and be inspired, appalled, delighted or whatever your personal temperament demands. Then on Monday morning, check back into the Chefs Consortium site for a chance to win a copy of the movie.
For those of us who don’t garden there are the farmers markets. And if you’ve ever been to one, you know quite well that they are not all entirely about farms and farmers. They are also about marvelous local purveyors. Mr. Dave just discovered one of these recently. One of my favorite local purveyors also has had a stall at the Delmar farmers market. But it seems he is encountering some resistance. So I asked Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler to share his thoughts on the matter.
By Eric Paul
I am very happy that questions have been raised on the Fussy Little Blog so that I may have the opportunity to tell folks in the Capital Region a little about the artisan cheese business, to share what The Cheese Traveler does, and to discuss why what The Cheese Traveler does is consistent with farmers’ markets in and outside of the Capital District.
The Cheese Traveler is a very small, independent business of cheesemongers (Eric Paul and his family) who travel to farmers markets and food and craft shows selling artisan cheeses. The Cheese Traveler currently works with 11 small farms from NY and New England within 100 miles of the NY Capital District. The Cheese Traveler works with farms whose average size is approximately 40 animals. Berle Farm is the smallest dairy we work with: Beatrice Berle milks 6 dairy cows on her solar powered farm in Hoosick, NY. Similar to the farmers markets in the Capital District, The Cheese Traveler is committed to working with small, sustainable farms and creameries.
Accordingly, The Cheese Traveler sells cheeses made by cheesemakers who produce either farmhouse or artisan cheeses of the highest quality and craft. The Cheese Traveler follows the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôllée (A.O.C) categories of production for cheesemakers: fermier (farmhouse), artisanal, coopérative, and industriel. A farmhouse cheese is one that is made by a single cheesemaker using the milk of their own herd. An artisan cheese is one that is made by a single cheesemaker, the owner of the creamery, using the milk of their own herd, if they have one, or the milk from a few small, neighboring farms. This scale of cheesemaking produces cheeses slowly by hand. The cheeses change throughout the season according to what the animals eat, the weather, and the condition of the land upon which the animals graze. Each farmhouse and artisan cheese has an interesting story: both of how it is made and of the cultural tradition and craft unique to the country from which it comes. American artisan cheesemaking exists in a diachronic cultural continuum of old world traditions. Only 1% of the cheese made in the U.S. is farmhouse or artisan production. Farmhouse and artisan cheeses are the antithesis of factory made cheeses.
The Cheese Traveler brings to market the products of many small cheesemakers that do not have the time, energy or ability to sell directly to the public. These cheesemakers are so small that it is difficult for them to leave their farms. They are also at other farmers’ markets that are either closer to their farms or larger than the farmers’ markets in the Capital District. These small cheesemakers are unable to expand their operations so that they can sell at multiple markets on Saturdays or Sundays and get their cheeses to more customers.
Additionally, it is important to understand that The Cheese Traveler is able to offer a greater variety than most cheesemakers. The Cheese Traveler does not have to maintain separate herds of animals with each of their nutritional and animal husbandry needs. Additionally as a cheesemonger The Cheese Traveler does not need the separate aging facilities that are necessary to store and age different types of cheeses that a producer would need to make and age different types of cheeses. Cheesemakers need separate aging rooms in order to prevent mold from cross contaminating the different types of cheeses that they make. The Cheese Traveler is able to offer a larger selection of different cheeses– more milk types and more styles of cheese than a individual cheesemaker can. It is not realistic to expect that a farmers market would have space for 11 vendors selling cheese. Nor is it realistic that if they could there would be enough sales that it would be profitable for all the cheesemakers. The Cheese Traveler provides an alternative so that customers can find more of the cheese they want and support more local farms than would be at farmers’ markets otherwise.
As cheesemongers, The Cheese Traveler carefully selects its cheeses. We look for cheeses that are made from all milk types – goat, sheep, cow, and sometimes even mixed milk. The majority of the cheeses The Cheese Traveler sells are made from raw milk. The Cheese Traveler also searches for cheeses of each cheese styles or families – fresh, soft-ripened, washed-rind, natural-rind cooked curd, natural-rind uncooked curd, and blue cheese – so that customers can select cheeses for balanced cheese plates: varying style, texture, and milk. Many of The Cheese Traveler’s cheeses have won national and international awards.
The Cheese Traveler operates similar to European style cheese shop, which are common in larger cities like NY, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Montreal. As cheesemongers, or fromagers, as we are called in France, The Cheese Traveler learns everything we can about the farms that produce the cheeses we sell. We pass this information to our customers by providing one-on-one customer service; detailed signs for each cheese, including pairing notes; and the opportunity to taste any of our cheeses before purchase. We pay careful attention to the aging and condition of the cheeses we sell. We cut all cheeses to order with no minimum weight required (so long as the wheel allows the cheese to be cut to a small size). We wrap all cheese in special paper conducive for storing cheese. The Cheese Traveler sells cheese the way cheese shops do all over the world. In fact in France one has to go through training to be both a fromager (someone who sells cheese), and an affineur (someone who ages cheese). In the U.S, 2012 will be the first year where cheesemongers can become Certified Cheese Professionals by the American Cheese Society.
It is common for cheesemongers like The Cheese Traveler to sell cheese at farmers’ markets in areas other than the Capital District. Michael Harris is a cheesemonger who sells cheese at the Hudson Farmers Market. Julia & Isabella sells cheese at the Rhinebeck Farmers Market. Saxelby’s Cheesemongers sell at the New Amsterdam Market in Lower Manahttan. Outside of NY State, Formaggio Kitchen sells at the Cambridge Farmers Market in MA; DiBruno Brothers sells at the Ardmore Farmer’s Market in Philadelphia; Downtown Cheese sells at the Reading Station Market in Philadelphia; The Cheese Corner, operated by Laurent Bonjour, sells cheeses at multiple farmers market in LA including the West Hollywood Farmers Market; The Cheese People of Beloit are in multiple farmers markets in Wisconsin and Illinois; Chris’ Cheesemongers sell at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, Ontario Canada, its most popular market; Fromagerie Qui Lait cru sells at the famed Jean Talon Market in Montreal; and it is common for cheesemongers to sell at farmers markets in France, England, and Ireland. Many but not all of these cheesemongers sell cheeses from all over the world. The Cheese Traveler only sells NY and New England cheeses that are in close proximity to Albany.
The Cheese Traveler sells NY and New England cheeses that are of very small production and high quality to the Capital District that are not available widely otherwise. Our customers are extremely happy to find such quality cheeses and the high level of service that cheesemongers are known to provide at cheese shops across the globe. Cheese is the largest category in Specialty Foods and also led the industry in growth in 2011. The Cheese Traveler provides these goods and services to customers at the Delmar Farmers’ Market and would like to be at more markets in the area too. Although The Cheese Traveler is not a producer, the selection and quality of the regional cheeses that we sell fit with the criteria and values of farmers’ markets in the Capital District and those of Capital District residents. The Cheese Traveler is happy to share its passion and knowledge of cheese with you so that you can enjoy sharing local artisan cheese with your family and friends.
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There are all kinds of local purveyors. And if people who make their own marshmallows deserve a spot at our farmers markets (and I believe they do) then there is certainly room for those who bring smaller regional agricultural producers to the Capital Region. The Cheese Traveler is like a farmers market inside a farmers market, and we are lucky to have such a dedicated food professional in our midst.