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eG Foodblog: placebo - The secret life of milk and cheese.

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Meanwhile, back in Seattle...

I have to admit to feeling a bit daunted following up slkinsey's feast of a Thanksgiving as well as our own little ms foodie's romp through the Emerald City. Still, I will do my mostest. I'm gonna start this up with a bit of an intriduction and some background and will then post on today's actual food and suchlike a bit later this evening, once I finish rooting through today's pics. So, a bit about me and where this foodblog is headed.

For the last year or so I've been a cheese-maker here in Seattle. THis came kinda out of the blue for me, as up to that point I'd spent the previous ten years in computer systems and netowrk administration. Maybe two years ago I started to give real thought to leaving IT for some sort of wortk in food. I attribute this desire to a mix of my love of sharing good food with people. In college my best friend and I threw dinner parties for anywhere from eight to twenty-five people very nearly every friday night for over a year. My cooking at the time was rather rudimentary but still impressive enoug to my college peeps. In any case, as I started pondering the idea of food work in that sort of distant hypothetical way (i.e. "boy, it'd be neat to be doing XYZ for a living") one of my closest fgriends , who was also considering such amove, loaned me his copy of Bourdain's delightful Kitchen Confidential. I tore through the book and found that it really humanized the wholke prospect a lot. Showed me the real workaday side of it rather than the pipe-dream what-ifs I'd been podering up till then. So, I started poking around the net for more, stumbled upon this delightful site and was immediately sucked in.

About six months later I finally bagged my lousy job at the Evil Empire across the lake in Redmond and decided to search in earnest for work in foodland. I came, naturally, to eGullet for advice and got it in spades. I mentioned that I'd made cheese from a kit and dig it as I've been a cheese-o-phile for many years. I was then told by a certain ms ramsey [ed. actually it was tsquare] who shall remain anonymous that down at Pike Place Market there was a sign up that said "looking for cheesemakers." A month and a half later I was hired and here I am a little over a year later making cheese for a living. Well, cheese, butter and sometimes ice cream. Needless to say, I love it. I see Kitchen Confidential (and as such Bourdain) as the catalyst that started the ball rolling. The rest was serendipity, luck and whatever else makes the world go round. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to thank him in person when he did a signing to push his Les Halles cookbook a few weeks ago in town. It pleased me to no end that night, upon starting to read the book itself, to see him use phrases like "renegade cheesemakers." I am heartened by this sort of encouragement.

This sort as well:

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As such, this blog, along with being a peek into my daily cooking and eating, will also present a look at the day-to-day workings of a new little cheese company. The company is Beecher's Handmade Cheese and at this point my role is assistant cheesemaker and essentially second in command with regard to the day-to-day workings of the production side of the business.

I'll post again shortly with today's meal goodness as well as a bit of cheese-production goodness. The title of this blog is a bit of an accidental tribute to Evan dorkin's classic Milk and Cheese comic series.

[Edited to correct an attribution]


Edited by Placebo (log)

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I'm really looking forward to reading this blog. Good on ya for being brave and doing what lots of us(me) would love to!

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Looking forward to this one, Placebo.

Cheese is my favorite food! Rock on.

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It looks like it's going to be another great week in the Foodblog thread...

I'm really looking forward to your blog, Placebo.

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I'm going to break my day into two sections (read posts). The first will be my day up until I finished work and the second will be dinner.

So, I live in Seattle. I live a few miles north of downtown in a neighborhood called Crown Hill which seems to be largely Scandinavian. It's a bit lean on the food side, though there's a lovely Scandinavian bakery (which will likely appear here in more detail in the next few days) and a good souvlaki joint nearby. They both feel a lot more 'back in the old country' to me. People come intot he bakery and speak Swedish with the staff. The owner of the souvlaki shop appears to have done some sort of world bouzouki tour in what I'm guessing (based on his pants in the pic of him on the record they have pinned up on the wall) were the late 60's. I like that. The greek places I've been to in more hip neighborhoods are prettier and more comfortable but this place feels more real to me. There appears to be a Moroccan restaraunt preparing to open a block away as well. I cannot wait and hope dearly that it's good as I do loves me some Moroccan food.

My workplace is located down at Pike Place Market. Pike Place is an interesting spot. It's a historic market that acts as a combination year-round farmer's market, tourist spot, craft fair and general shopping area. Little Ms Foodie posted some lovely pics in her photoblog a couple of weeks ago. Here are a few more of my own:

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Before working at the Market I was almost never able to shop there due to not having time on my hands when they were open. Now, though, I can no longer shop at supermarkets. Supermarket produce horrifies me at this point. There's nothing like having 5 or 6 stands allr carrying the same item, each of varying freshness and quality and all fresher and cheaper than at the supermarket. I also like getting to know the people from whom I buy my food. I feel a lot better about the stuff I eat when I know the person who sold it to me and trust them to help me pick out the best stuff. Bourdain gets into this int he Les Halles cookbook as well - building relationships with your butcher, fishmonger, etc... They keep an eye out for the stuff you want and make great recommendations. As such, my experience of Pike Place as someone who's worked there for a year is very different from my experience of it as someone who just pipped by for a quick bit of shopping a few times a year. It does get horribly mobbed with tourists and closes relatively early so it's sadly not so useful to regular working folks in Seattle.

When I got to work I was feeling a bit hungry so after gettign a cup of coffee I headed over to Piroshky Piroshky and browsed their baked goodness for something quick and savory.

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I decided to go for a chicken-mushroom-onion piroshky. It was rather tasty.

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The first thing to do at work was to deal with yesterday's cheese. Yesterday we made a batch each of our FlagshipFlagship and Blank SlateBlank Slate cheeses. Flagship is made in the same manner as a cheddar but with a somewhat different mix of cultures than is traditional for cheddar, giving it a more fruity and nutty flavor akin to alpine cheeses. Blank Slate is essentially fromage blanc and is made the same way as fresh chevre but with cow's milk instead of goat's. I will get more into the processes for making these cheeses as this blog hits the days in which we do it.

The Flagship had been in the cheese press all night in order to squeeze out the excess whey and turn loose curds into a nice solid block of cheese.

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Each of those stainless boxes contains a roughly 42 pound block of cheese. I'm training a new employee so he and I dealt with the Flagship (more details on this will come later in the week after we run through a full Flagship make process) while my coworker Blain worked on the Blank Slate. Fromage blanc, like fresh chevre, has a very simple manufacturing process. The only cheese I've ever made at home was a fresh chevre from the New England Cheesemaking Company kit and it was made in pretty much the same manner. The milk is innoculated with starter cultures and then set with rennet and allowed to ripen overnight.

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It's then sliced into rough cubes and dipped into large square bandages which are then tied at the tops. Traditionally butter muslin would be used for this but our bandages are made from the same finely-perforated plastic material that's actually used on the inner layer of bandages. It drains as well as muslin but is much easier to keep sanitary. The bandages, now laden with cheese, are tied to a bar to drain under their own weight all day.

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Once they've drained enough they'll be cut down and chilled. Tomorrow the Blank Slate will be salted, flavored and packed into tubs for sale.

On to dinner...

[edited to fix stupid coding mistakes]


Edited by Placebo (log)

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I'm looking forward to a great cheesey blog week with you, Placebo. You're off to a good start. :biggrin:

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Ooooh! Ooooh! Yay! Amir! This is a dream come true. Congratulations for your great career move and thank you ever so much for sharing this with us! :smile::biggrin:

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Marvelous choice for a blog. The cheesemaking process is fascinating, and I love the Pike Place Market.

My significant other and I have similarly made transitions from other careers into restaurant work, and then to our own small business over a period of 4 years or so. We know how hard it can be to make such a radical change, and we applaud you.

Not to mention that I really, really love cheese. :wub: Thank you for blogging.

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Meanwhile, back in Seattle...

For the last year or so I've been a cheese-maker here in Seattle. 

Let me just say on behalf of all Python fans, "blessed are the cheesemakers"

:laugh:

Looking forward to this blog.

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Dinner...

After work I moseyed up to a neighborhood just north of downtown called Belltown. It's rather up-and-coming and such. Dinner was at a Caribbean restaraunt called Casuelita's. I've been there once before and the food had been excellent. They appear to specialize in rum and have a rather extensive list (at least to me, though I've not yet spent time at our own Ministry of Rum).

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My apologies for the blurring. I'm using a rather old digital camera and it sometimes pauses for a couple of seconds before actually taking the pic so the camera is often already in otion befoe the shutter actually releases. For any Seattle-ites reading this Casuelitas is in Belltown at the corner of Vine and Western.

My dinner consisted of tapas and some rum. Here's the happy hour tapas menu.

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I started out with the Jerk Chickin Chop-Up and a flight of 3 rums called the Island Tour.

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The chicken, which I've had before, was fantastic. The jerk sauce was rich, earthy and a little fruity - almost leaning towards a mole. Pretty spicy too. The flight of rums (shown left to right in the picture above) consisted of a shot each of Appleton Estate VX (Jamaica), Mt. Gay Rum Extra Old (Barbados) and Cruzan Dingle Barrel Estate (St. Croix). I'm a big fan of the Appleton and tend to keep some around the house. The Mt. Gay had a bit morew of an alcohol bite to it. The Cruzan was, I think, my favorite and was the first glass to be finished.

I then ordered the conch fritters.

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The fritters were conch plus a bit of shrimp cooked up ina tasty batter with a chili jelly and mango slaw served over some wild greens. Delicious.

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I also did a bit of shopping at the market during the day. Hit my favorite wednesday veggie stand (though this was her last week of the season, alas).

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Picked up some of those cute leetle brussels sprouts, some garlic, mizuna and some beets. I usually buy chard from her as well and kale but I already have a tremendous quantity of leafy green goodness in the fridge.

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This BLOG is off to a stunning start! I'm really looking forward to following along. You take gorgeous photos. Great work!

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It that Sur La Table right next to your shop?

Yup. It's a bit of a hazard to me, as with my food worker's discount their prices become relatively reasonable. I have to actively force myself to not go in. The other day I caught myself eyeing marble slabs for use in making pasta and tempering chocolate.

It's bad, I say, very bad.

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Cool, another Seattle-ite. Could you name that veggie shop? It looks like the stand that's out on Post Alley?

Do you have any aged cheeses at Beecher's? I find the fresh ones alittle too mild for my taste and I don't care for curds. But I love cheese, esp stinky ones!

Did you have to make any major adjustments in your life when you made the switch from tech to food? I am referring to the loss of the comfort option... :biggrin: moolah!

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YEAHHHHH!! My goodness what a superb find to read this today. I'm so excited about your cheesemaking blog. Everything is fantastic already. Just added Casuelita's to my happy hour list. Yum!!!

p.s. show the rain.....SHOW THE RAIN!!! haha!

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What an interesting blog--love the cheesemaking info. As a fellow Seattleite and gyros lover, I'd love to know the name of the Crown Hill gyros place?

Really nice pictures of the market...I love it in the early mornings just as it's starting to rev up for the day. No crowds :smile:

Blog on!

Jan

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I was then told by a certain ms ramsey who shall remain anonymous that down at Pike Place Market there was a sign up that said "looking for cheesemakers."  .

Did she really beat me to that news?

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Cheese! What a great start on a fascinating blog topic. I look forward to reading about the rest of your week. Thanks for offering to do this.

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Cool, another Seattle-ite.  Could you name that veggie shop?  It looks like the stand that's out on Post Alley?

Do you have any aged cheeses at Beecher's?  I find the fresh ones alittle too mild for my taste and I don't care for curds.  But I love cheese, esp stinky ones!

Did you have to make any major adjustments in your life when you made the switch from tech to food?  I am referring to the loss of the comfort option...  :biggrin:  moolah!

The veggie shop was a stand from organic wednesdays. I forget the name of the farm that she was from but I think this was her last week here until the season starts again in the spring. We do have aged cheeses as well. I'll go into more about the store when I post this evening. Just taking a quick break from work for a few right now.

What an interesting blog--love the cheesemaking info.  As a fellow Seattleite and gyros lover, I'd love to know the name of the Crown Hill gyros place? 

Really nice pictures of the market...I love it in the early mornings just as it's starting to rev up for the day.  No crowds :smile:

The gyros place is called Takis Mad Greek on 15th Ave. NW and 85th.

I was then told by a certain ms ramsey who shall remain anonymous that down at Pike Place Market there was a sign up that said "looking for cheesemakers."  .

Did she really beat me to that news?

No - my memory ws mistaken. It was you. I've added an editorial correction in this regard to the original post as well. Sorry about that.

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I'm SO excited about this blog! Yeah! Cheese! Pikes! Sur La Table! Thanks for the great intro and pics so far.

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Oh, and forgot to mention that the range of cheeses Beechers makes looks pretty extensive and quite interesting. Can't WAIT to hear more!

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This is seriously freakin' cool. Thanks for doing the blog this week.

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Thanks for this blog, Amir. I'm always fascinated by the cheese-making process when I walk into Beecher's. Thanks also for the heads-up about the Flagship cheese--boyfriend and I stopped by Beecher's today, tried some, and liked it a lot. It's going to be consumed with a lot of meats from Salumi, I believe. :biggrin:

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