Every summer, for over fifty years, Himalayan goji berries and truffled ham have come to the Javits Center in New York for a sympoisum of self-proclaimed “Fancy Food.” In response to this elitist celebration of onion confit and Caribbean Reef sea salt, Sasha Davies of Cheese by Hand and Tom Mylan of Marlow & Sons are staging a revolt across the river, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Their revolution, the Unfancy Food Show, held at the East River Bar, will focus on the local, the simple, and the delicious. Attendees include Wheelhouse Pickles and Bronx Bee Honey. Instead of industry executives or frilly jars of marmalade, the Unfancy Food Show will continue to close the gap between producer and consumer. Farmer and urban hipster will sit at the bar side by side, in an effort to rekindle that unharnassed passion for eating.
Reconnecting with food is an experience appreciated all year long, and Sasha Davies inspires the average city dweller to walk out of the concrete, skirt suit, cubicle into the life of pastures. With her husband, Michael Claypool, Sasha has embarked on a journey across the nation, weaving a narrative of the handmade gourmet. Her website, Cheese by Hand, shares the stories of devoted cheesemakers throughout the United States. You can even hear the dairy tales for yourself, on the Cheese by Hand podcast, which you can subscribe to through iTunes.
Sasha graciously answered some creamy questions for us.
How many pounds did you gain on your tour of cheese?
I probably gained 7 pounds on our trip. Basically I grew some new additions to my bottom, you know?
How can people find out about the cheesemakers in their area?
People can find out about cheeses in their area in a couple ways. They can visit their local farmers’ market to see if any dairy farms are there selling cheese. There are also a number of Cheesemaker Guilds throughout the US (California, Southern, New York, Vermont to name a few). Google is a great option as are books and blogs covering American cheesemakers. Here are some of the most comprehensive: Pacific Northwest Cheese Project’s Tami Parr is currently working on a book about cheeses from this region too. She is the bomb! Then there is a book out called the Atlas of American Artisan Cheese by Jeff Roberts that gives quite a comprehensive listing of producers around the country.
Were there any “sounds of cheese” that you really loved from doing the audio podcast?
It’s a toss up between listening to sheep communicate with one another (mama to baby), and the sound of a metal whisk rhythmically grazing the side of the cheese vat as Caitlin Hunter (Appleton Creamery) made cheese while we interviewed her.
What’s your favorite type of cheese ever?
That’s like asking a mother to name her favorite child. The cheese I’m craving the most right now is a stinky one called Grayson made by Helen Feete of Meadow Creek Dairy in Virginia. Her husband, Rick, takes care of their herd of Jerseys and the cows spend as much time as possible on grass. Jersey milk has a higher fat content than that of most other breeds and it has a lovely yellow color to boot. Grayson is modeled after an Italian cheese, Taleggio, shaped in squares and washed throughout its 2-3 months of aging with a brine solution that gives the outside a pinkish orange hue. So basically this cheese has the colors of a peach. Great creamy texture and just enough pungency to make it interesting without overpowering the wonderful milky and buttery flavors there.
In addition to the Unfancy Food Show, also check out the New Amsterdam Market this weekend at the South Street Seaport. The New Market building will once again be bustling with fresh and sustainable produce, meat, and bread, hearkening back to the Seaport’s roots. At the end of the summer, travel out West for the Slow Food Nation market in San Francisco, where you can not only meet farmers and eat more cheese, but also explore a 21st Century vision of self-sufficiency in the Civic Center’s urban garden, continuing the legacy of Victory Gardens from half a century ago. And of course, don’t forget about your fellow Etsians, such as motleymutton, who’s working hard to keep that farmer work ethic alive.
The Slow Food movement reminds us of the love behind the food, the craft behind the product. So savor some Constant Bliss cheese from Jasper Hill Farm, and show your affection for the farmer, the environment, and your stomach.