Thursday, September 29, 2011

Help Save D. Landreth Seed Company

Barbara Melera, owner and CEO

The oldest seed house in America (since 1784)

We're asking you to buy a catalog for $5 from the D. Landreth Seed Company in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.

If they can sell one million catalogs now they will be able to pay their creditors and continue in business.  

The current owners, Peter and Barbara Melera bought it 7 years ago when it was in bad shape and they have been able to turn a profit in the last 3 years.  Unfortunately, they had to borrow when they bought it and the loan has been called in.

To put it simply- these are good people with a small, historic business, selling important products during difficult times.

This business has muddled along for 227 years, but now, when we need heirloom seeds more than ever, they are on the verge of bankruptcy.  One of their creditors recently called in a loan for $250,000.

However, if they can sell a million catalogs now, they will be able to pay all their creditors and remain the fifth oldest continuously operating company in this country.  George Washington actually ordered seeds from them!

We know this is a departure from our usual articles, but we believe this is a good company, worth saving.  We strongly support the use of heirloom and open-pollinated seeds - the only kind D. Landreth sells.  These are seeds which have been passed from generation to generation.*

We do not support the overuse of hybrid seeds (sold by the large multi-national companies) and bioengineered (genetically modified) seeds.

Last week, NPR aired an interview by the host of Living on Earth, Bruce Gellerman with Barbara Melera, the owner.  If you take a few moments to read the transcript of A Seed Company With Deep Roots at the LOE website, you will understand why this is a good cause.

The owners have been forthright in explaining their situation, and if you have further questions after reading their press release below, contact Christin Tillett -

Press release from D. Landreth Seed Company

Why we are trying to sell 1 million catalogs.

To print and mail 1 million catalogues will cost approximately $3.5 million. We are selling these catalogues using pre-orders so that we do not incur any additional debt. We will manufacture only what we have sold. We have priced these catalogues at $5, which will cover the manufacturing and shipping costs as well as produce reasonable profit of $1.5 million dollars. Our aim was to keep the price low enough to be to affordable for the average person. This catalogue is made on good stock (high quality paper), is made locally in Pennsylvania - promoting small, local businesses and keeping jobs in America. The catalogue is a true collector's piece filled with agricultural history and art. It contains beautiful replicas of our original advertisements, descriptions of our products and, new this year, a background on how certain plants came to be (for example the history of the tomato, cucumber, eggplant, etc). 

How the $1.5 million dollar profit will be disbursed:

    $500,000 - taxes

    $250,000 - noteholder who initiated the garnishment notice

    $175,000 - second noteholder who will file suit if we do not settle concurrently with both noteholders

    $34,000 - interest (approximate)

    $540,000 - approximate remaining capital to be disbursed among other noteholders (family and friends who will not initiate suits); operating costs and lawyer fees

Why does this matter to me as a consumer?

Landreth Seeds is the oldest heirloom seed company in America and it a testament to the history and principles of our country. Although Landreth was in bad shape, Barb and Peter Melera recognized the historical and ethical importance of a company that supports local businesses, employs American citizens, and is GMO free when they took it over seven years ago. They diligently worked for 5 years to implement a new business model that allowed them to significantly reduce the debt they took on when they bought the company. The company is currently turning a profit.

We are immensely thankful for the support that we have received from friends, family and our loyal customers. We have been offered assistance in the form of pro-bono work, and have already raised nearly $48,000 in pre-order catalogue sales. We are asking consumers to help us maintain the tradition, integrity and history that Landreth represents by purchasing a catalogue, seeds, bulbs, gardening supplies etc. Our support has been great and the outpouring of love from the community for our products and our company have allowed us to hire three additional staff to handle the growth of our orders.

If you support anti- GMO, heirloom seeds, All-American small business, Landreth is the company you want to support.  We are more than willing to answer any and all questions and to be as transparent in our goals and needs. We still have a long way to go but appreciate the help and love of all who support us!

* A Few Reasons to Use Heirloom and Open-Pollinated Seeds

1.We need genetic diversity.  It is not good for human beings or any other living creatures to become dependent on a limited amount of hybrid seeds. 

One example of this problem is the Irish potato famine in the 1840s.  Farmers planted only a few species of potatoes from seeds that originally came from the Andes mountains.  Those seeds were not hardy enough to survive the climate in Ireland and, as a result, over two and a half million people either died or were forced to leave the country.  If there had been more diversity, the odds are there would have been far less damage.

2.  Heirloom seeds produce the exact same type of plant every year.  Hybrids are only the same once (built in obsolescence).  This supports their sale by the large seed companies because, as a consumer, you have to buy new ones every year.

3.  Heirloom seeds are hardier because they have withstood the test of time.  They are therefore more resistant to pests, diseases and weather extremes.

4.  Heirloom fruits and vegetables offer us a wider variety of nutrients.  This contributes to our ability to survive as a species.

5.  Hybrid seeds have been bred to yield fruit and vegetables that can withstand being transported long distances (to market).  This has compromised the taste, whereas heirloom seeds yield the full taste experience.

6.  Genetically modified corn has been found to cause organ damage in rats- the kidneys and livers (the detox organs).  Other organs were also adversely affected.  Organic Consumers Association

To purchase a catalog - click here

To make a contribution - click here

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Using Ash On Your Cheese

Cake created by Jennifer Carroll
And in your wedding cake...

When we brought out the cake at Ricki and Jamie's wedding, there were oohs and aahs from folks who know Humboltd Fog cheese.  (It has won every award there is for a surface ripened goat cheese, including Best in Class at the World Championship Cheese Contest in 2010 and first place at the American Cheese Society Competitions in 1998, 2002 and 2005.)

Before the wedding, Ricki ordered several wheels of Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove in California (the makers).  Her oldest daughter, Jen, transformed it into a gorgeous wedding cake.

After the bride and groom cut into the first slice, and most of the rest of us had dug in, there were several guests who didn't seem to know what it was ...

I explained to them that it was goat cheese and I mentioned that it had a layer of ash in the middle.   They were astonished!  Ash?  Ash as in fireplace ash?  Why?!  Hence, this article...

What is ash?

The ash we sell for cheese is made from salt and oak charcoal.  Many other kinds of vegetable ash are used commercially.  Our ash is totally odorless and tasteless and, of course, it is food grade, as in sterile.

Traditionally, the cheeses from France's Loire Valley are known for having ash in their coatings.  Well known examples include Selles sur Cher, Valencay, and Saint Maure.

Of course, many goat cheeses here in the US are ashed, as well.  Steve Tate of the Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina supplied us with pictures of his Sandy Creek, a bloomy rind soft ripened cheese with layers of grape vine ash (below).

His process involves two molds for every cheese, with the two halves drained separately, the line of ash put in the middle and then further draining until the outer coating is added:

Sandy Creek from Goat Lady Dairy

What are the reasons for using ash?


The effect of black ash against a white cheese is simply gorgeous.  If you can imagine the Humboltd Fog below without the line of ash, you can see what a difference it makes. 

Humboltd Fog


It can help to keep the cheese from forming a rind when you don't want it to.  For example, originally, the line of ash through the center of Morbier, a French semi-soft, unpasteurized cow's milk cheese was there for that reason. The cheese makers put leftover curds from making large wheels of Comte into smaller molds at the end of the day.  Then, they sprinkled ash on top to keep the cheese from forming a rind until the next day when they had enough curds to finish filling the molds.

The line of ash through Morbier is more traditional than functional today.


Ash and salt together are highly alkaline.  When ash is sprinkled on top of a cheese, it creates an environment which attracts certain favorable bacteria, like penicillium candidum.  This facilitates the formation of white mold which pushes right through the ash.


Because the ash neutralizes the acidity in the curds, the taste of the cheese changes slightly.  It's hard to describe the difference, but many home cheese makers who have tried it, tell us they will never make their cheese without it again.

How do I use it at home?

Put some ash in a shaker with very small holes or a thin mesh.  (It's fine like confectionery sugar, so it has a tendency to get on everything.)

After brining, wait until your cheese is almost completely dry, but damp enough to hold the ash.

Pour some ash onto a plate and roll your cheese in it.

When there is one side left without ash, shake some ash onto it.

The bacteria you added to your milk will be attracted to the ash and will grow through it.  Because of this, you may find that the ash speeds up the ripening process.

Examples of cheeses with ash: 

(Note:  This is just a random sample to show the variety of ways to use ash.  I am not recommending these cheeses over any others.  There are hundreds of fabulous cheeses with ash and I hope you can try them all!)

From France:
Valencay Frais Cendre  (Photo from Gourmet Food World)
Selles sur Cher  (Photo from Artisinal Premium Cheese)
Coeur du Berry  (Photo from Gourmet Foodstore)
Saint Maure Ash  (Photo from CheeseSupply.Com)
From the United States:
Wabash Cannonball  (Photo from Capriole Goat Cheese)
Sofia  (Photo from Capriole Goat Cheese)
Bonne Bouche  (Photo from Vermont Butter and Cheese)
Beekman 1802 Blaak  (Photo from Beekman Farm)
Alberene Ash  (Photo from Caromont Farm)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Camembert with The Mad Fermentationist

If it's fermented- he makes it!

If you make your own beer, chances are you're aware of Mike Tosmeire, the Mad Fermentationist.  He has loads of recipes on his website for making beer, hundreds of articles about making beer and a great list of links to websites about making beer.  He's sort of a beer making guru.

Because he's MAD, he also makes his own cheese, bread, kombucha, charcuterie, mead, sake, vinegar, wine, pickles and sauerkraut.  That's a lot of good bacteria!

And, his website is LOADED with information about how to make all this stuff.  Mike is one very prolific writer.  I especially like his posts about making cheese and he was kind enough to share his articles about Camembert with us:  

Camembert - Making Cheese at Home
By The Mad Fermentationist (Mike)

The first step was to wash and sanitize a large pot, two molds, and various spoons. I used Star-San, but any sanitizer suitable for brewing would work here as well (Iodophor was actually developed for the dairy industry). For two small rounds of Camembert I used 1 gallon of whole milk, in my case just a standard supermarket jug (the rawer the better though).

Here are the three oddball ingredients, from left to right: rennet (an enzyme that curdles milk proteins), Penicillium candidum (the classic white mold), and Flora Danica (a blend of different acid and CO2 producing bacteria, including Streptococcous lactis, S. cremoris, S. lactis biovar diacetylactis, and S. cremoris).

I heated the 1 gallon of milk to 90 degrees on the stove. I then added 1/4 tsp of the Flora Danica and 1/32 tsp of the Penicillium candidum (eyeballed). It takes a bit of time for these cultures to dissolve so I stirred gently for a few minutes (you want to be gentle as oxygen is not good for lactic acid producing bacteria).

I held the milk at 90 degrees for 90 minutes, during this time the Flora Danica feeds on the milk sugars creating lactic acid which in turn lowers the pH of the milk. This step is necessary for the rennet to curdle the milk proteins properly.

I then added 1/8 tsp of rennet which I had diluted in 2 tbls of filtered water. After stirring in the rennet, I let it sit for 60 minutes still at 90 degrees. After the curd left clean cut marks, I cut the curd in a 1/2 inch checkerboard pattern and let sit for another 30 minutes. The curd was very delicate so I skipped the 15 minutes of stirring (Home Cheese Making).*  I scooped the curd into the two round plastic molds positioned on two sushi mats.
* Note from NECS: The 15 minutes of stirring actually firms up the curd.  This is somewhat counter-intuitive, so it is easy to misunderstand.  We are working on making this concept more clear in our directions. 

The whey drained quickly forcing me to pour off the excess that dripped through the mat onto the plate below. After the cheese seemed relatively solid (3 hours) I flipped it over and left it to drain another 2 hours. Took the molds off and added a light covering of kosher salt. Waited 10 minutes, then put it into my chest freezer at 45 degrees, DampRid in the bottom to stop it from getting too humid.

The cheese will stay at 45 for the next two weeks while it develops the classic white mold rind. After the mold develops, I'll wrap the two rounds in a cheese wrap and give them another 2-3 weeks to ripen at 45F before eating.

At this point I am much happier with this recipe from Home Cheese Making than I was with the one for provolone. That said, I had to drop the step that called to stir the curd for 15 minutes, I am beginning to suspect that maybe I need to add more rennet than the recipes calls for.**
**  Note from NECS:  This is related to our previous note about stirring the curds.  That step firms the curds.  Adding more rennet will not do that.

A month later ...

Aged Camembert - Tasting

MOUSEBENDER: Camembert, perhaps?
WENSLEYDALE: Ah! We have Camembert, yes sir.
MOUSEBENDER: You do! Excellent.
WENSLEYDALE: Yes, sir. It's, ah ..... it's a bit runny.
MOUSEBENDER: Oh, I like it runny.
WENSLEYDALE: Well, it's very runny, actually, sir.
MOUSEBENDER: No matter. Fetch hither le fromage de la Belle France! M-mmm!

-Monty Python

My first batch of Camembert is finally ready, it has taken about 5 weeks to age. I'm just happy that it looks like Camembert, a big upgrade over my first attempt at cheesemaking. The texture is a bit on the runny side, almost like melted mozzarella (even right out of the refrigerator). The rind has a slightly dense texture, but it isn't chewy or hard.

The flavor is clean (milk/butter), lightly salty, and accented by that mold ripened cheese flavor that I can't describe in any other way. In general it is much more tame than the Brie and Camembert I have had with this much age on it.

I had the first of the two rounds after just two weeks of aging. At that point the cheese was still firm, with a texture pretty close to cream cheese. The flavor was very mild and milky with just a hint of the classic, slightly musty, Camembert aroma. At this stage I was beginning to see the cheese closest to the rind beginning to soften and become slightly runny. The mold works from the outside in, so the center is the last part of the round to ripen.

Ideally I would like to make four rounds next time and try one every week starting after the initial two weeks of aging. I would have liked to see how this cheese tasted last week when it wasn't quite so runny.

Camembert is great on its own or with some bread, duck breast prosciutto, fruit, or a glass of beer. I wouldn't try to pair it with any aggressive beers because it is so mild, something with some fruit would be nice (but nothing too sour), or something crisp and clean like a pilsner works well.

Making Goat Camembert

After a pretty successful first attempt at Camembert, I thought I would try something similar, but a bit more interesting. So I decided to use goat milk and a slightly tweaked recipe.

I picked up a gallon of whole pasteurized goat milk. The next morning I heated it up to 76 degrees on the stove, then stirred in 1/4 tsp of Flora Danica culture and 1 drop of rennet diluted in 5 tbls of filtered water. I covered the pot with plastic wrap and left it in a warm spot (~74). By the time I returned home from work that evening it had a thick yogurt-like curd with some clear whey visible.

The curd was much sturdier than my previous cheese making attempts due to the longer period of time before cutting it. Instead of putting the draining mats over plates like last time I placed them above small pots so the whey had a place to drain. I used a ladle to scoop the curds into the cleaned and sanitized molds. I flipped the molds every 12 hours for the next two days (after the first 12 hours I moved the mats on top of plates for easier moving), the result was two firm 2 inch thick disks of fresh cheese (the firmer curd resulted in thicker rounds).

I sprinkled the entire surface of each round with 1 tsp of kosher salt. After waiting 15 minutes for the salt to dissolve I used a small atomizer to spritz ~1/8 tsp of Penicillium candidum (dissolved in 1 tbls of filtered water) onto the cheese.

Ideally, the cheese should be left to mature in a humid spot at around 50 degrees. Luckily I have a chest freezer which can produce those conditions pretty easily. I flipped the cheese once or twice a day for the next 10 days. Spraying the mold on, as opposed to adding it to the milk at the start, made for much faster growth than the first time.

After 4 days in the refrigerator the cheese has a firm, slightly dry texture. I'm not sure if it was the milk or my method, but this batch has a funkier flavor than the cow's milk Camembert. This batch needs another couple weeks to age (you can just see the mold beginning to ripen the cheese around the edges). Hopefully, after 2-3 more weeks the second round will be ripe and ready to try.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taproot Commons Farm in Cummington, MA

A very micro dairy!

Sarah Fournier-Scanlon and Janice Wadron-Hansen took a big chance and started a farm.   Now they're living their dream of aspired sustainability in western Massachusetts.  They're determined to stay small, to keep their lives simple and to stay our of debt.  Sarah studied sociology and ecology prior to becoming a farmer and Janice still works her day job teaching art and creative movement.

They are actively farming 10 of their 131 acres.  So far, they have 3 cows, some chickens and a few ducks.  Their income comes from their raw milk CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and currently they are bottling an average of 50 gallons per week. 

CSA members contract to receive a certain amount of raw milk every week.  Their milk is labelled and waiting for them on the top shelf of Taproot's farm stand refrigerator.

The rest is available to the public.  There is never enough to fill the demand, so they receive notes in their stand like, "I returned my bottles but there wasn't any milk."  That's the way it goes in the raw milk business-the demand is there and then some.

I toured their farm as part of NOFA's Raw Milk Dairy Days (Northeast Organic Farming Association) where 11 farms in Massachusetts opened to the public for a weekend.  To be safe, I called first for directions because their farm stand is way off "the beaten path."

Janice likes the combination of healthy food with art.  Those are her small paintings adding color to the space.

For sale:  raw milk, pastured broilers, organic-fed chicken and runner duck eggs, honey, handmade cards, and art.  Their friend Barbara, who has a commercial kitchen, bakes ice-cream sandwiches with Taproot's own organic eggs and snow's ice cream.  They were a hot seller for the summer!  Real cookies and local ice cream!

Their historic farmstead is up the driveway, overlooking the hills of western Massachusetts.  It appears large for two people, but Sarah explained that they can feed and lodge up to 6 "wwoofers" (willing workers on organic farms).  These are folks who contract to work 6 hours/day with Sundays off in exchange for room and board for a number of weeks.  (

Traditionally wwoofers would be students, but this year many of the wwoofers were older than Sarah, who is 25.  When I expressed surprise at this, Sarah pointed out that hers is the "lost generation."  She doesn't know anyone from her class in college who has found a job. 

When Sarah decided to sell raw milk, she wanted the dairy to be certified, so she worked with the state dairy inspector to convert a room in the barn to a processing room.  I have to say that I was completely shocked when we walked in.  The room and all the equipment were absolutely immaculate.  I was blinded by the shine!

They bought the smallest bulk tank available in the US (from Bob White Systems) and it was actually made in Slovenia.  The large sink was a steal on eBay.  The mirror opens up to a closet where they store the milk bottles.

As you can see from this equipment, they are bucket milkers.

This processing room and the house are heated with wood and hot water.  The milking room is not heated, but Sarah explained that the body heat from the cows is enough in the winter.

The day of my tour, the cows were lounging around in the milking room, even though they are always free to head for the pasture.  Sarah simply said, "Come on out." to them and they followed us into the fresh air.

That's Mercy in front, Dori standing and Sparkle at right.

The cows have a bit of a stroll to their pasture, but they don't seem to mind.  When they get there, they hang with the chickens who roam freely around the property (although they do have a cute little chicken house in a scenic location).

Mercy and Dori are Brown Swiss and Dori is a Jersey girl.  Taproot will be getting a Guernsey this winter.

Janice built this moveable chicken coop.

The bottling room and the milking room are located downstairs in the historic barn.  Upstairs, there is a fabulous space for parties.  In fact, Sarah and Janice will be hosting a wedding for 100 there next month.

The party will include a band situated in the hay loft, but they have been given instructions to take a break for a half hour in the evening, so Sarah can milk the cows!  It's a beautiful location for any event, so, if you're looking for a scenic, rustic space on a working farm, contact Sarah and Janice: 

Taproot Commons Farm
11 Porter Hill Rd.
Cummington, MA
(413) 634-5452