Zingerman's has spun off a number of businesses in the region over the years, and one of the newest is Zingerman's Creamery, which makes a variety of cheeses that are sold at the deli and elsewhere. Last night's tasting was presented by the managing partner and cheesemaker, John Loomis.
Zingerman's runs about one tasting a week. They usually cost $20, and all but one that I've attended have been good. The ones that are run by Zingerman's staff tend to be the best, and the ones where they bring in an outside producer or distributor can either be really good, or really, really bad. I wrote about the recent bacon tasting here
Last night's tasting was quite good. We got to try 11 different items over the course of an hour and a half, and hear all of John's stories about how the cheeses came to be (which basically boiled down to - cheesemakers are cheap, and never throw anything away unless they're sure it's gone bad).
Here's a shot of most of the cheeses we tasted.
As you can tell from the picture, at this point they're pretty much entirely focused on fresh and lightly aged cheeses, although they are looking to move into producing hard cheeses sometime this year - they just need to get the details worked out to be able to produce raw milk cheeses. All of the current products are made with pastuerized milk, and John says that he refuses to waste his time making hard cheese with pastuerized milk.
The tasting was really well attended, with about 30 people in the small upstairs room where tastings are held.
And now, on to the tasting notes. Tasting sheets are handed out, with four columns for each sample: Know It, Look At It, Smell It, and Taste It. Cream Cheese (both goat and cow milk varieties)
The two different cream cheeses were presented side by side for comparing and contrasting. Both of these cheese are made with just rennet, salt and cream - no vegetable gums or preservatives. The goat cream cheese was noticeably whiter than the cow's milk, and John informed us that it's because goats can't digest certain components of grass the provide the yellow color in cow's mlk. The goat was also notiecably moister and creamier than the cow. I asked John if this was a result of choices he'd made as cheesemaker, or the nature of the milk. He expressed that he didn't like the result when the goat cream cheese got too dry, so tended to err on the side of less draining time, since it would continue to dry out some after being packaged. The cow's milk version was drier and slightly crumbly in texture, but both were very smooth on the palate and put that packaged Philly stuff to shame! The cow was sweet, while the goat was tangy, with just a hint of that characteristic goat cheese flavor. Both could top my bagel anytime.Bridgewater
These are the ball-shaped cheeses to the far right of the picture above. This double cream cow's milk cheese is studded with ground Tellicherry peppercorns and has a mold rind. John grinds the pepper immediately before adding it to the cheese, maximizing the peppery flavor. The rind was slightly yellow and dusty looking, with a white middle studded with black pepper specks. The flavor is tangy and spicy with a strong pepper flavor. John loves pepper, and uses it to flavor four different cheeses from the Creamery.Manchester (fresh and aged versions)
The fresh Manchester is in the middle of the right hand basket, above. This is the original double cream that led to the development of the Bridgewater. In its fresh form, it's incredibly creamy, smooth and rich - I wrote the word "creamy" three times in my tasting notes, it made such an impression. Buttery, too. John harkens back to the days before only asceptic white rinds were considered acceptable on soft cheese like brie and camembert, and this one has spots of lovely blue and green molds dotting the exterior of the edible rind.
The aged version is quite a different beast. Invented by letting as surplus of Manchester run wild, this is left to age at 50 degrees for three months. In the first part of the aging process the molds are allowed to go crazy, entirely covering the cheese. Then it is rinsed in a brine and left to age on wood boards. This is the yellow hockey puck shaped cheese next to the fresh Manchester. Inside the hard yellow exterior is a light yellow cheese that's fairly hard and a little flaky. The flavor is extremely sharp and strong, although the cheese still melts into creaminess on your tongue, evoking a hint of the fresh variety. I found the finish/aftertaste too bitter for my preferences, but many people in the room really liked this cheese. It reminded me strongly of something I'd had before, but John was unaware of any other aged double cream.Sharon Hollow (Garlic and Chive)
This is a fresh cow's milk cheese, made in the same way as fresh goat goat cheese. It's very milky, creamy and mild. We tasted the garlic and chive version, but there are also Tellicherry Pepper and Plain versions. John recommended serving the plain topped with some roasted almonds and honey.
Moving away from the cow's milk cheeses and heading into the goats, we started by tasting a sample of goat's milk, from that morning's milking. John is incredibly particular about the freshness of his milk. All of the milks start becoming cheese with about 8 hours of arriving at the Creamery. The cow's milk come from Calder Dairy, a local dairy whose milk is from a mixed herd of Jersey's, Brown Swiss, Holstein and Gurnsey cows, rather than the exclusive Holstein herds that produce most of America's milk with high volume but low fat content and flavor. You can get their milk at Arbor Farms, and it's sold in glass bottles. And I've just heard that Calder Dairy will deliver, and I'm going to investigate a bulk buying option for Great Oak, since I'm sure other people would be interested in getting fresh local milk delivered. But I digress...
The goat's milk comes from a goat farmer cooperative in Michigan. John described the considerable difficulty in maintaining a steady supply of goat's milk, because it's very difficult to encourage goat's to kid off season.Goat Milk
The milk we tasted was whole and unhomogonized, although it had been pastuerized (John pastuerizes his own milk at the lowest temperature allowable, which takes longer, but maintains as much flavor as possible). If I hadn't been told it was goat's milk, I would have guessed, I don't think. The only hint of that goatiness was in the lingering finish. According to John, this is how all goat's milk should be, and if it's otherwise, it's a sign of poor cleanliness of the goats. Male goats like to spray a lot, so it's important to wash the goats regularly and keep the milkers away from the males.Little Napolean
This is the small, light yellow round on the front left of the picture. This has the strongest rind of all the cheeses, and it had an interesting stretchy texture. While the rind is noticeably yellow, the interior of the cheese was a creamy white. The taste was mild and smooth, with a little bit of a drying effect on the tongue. The cheese we were eating were about 10 days old - letting them age a little longer would bring out different flavors. For both these and the Manchester (above), the Deli generally has a variety of ages available at any one time, so you can get one that's too your liking.Lincoln Log
This is one of the newest cheeses being produced at the Creamery, and is based on the classic goat's cheese, Boucheron. It's the large wrinkly ovals behind the Little Napolean's. The larger diameter means a smaller percentage of rind to cheese, so less of a mold flavor in the cheese. John likes a fairly thin rind on this, so after it reaches the thickness he's looking for, he moves the cheese to extra cold storage to continue aging while retarding rind thickening. The wrinkly, dry, dusty rind has a very distinctive texture and flavor that was not unpleasant - kind of chewy and maybe vegetal in flavor. The Boucheron inspiration was obvious in the flavor of the cheese, which had the tang and texture of a nice, lightly aged goat cheese. Detroit St. Brick
This is the rectangle next to the Lincoln Log. In fact, this is made in essentially the same way as the Lincoln Log, except for the addition of ground, cracked and whole green peppercorns. The texture was a little crumblier than the Lincoln Log, and the green peppercorns gave the cheese a bright bit.Burnt Sugar Gelato
In addition to cheese, the Creamery produces 14 different flavors of gelato, and this is my favorite flavor, with a deep carmely flavor and just a hint of burnt sugar bitterness to counter the sweet. Oooh la la.
A note on the names - all of the Creamery's cheese are named after small towns in this area of Michigan. The sample above represents most of the Creamery's selection, although there are a few that we did not try.
All tasting attendees receive a coupon for 20% off their purchases that evening, and I spent enough to earn back about $12 of my $20 investment, but that's another post...