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Farmers and Purveyors

February 19, 2012

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.

# # #

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.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2012 1:00 pm

    That comment by “wendalicious” on the previous post is one of the stupidest things I have heard in a while. I get the whole “producers only” concept, but I think that the line in the sand should be drawn with some sensible flexibility. How about Fin? Should they not be allowed at the Delmar Farm market because they didn’t dangle their own line off of the Boston Pier?

    If a business like the Cheese Traveller would not be welcome at the Schenectady market, than they can go scratch. If you are on the board, maybe this is not something you should be advertising because you kind of just made me hate your market a bit. Just saying.

  2. February 19, 2012 2:52 pm

    Coming from a background of craft markets, I see how the market board might see it as a slippery slope — allow one “reseller,” so to speak, and soon enough someone’s going to set up a card table selling vegetables from Mexico and Pampered Chef. Which is not, in fact, how it works.

    • February 19, 2012 3:53 pm

      Nope, don’t buy it. I don’t agree with this logic. If having this rigid “producer only” rule tickles your pickle and makes you feel all warm, fuzzy, and progressive inside, than fine. I don’t want to go to your market anyhow. I think there is room to make a “monger” exception to the stupid bylaws or something. I don’t think this is going to ruin the honor of the local market scene.

  3. February 19, 2012 6:33 pm

    Let me respond, since I seem to be catching some flak for simply stating the rules that the Schenectady Greenmarket has created for itself. If you would like to see the vendor criteria, it’s right here in black and white:

    First of all, I should apologize to you, Daniel, and to Eric for what in retrospect was a flippant and possibly snotty-sounding comment (the one linked to above). My comment had nothing to do with Eric or the quality of his wares – it was simply asking whether or not the Delmar Farmers Market was truly “producer-only” as advertised. I’ve had a few email conversations with Eric, in an effort to help him apply to Schenectady Greenmarket, and he is a very nice person. But, as he even stated above, he does not produce the cheese he sells. Yes, he sources his selection from local farms. But, he does not produce it. That’s all I was saying (or all I meant to say, actually). I do not sit on the Vendor Relations Committee of SGM, and I was not part of its decision regarding his request.

    Of course there’s always a possibility of SGM changing its bylaws in the future to include vendors who don’t produce what they sell. But as it stands, it’s not necessary right now because the market is a successful venture as it is. The bylaws are here also, if you would like to read them:

    The Delmar Market is, of course, free to make whatever rules and exceptions that they wish. And you as a consumer are free to make whatever choices you wish. That’s the free market.

  4. February 20, 2012 9:49 am

    I’m not really sure why there has to be so much black-and-white about admittance of vendors for local area markets. I can see the pros and cons of both sides. And I’m sure that there is some legality about sticking hard-and-fast to guidelines if the market operates as a non-profit. Surely, though, these vendor-only markets must have some discretion to allow an operation like The Cheese Traveller, who is selling honest (local) goods, to participate in the market and weed out other purveyors who are selling mass-produced commercial products. I would just find it really hard to believe there isn’t any wiggle-room here.

  5. February 20, 2012 10:36 am

    I’m not really sure where my opinion stands on this matter. On one hand, I see it as a great way to get local products from producers who may be too small or who couldn’t benefit financially by making the trip to a market. On the other hand, I can see how the model of producers not selling their goods personally at the market can lead to the loss of the spirit of the farmers markets and approach the supermarket model (why would any personal vendors even come to the markets if their goods can be taken there by a third party?). What I think would be fair is a detailed scrutiny of the products being offered by the third party vendor. If they are bring something unique and local to the market, they should certainly be involved. If the products they sell directly compete with a vendor who produces their own product and make the effort to represent their product at the market, then the third party vendor should not be allowed, or at least should be encouraged to bring products that are unique to the market.

  6. February 21, 2012 8:56 pm

    When the grand new Ferry Plaza farmer’s market opened in San Francisco a few years back, Niman Ranch was denied a stall because they are “too big”. (They were later allowed to have a tent outside on Saturdays.) In Saratoga, Lewis Waite is allowed to sell unprocessed meats but not their sausages.

    I know about these matters because I would want to purchase Niman Ranch pork and Lewis Waite kielbasa when I go to these markets, and I can’t, just like I can’t purchase ground hot red pepper spread at Price Chopper. Marketers make their own decisions about what to include and exclude, and that sets the personality of the market, and shoppers vote with their feet.

    The idea of limiting farmer’s market sellers to the direct producers makes a lot more sense than the above examples. The farmer has to look you in the eye and attest to the quality and integrity of growing methods and answer any questions you may have. That said, the Cheese Traveler concept was really exciting to me when I read about it here a while back. A very small cheese producer is really limited and I liked the idea of shopping from somebody who has been able to combine cheeses from several small farms while enforcing one assumes a consistent standard for taste across the board.

    I never did make it to Delmar, a really long schlep for me, and their presence would specifically draw me to the Schenectady Greenmarket if they were there. Bottom line, there are dollars sitting in my wallet that could go to Schenectady but won’t as a result.

  7. February 24, 2012 9:48 pm

    Derry X and Burnt My Fingers, the guidelines that you mention are similar to those The Cheese Traveler have worked out with the Saturday Delmar Farmers’ Market:

    1) We sell cheese that are made within 75 miles of Albany.
    2) We do not sell the same styles of cheeses that cheesemakers do at the Saturday Delmar Farmers’ Market. Currently the only cheesemaker is R & G Cheese who makes goat’s cheese — fresh chevre and soft-ripened cheeses with bloomy rinds — and cow’s milk cheeses — pasta filata, or pulled curd cheeses like mozzarella, and truffle cheeses. If customers come to The Cheese Traveler’s booth looking for these styles of cheese we refer them to R & G Cheese.
    3) We do not sell any cheeses that are made with rBGH/rBST hormones.

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