Last spring, a birth announcement arrived. It read: "Guernsey Swanilda had little Kasha, and Ayrshire Pinky gave birth to hefty little Saffron. The boys were from Violetta, Bernie and Duff, and according to our tradition, we have named them all Brutus".
Food lovers talk about the importance of connection to source. But receiving the announcement of the calves whose mothers would produce the milk that would make the cheese that I would eventually taste seems a bit extreme.
The note was sent by cheesemaker Jonathan White, though, which explains a lot. Since giving up his career as a software engineer 10 years ago, White first created award-winning cheeses and a cultured butter that developed a cult following with his acclaimed Egg Farm Dairy. Then he left to teach cheesemaking, a project that landed him in Tibet, instructing nomadic yak herders how to turn a profit on their surplus summer milk (to the tune of 20 bucks a pound at Whole Foods, no less), and now, just about two years from startup, his new dairy, Bobolink, is doing big business, a shock to the neighboring farmers who said it would take until now just to grow the grass.
Jonathan White follows his own rules. His cave-ripened, grass-fed, raw-milk cheeses develop deep, beefy flavors that reflect the season and the land on which the cows graze. Last Spring, they were munching on wild garlic, and according to White, "the milking parlor smelled like a Mediterranean football club locker room".
This past weekend I bought a hunk of White's "Jean-Louis" named in memory of the chef Jean-Louis Palladin, who pushed food artisans to aim for bolder, earthier flavors. The cheese was fantastic. And the $20/pound was no problem for me. Why? Because, one: This is a rich, intense cheese and a thin slice goes a long way. And two: Through his dedication to grass-fed herds and continued work through his Grassland Cheese Consortium, I know that my cash was going to a producer who is dedicated to making cheese in a way that is most healthful for the cows and for the land. And it's a darn good cheese.
::Bobolink [by Tamara Holt]