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Cheesemaker Interview with Chris Gray of Consider Bardwell pt. 1/3

Today is the kickoff of our cheesemaker interviews

With a bottom-to-top knowledge of every aspect of their cheeses and a close, personal connection to their craft, cheesemakers can generate an interest in their products unlike any other. 

We’d love to bring every cheesemaker we partner with around to every shop we sell but that’s not always possible. 

While we can’t bring you every cheesemaker, we can bring you their stories.  We recently sat down with Chris Gray of Consider Bardwell for a long interview and will be releasing the highlights in three installments.  Today, we posted the first section that focuses on the cheeses we offer from Consider Bardwell- Manchester, Dorset, Pawlet, and Rupert. 

The cheeses of Consider Bardwell

I’ll start with Manchester, our raw goat tomme, the first raw milk aged cheese we made here on the farm after transitioning out of fresh production. It’s a unique cheese in that we acidify it with a native culture, you could think of that as like a mother culture if you were making bread that you carried over, or yogurt. Most commercial cheeses are made with cultures that are laboratory produced in Europe, they’re very specialized cheesemaking cultures.  You get a packet of freeze-dried material from Europe and that’s the bacteria that goes into your milk content to help it acidify, break down the lactose, and then create cheese. Those cultures have a very direct influence on the characteristics of the cheese, and how they end up tasting and feeling in your mouth.

What we do with Manchester is very unique.  We take milk from our very best goats, and we incubate that, creating a natural bloom of bacteria within that culture which we carry from week to week.  We have three different strains that we use that come from our three best goats, and we’ve been carrying these for about three years now. So we basically use our milk to acidify our own milk to make our cheese.

The milk is made as a result of the forage and the grasses that the goats are eating so there are all-natural bacteria living in that milk. We have been able to isolate and remove the cheese making cultures that we need from the milk and add it back into the milk in order to create cheese. So there’s nothing from the outside world that’s going into making Manchester other than salt and rennet. Manchester is then aged in our caves which are all on our premises, so this becomes a purely terroir driven cheese.

Over time this has become a very unique product to us and you could say that Manchester could only be made here on this property in this time and place… it makes it a very unique cheese compared to other tomme style cheeses that are on the market.

We are a seasonal dairy, meaning we only milk our goats on their natural cycle, which begins in March when they have their kids, through the middle of December when they start to slow down their lactation. The goats are not milking and stay dry from middle December through the end of February. In order to make up for that seasonal schedule and also for the very little milk that’s given by a goat we decided to create a line of cow’s milk cheese which could fill in those gaps in production and time.

We have three main raw cow’s milk cheese: Dorset, a washed-rind, Pawlet, a tomme style, and Rupert, an alpine style. They kind of evolved in that order.

We turn Dorset out to the market at about 60 days. It’s a soft, buttery, pungent style and it has a very active, bacteria-driven rind. You’ll notice it has an orange characteristic and that’s indicative of b linens, which are the main cheese ripening bacteria. It’s a soft, pungent cheese that really gives a great expression of the cows milk that we use. Jersey milk is a very high fat, high solid milk, and when people taste Dorset, they ask if there’s cream added. There’s no additional cream added, it just has a great mouth-feel. That’s just the natural expression of the really high fat Jersey milk that the cheese is made from.

After that we developed a cheese called Pawlet. All of our recipes, while based on traditional recipes, are really of our own creation. Pawlet is a very good example. It’s a tomme cheese, and tomme-style cheeses are generally a pressed-curd cheese that’s aged three to six months, medium-bodied, medium palate level, not too aggressive, not too subtle. Tomme d’Savoie is your most well-recognized form of that cheese. We were looking at Italian-style tommes, which they call toma, when we were developing this cheese.  They tend to be a little more aged and not quite as soft. We’re taking all those ideas in cheesemaking from all over Europe and incorporating it into our cheeses. Unike many other tommes, Pawlet is really a washed-rind.  We’ve spent a lot of time washing that cheese, and developing a really nice orange rind early.  That brings out some of the more funky, umami, soy, fermented flavors in this cheese that wouldn’t have come out if we had done a traditional tomme affinage, which is more mold-based dry-rinded…

Right now it’s a five month or so aged profile on that cheese, and in the first three months we wash it three times a week, every week. It’s really orange and it looks like a giant washed-rind cheese. But then we let it finish in a cave that’s a little cooler and drier, and it gets a dry-molded rind that finishes on top of the washed-rind. If you try Pawlet on its own, it has a certain flavor, and then if you try a piece of the cheese with the rind as well, you get another dimension in the cheese. This makes it very different from other tommes that are out in the market. Pawlet is an example of a traditional style tomme that we’re taking and reinterpreting here, developing it differently than it would be back in Europe where they’re bound by tradition to follow the same system of affinage for that style of cheese.

Pawlet has a straight-forward approachable kind of flavor, medium-bodied, medium sharpness.  But then it’s got the funky edge, that is more of interest to a developed cheese-buyer or aficionado, where they can taste more of the subtleties in the milk. It’s a kind of a chameleon of a cheese in that way.  Families love it, kids love it, it’s great for sandwiches, but we have a lot of very high end restaurants nationwide that feature Pawlet on a cheese plate at the same time, so it works in both worlds.

Finally we have Rupert, an alpine-style cheese made in the tradition of comte and gruyere and appenzeller and the like. It was a cheese that we would make and sell at about six months originally at our farmer’s market.  We described it as a good wholesome cheese. Over time we’ve managed to increase the age of the cheese to the point where it goes out more toward ten months to a year in age. After that amount of time, the fermentation that’s happening within the cheese unlocks all these subtle flavors that are resonant in the milk. You don’t get that unless you have the patience to age a cheese that long. By the end of a year, it’s sweet, fruity, a lot of complex flavors in there, you can get sometimes more of the umami and soy dimensions. Sometimes it’s more fruity in a tropical sense. You get little hints of mango and things like that. You get nuttiness in some batches, too, kind of cashew, toasted almond, those types of flavors. And it’s a very approachable cheese, but it’s also one that you can sit down with a nice full-bodied red, some food pairings, and really explore all the layers of flavor.

We have a tasting program for all of our cheeses. But with Rupert, because it’s such a long age profile, we do try to taste it more often and along the way. All the cheeses are made by hand here, and Rupert is the one that has the most variety wheel to wheel.

Rupert is kind of a hybrid in terms of how it’s made. We make it in a cheese mold, or hoop as it’s called, that’s made for a gouda cheese. But we’ve wrapped it in a cloth that is made for Beaufort, which we get from France. The recipe based on gruyere and comte, but we’re making it in a form that was meant for gouda, in a cloth that’s made for beaufort. It’s hard to describe what kind of cheese Rupert is.  We just say it’s an original.  ©